Ms Representation: A powerhouse of talent
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author takes off from the re-release of Marmadesam and writes about the talented actor, Devadarshini
As Marmadesam makes its way back to the news, what better time to write about the most reliable actor the series gave us? Marmadesam harks back to some of the best years of my life. Back then, we did not have 'cable' TV just Doordarshan. But every Wednesday we would march across from our home to our aunt's home to catch the riveting show. The fabulous Devadarshini who played Reena in the show has since been a favourite of mine. She has had perhaps the most consistent career (and does she age at all?) for a 'character' artiste. She has cross-pollinated easily, flitting in and out of roles, in television and cinema.
Her screen presence, her persona, and her ability to infuse every role she takes on with credibility, have set Devadarshini apart from so many of her peers.
After she was noticed by everyone for her TV roles in two of the biggest success stories of the 90s, Marma Desam and Ramani vs Ramani, the actor's foray into cinema began, slowly but steadily. Across both Telugu and Tamil cinema, Devadarshini has charmed audiences and I feel we are yet to see this actor in a role that lives up to her enormous talent and her effervescence.
Two roles from her impressive outings in recent years, however, stand out; her role in Awe as Parvati (about which I wrote in detail in this very column) and her role in 96 as Trisha and Vijay Sethupathi's friend. Tough as it may have been to steal some of the limelight away from the duo around whom the entire script revolved, Devadarshini managed to give her role that extra something. That extra something that this actor brings to the table is what makes roles seem like they were perhaps written exclusively for her.
Another role that did justice to the sly, fun, funny, outgoing, and sassy '90s woman' vibe that Devadarshini brings alive on screen was her part as Prasanna's sister in Kanda Naal Mudhal.
Even if great roles are rare to come by — especially for younger women — in our industry, Devadarshini seems to have found the right balance between regularly appearing in films, especially in the comedy genre, and doing roles that stand out. Roles that seem to satisfy the intelligent actor. Roles that go beyond the usual, to create magic. Roles that remain etched in our minds long after time has moved us along. Her in a baggy shirt and her hair in a ponytail in scarf-like hair bands (in Marmadesam), her wearing glasses (in Ramani vs Ramani)… over two decades later. If that isn't the mark of a great actor, what is?
That such fine talent has had to wait for these many years for a director to seek her out and give her a breakout role like the one she played in Awe is a pity. I hope it won’t be years before we see her in a challenging, fun role again. I hope this artiste, who has surprised me with her acting chops, every now and then, will continue to, in the meantime, take on seemingly mundane roles and transform them too into magical outings.