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Whither the heroine?


While Malayalam cinema becomes more hero-centric, talented Malayali actors make it big in Tamil and Telugu cinema.

WINSOME PAIR: Bhavana and Madhavan in `Arya.'

Malayalam cinema never had it so good. 2005 has been the year of blockbusters - `Rajamanikyam,' `Chanthupottu,' `Naran,' `Thommanum Makkalum' and `Udayananu Tharam.'

The message is loud and clear Malayalam cinema is superstar driven and is totally male dominated. Nearly 95 percent of box-office gross comes from Mammootty, Mohanlal and Dileep films and they rule Kerala's commercial cinema circuit. So it is, but natural, that Malayalam cinema revolves around them and scripts are written keeping their age and image in mind.

The superstars play larger-than-life characters with distinctive styles in get-up, dialogue delivery, costumes, dance and fight sequences, and above all punch line dialogues that become a part of the language.

One-man entertainment

The hero is the one-man entertainment troupe, where he provides action, comedy, romance and drama.

When was the last time that you saw a Malayalam blockbuster in which the female lead had some importance in the script? But for a few exceptions, most of the movies revolve around the hero.

In `Rajamanikyam,' heroine Padmapriya was just a prop with three scenes, and hero Mammootty did not have a single romantic scene with her! And in `Naran,' Mohanlal had no heroine, except that it was subtly conveyed that Bhavana develops a soft-corner for him towards the end! There are no duets or romance, as heroines have become just ornamental in today's superstar films. And a few films like `Makal,' directed by Jayaraj, in which Shobana had an author-backed role was a total wash-out!

Hariharan points out that during the golden age of Malayalam films (70's and 80's), heroines like Sarada, Sheela, Jaybharathi, Sree Vidya, Seema ruled the roost and dominated Malayalam films, as scripts by well-known writers had strong female protagonists.

Shobana and later Manju Warrier were the last among the great heroines who had a strong fan base and could carry a film on their shoulders. Remember that the hit film `Kannezhuthi Pottumthottu' had Manju as the female protagonist. But today's heroines are literally struggling and 2005 saw the biggest migration of talented Malayali actors to Tamil, Telugu and Kannada cinema.

The top five heroines in Tamil and Telugu cinema today are Asin, Nayantara, Gopika, Meera Jasmine, Navya Nair and Renuka Menon while Bhavana, Mallika, Nitya Das, Nandana, Sreedevika, Lakshana and others are waiting for the big break.

Bhavana took the decision to do Tamil films after her films with young heroes either bombed or never saw the light of the day and she could not do films opposite superstars. Now she is making her debut in Tamil opposite Madhavan in `Arya' and young hero Bharath in `Veyil.'

Money, roles and popularity

After playing insignificant roles in Malayalam, Lakshana went on to be Vijay's sister in `Sivakasi,' a super hit, and has now signed a film with S.J. Suryah. Remember that Asin made her debut as a second lead in a Sathyan Anthikkad film. She became the hottest heroine in Telugu and now Tamil with a huge pay-packet.

Asin and Nayantara have now decided not to do any Malayalam films after their new-found success and are turning out to be poster girls for the teenage audience in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

And now Jyothirmayi better-known for her off-beat roles with no glamour has now re-invented herself as a sexy `item' girl in `Idaya Thirudan.' The flood gates have opened as middle-class girls from Kerala are making it big on Tamil screen.

Asks Asin, "Where are the roles for me in Malayalam? Doing Tamil and Telugu films give me more reach and acceptance worldwide."

Recently, Aamir Khan called up and heaped praises on her for her performance in the Tamil film `Ghajini.'

Says Bhavana: "I have moved to Tamil cinema as I am not getting any good roles in Malayalam. I am fed up of doing the same sister roles and the audience will never accept me as heroine to superstars. Recently, I had to play the mother of two children in a yet-to-be released film! In Tamil, I am getting offers to play my age and the exposure is tremendous."

Navya Nair, the award-winning actress with girl-next-door image says, "I don't mind being glamorous in Tamil as it is not taboo there."

It is not only the exposure and variety in characters that are attracting Malayali girls to Tamil and Telugu films but the money, which is huge as Asin and Nayantara are rumoured to be getting nearly Rs. 50 lakhs plus lucrative endorsements that come their way.

Meanwhile, back home in Kerala, the superstars are importing heroines like Meena, Padmapriya, Rambha, Kushboo, Devayani and other senior actresses to act as their heroines.

Recently, Mammootty made a splash after Katrina Kaif, the English born supermodel and Bollywood actress, was signed to be his heroine in `Balram Vs Taradas.' Dileep, after repeatedly being paired with Kavya and Navya, has now changed tracks and is doing `Fast Track' with Gajala from Kuwait. And the big news is that Mohanlal's heroine for `Mahasamudram' is a Bengali beauty!

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