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Lady Superstar: 15 Years of Nayanthara

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at the 13th CIFF Closing Ceremony

As of December 25, Nayanthara completes 15 years as an actor in cinema. She is one of the most celebrated actors in South India, and one of the highest paid women celebrities in the country. After her break from cinema for two years in 2011, her fan base in the south has only increased, and her roles in films like Kolamaavu Kokila and Raja Rani have rightly earned her the title Lady Superstar

Nayanthara began her career as a part-time model in college. Her acting debut was in the Malayalam film Manassinakkare, with Jayaram, directed by Sathyan Anthikkad. It released in 2003 and became a commercial hit. Her Tamil debut in 2005 was in director Hari’s Ayya, starring Sarathkumar as the lead. The 2006 film Lakshmi, by director VV Vinayak, was her Telugu debut, and the 2010 film Super by Upendra a Telugu-Kannada bilingual, was her first Kannada film.

In her initial years, she starred with male actors in roles that were least importance to the film’s plot. But she soon created a space for herself in cinema with films like Vallavan in 2006 and Billa in 2007 where she played a diva, and Sri Rama Rajyam in 2011. She was seen in important lead roles, or as the only lead in the film. It was her performance in these films, and her choice to star in women-centric films, that gave her the title of a Lady Superstar or Thalaivi. 

After her comeback in 2013 with director Atlee’s Raja Rani, she delivered back-to-back hits in films that didn’t depend on male co-stars. She was one of the only leading actors whose film Kolamaavu Kokila screened at 4 am in Chennai’s theatres.

As a tribute to Nayathara, here’s a list of films that starred her in roles special to us, and to the industry.

Sri Rama Rajyam (2011)

Nayanthara as ‘Sita’ in Sri Rama Rajyam

Nayanthara played Sita in this film based on Ramayana, directed by Bapu. It starred Nandamuri Balakrishna as Rama, and released in 2011 to become a worldwide commercial success. But Nayanthara was criticised for playing Sita in the film while being in a relationship with others in her personal life.

The film was about Rama’s rule over Ayodhya after his return from Lanka. It showed his separation from Sita and her life in the forest as she raised Lava and Kusa alone. The film won seven awards at the Andhra Pradesh State Nandi Awards, including the Best Feature Film for 2011.

Nayanthara won The Best Actress award twice for this film at the Nandi Awards and 59th Filmfare Awards South that same year.

Maya (2015)

Maaya Movie Stills
Nayanthara as ‘Apsara Arjun’ in Maaya

Directed by Ashwin Saravanan, Maya was a horror-starring Nayanthara in a dual role. This was her 50th film, and one of the best horror films of Tamil cinema. It portrayed the life of a single mother Apsara Arjun, who struggled to make ends meet and take care of her daughter. Nayanthara also played the role of the spirit of Apsara’s mother from whom she was separated.

Her performance, particularly in a forest scene where she hurts herself in search of the mother, stayed with the audience. The two characters were not loud, but they were ambitious women.

Naanum Rowdy Dhaan (2015)

Nayanthara as ‘Kaadhambari’ in Naanum Rowdy Dhaan

Out of Nayanthara’s notable roles in all four languages, Kadhambari (Kaadhu) tops the list. Just her name in the film showed her strength. She played a deaf woman, who was called ‘Kaadhu Ma’ by Vijay Sethupathi’s character in the film. She was a stubborn girl who was angry and hurt about her father’s murder, and wanted to kill the man who killed her father.

The most striking scenes were when Nayanthara was wandering and lonely, and Vijay Sethupathi tried to console her. RJ Balaji also starred in the film, and his comic trolls stood out. While we love the film for being the black comedy revenge drama that it is, Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is a must watch for Nayanthara’s performance.

Dora (2017)

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Nayanthara as ‘Pavalakkodi’ in Dora

As Pavalakkodi, she played yet another character to be remembered. She was a slightly tom-boyish,  strong and bold young woman who wasn’t scared of anything. In the scene where she was taken to a police station, she reminded one of Ajith in Villain and Vedhalam. It was the change in her facial expression from being innocent to something villainous that stood out. Directed by Doss Ramasamy, Dora was another acclaimed horror film by Nayanthara.

Aramm (2017)

Nayanthara as ‘Madhivadhani’ in Aramm

Women-centric films were a trend when Arram released. Nayanthara played a district collector in the film, directed by Gopi Nainar. It had a social message and was one of the most important films in her career.

Nayathara’s character handled problems in a sensitive and practical way, this was well-received by the audience. She wore a simple grey saree, a calm and bold look. Through the film she wanted to be just as a collector and as a person. The climax which was a judgement of her character, brought us to the edge of our seats. Madhivadhani was honest, angry and empathetic to do good to the society, making her name in the film another trend setting one.

That year, Nayanthara won the The Best Actress award in Ananda Vikatan Cinema Awards, 10th Vijay Awards, 65th Filmfare Awards South and 7th South Indian International Movie Awards for the film.

Kolamavu Kokila (2018)

Kolamaavu Kokila Movie Stills Starring Nayanthara
Nayanthara as ‘Kokila’ in Kolamaavu Kokila

Directed by Nelson Dhilipkumar, the film starred Nayanthara as Kokila, a middle class girl forced to smuggle cocaine (kolamaavu), to support her family financially. She was seen in a simple skirt and shirt, loosely braided hair, and she was mostly confused as to what to do. But she was also determined to get past her struggles.

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There are several other performances that too have made Nayathara a Leading Lady. Her role as a CBCID in Imaikka Nodigal (2018), an intelligence officer in Iru Mugan (2016), a warrior princess in Kaashmora (2016), a forensic officer in Thani Oruvan (2015), a regular girl in Raja Rani (2013) and many other roles have brought her fame.

She has been nominated 57 times and has won 45 awards including Kalaimamani, State Awards, Filmfare Awards, CIFF, IIFA, SIIMA and Nandi Awards.

Nayanthara has the upcoming films – Airaa by KM Sarjun, Viswasam by Siva, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy by Surrender Reddy, Love Action Drama by Dhyan Sreenivasan, Kolaiyuthir Kaalam by Chakri Toleti, and a yet-to-be-titled film with Sivakarthikeyan directed by M Rajesh and Thalapathy 63 by Atlee.

She has acted with most of the leading stars in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. She has never had an active public life, but has been pulled into controversies about her break-up with Prabhu Deva, relationship with Simbu. In a rare occasion that she did speak, she said, “No one has the right to think that heroines can be taken for granted.”

Her calmness and her need to speak right in films and real life makes her our Lady Superstar.

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