New Delhi: Even as Bollywood celebrated the 100 crore plus collections of Alia Bhatt-led spy thriller Raazi, a woman-centric film in another language released on the same day, also made waves. Keerthy Suresh’s Telugu film, Mahanati, collected about 55 crore worldwide and became one of the rare films made in the language to cross the $2 million mark in the United States, a territory currently dominated by hardcore testosterone-driven Telugu potboilers.

“I’m overwhelmed because this kind of success is something none of us expected, we knew the movie was going to work and turn out good, but we never knew it was going to be such a raging success," Suresh said. “Also everybody’s work has been appreciated, not just mine or the director’s so we feel like all the hardship gone into making the movie has paid off."

Released in Tamil as Nadigaiyar Thilagam, Mahanati is a biopic on the life of legendary south Indian actor, singer, director and producer Savitri, widely considered India’s first female superstar, still remembered as much for her instant ability to shed tears for the camera as for her tumultuous relationship with Tamil superstar Gemini Ganesan. She may not have been the original choice for the role but Suresh, formerly known for light, girl-next-door characters, has come into her own with the author-backed role.

“She was previously known for routine commercial films but Mahanati has definitely catapulted her to superstardom," said independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai calling the film Suresh’s big ticket breakthrough. “Nobody expected the film to be such a success and plus, her performance is the main attraction."

Pillai compared Mahanati’s success to Raazi to say things are slowly changing for female-oriented films in the regional space as well. Mahanati’s US collections, particularly, are nothing short of phenomenal.

“It’s not just about the hero or heroine but the story today. If a heroine can carry a good script on her shoulders, it works and it holds true for both Tamil and Telugu," said Suresh who started her career with Priyadarshan’s Malayalam horror film Geethanjali (2013) alongside veteran actor Mohanlal despite being born to Malayalam film producer and director Suresh Kumar and having worked as a child actor in a few of his productions, such as Pilots (2000), Achaneyanenikkishtam (2001) and Kuberan (2002) and some television serials.

Kumar, however, had no plans of a typical Bollywood-style star child launch for his daughter. After her twelfth standard, when Suresh told her parents she wanted to get into movies, they told her it was something that should happen on its own.

Earlier known for commercial films, Suresh has been catapulted to superstardom with ‘Mahanati’.
Earlier known for commercial films, Suresh has been catapulted to superstardom with ‘Mahanati’.

“My father said he couldn’t make a movie for me, just because he was a producer and I wanted to be an actor, that kind of drama shouldn’t happen," Suresh recalled. “I thought that was it so I went back to the other creative pursuits I was interested in, fashion designing was close to cinema, so I thought if not an actor, I’d become a costume designer for my dad. That’s how I got into fashion and when I was in my third year (of college), I got this call from Priyadarshan who is my dad’s friend and wanted me to do my debut film."

Suresh soon moved on to Tamil and Telugu hits like Rajini Murugan (2016) and Nenu Local (2017). Mahanati is the 25-year old actor’s first author-backed role. But the film’s spectacular box office numbers haven’t flooded Suresh with offers.

“The kind of respect (towards me) has changed, people are definitely seeing me as a different person and actor so I feel they are thinking twice before bringing things to me, I’m not flooded with offers right now because everybody’s in that thought process but whatever I’m coming across sounds very good," Suresh said.

The massive success also doesn’t mean this is the only kind of work Suresh wants to do.

“I was a little scared at one point (after Mahanati) because every call used to be about what’s next and whether it is going to be like Mahanati. That kind of expectation is very scary but we have to be practical," Suresh said. “A film like that happens once in a blue moon so not every movie I do can be like Mahanati."

Suresh, who will next be seen in Tamil projects like Saamy 2 alongside Vikram, Sandakozhi 2 opposite Vishal and a film with actor Vijay, says she doesn’t want to focus only on female-oriented scripts.

“Not every movie can become a Mahanati and not every female-oriented movie has to work. I have to make sure I balance my commercial and female-oriented scripts. Mahanati was something that just happened, it wasn’t like I wanted to do something like that and I found it. So I’m just waiting to see what I pick next. I feel more responsible now," she said.

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