When it comes to women in Tamil cinema, traditionally, they’ve mostly done roles that can best be described as glamorous eye candy, however 2017 gave us some hope.

In a year headlined by all the controversies around Vijay’s Mersal, whether superstar Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan will take the political plunge and the phenomenal run of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion; a few films saw the emergence of actresses – against all odds –in a hero-worshiping industry.

These actresses not only shone in author-backed roles but gave audiences a reason to cheer for them on screen.

A still from Andhe Kangal.

In Rohin Venkatesan’s Adhe Kangal, Sshivada Nair played a negative character which she pulled off with ease and aplomb. The critics lauded her work; audiences cheered for her when she smiled enigmatically in some of the film’s best moments. She’s no one film wonder. Among the less-established heroines, she has an impressive body of work with films such as Nedunchaalai and Zero to her credit.

Asked Sshivada if she didn’t mind playing a negative role so early on in her career, she said: “I was very confident when I heard the script, and the way Rohin narrated my character strengthened my belief. I did have my own reservations but then I realized if Neelambari character (from Padayappa) can be popular even after so many years, what could possibly go wrong if I play a villain. After we shot a scene on the first day, I wasn’t satisfied. I remember going back to my caravan and telling my mother if I could do this. But Rohin was very positive from the beginning. He asked me to get more involved with the character and that motivation really helped.”

Nayanthara in Aramm

Nayanthara in Aramm

After going solo in 2015 with Maya, Nayanthara left a mark in titular roles in Dora and Aramm this year. Irrespective of how these films fared at the box-office, it was really encouraging to see an established actress back strong content and in the process give first-time filmmakers a big break. Maya, Dora and Aramm were all made by debutant directors.

In Dora, Nayanthara played a car owner (of a possessed car) turned vigilante. In Gopi Nainar’s Aramm, she played a district collector whose abilities are put to test through the course of a single day in a life and death situation. What’s common between Dora and Aramm is that these are films that solely focused on Nayanthara’s character. There wasn’t even space for romance in her life. In fact, in both these films, we don’t even get to see a man in Nayanthara’s life.

In Dora, she’s after her career and revenge; in Aramm, she’s after justice – even at the cost of her job – for the people of a small village. Nayanthara, with her choices of films, truly came on top this year and she has just teased us with what she’s capable of doing. With an impressive slate of films in 2018, it’s just a matter of time before she’s going to give heroes a run for their money.

The psychology of the lead characters remains unexplored, rendering them one-dimensional.

The psychology of the lead characters remains unexplored, rendering them one-dimensional.

Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai might have elicited mixed response from audiences and critics alike but there’s no denying that Aditi Hydari Rao – in a role that received its share of brickbats – was quite impressive. In a romantic drama that’s centered on the theme of abuse, Aditi as doctor Leela gracefully portrayed the vulnerability of her character. Karthi and Aditi may not have clicked as a pair, but in her respective role she makes us empathise for her and how.

After making a smashing comeback with 36 Vayadhinile after 8-year-long hiatus, Jyothika wowed once again in Magalir Mattum, in which she played a documentary filmmaker who reunites her mother-in-law with her friends and takes them on a road trip. It’s one of those rare films where the women – Bhanupriya, Urvashi and Saranya Ponvannan in excellent roles – overpowered the men and all credit to writer-director Bramma for putting this project together. For Bramma, it was fascinating to write about women from their point of view. Talking about the women in the film, he said every single character was written with a purpose. Bramma strongly believes several young filmmakers are gender sensitive and they try their best to not objectify women. But, there is still a long way to go.

A still from Aval. Youtube screengrab

A still from Aval. Youtube screengrab

One of the astonishing performances of the year came from debutante Anisha Angelina Victor, who stunned as the possessed girl in Siddharth’s Aval. She played her part to the hilt, and one can only imagine how physically taxing (and this reminds me of the exorcism scene right before interval) the role would have been on her and yet she was terrific.

Another whistle-worthy performance came from Aditi Balan, as the rebellious yet vulnerable girl from Aruvi, and it is impossible to think of anyone else in her shoes. Aditi is, unarguably, one of the best finds of this year and she deserves to be treasured.

Aditi Balan in a promotional still of Aruvi

Aditi Balan in a promotional still of Aruvi

It’s worth mentioning that Andrea Jeremiah in Taramani and Thupparivaalan, while Varalaxmi Sarath Kumar in Vikram Vedha and Sathya accepted characters – which go beyond merely looking pretty on screen –  and played them convincingly.

In 2018, it has to be seen if these women or their performances can inspire more filmmakers to write better roles for actresses and tread in the right direction.


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