New Delhi: Last Friday, comedy drama Kaatrin Mozhi, a remake of Hindi film Tumhari Sulu, made about ₹ 4.40 crore over its first two days. The Jyothika-starrer that was competing with actor Vijay’s Diwali blockbuster Sarkar is only the latest Tamil language film headlined by a female actor to have set the cash registers ringing. Earlier in the year, actor Nayanthara delivered two back-to-back hits with crime thriller Imaikkaa Nodigal and black comedy Kolamavu Kokila that grossed ₹ 20 crore and ₹ 30 crore respectively in Tamil Nadu alone. Telugu cinema isn’t far behind. Keerthy Suresh-starrer Mahanati, a biopic on veteran actor Savitri, made ₹ 83 crore in worldwide collections after its May release, while Anushka Shetty’s horror flick Bhaagamathie earned ₹ 67.2 crore across the world in January.
To be sure, what may now be considered ordinary in the Hindi film industry is a certifiable growing trend in the more male-dominated Tamil and Telugu movie industries. Women are not just headlining unusual subjects but guaranteeing box office returns as well.
“I think every industry, including Hindi, is changing in terms of the scripts, ideas and thoughts that filmmakers are now exploring. It’s not conscious that some of those protagonists happen to be women," said Mahanati director Nag Ashwin. Films with new and fresh subjects, that cannot necessarily be categorized as male or female-centric, have been runaway hits lately, he said, signalling that people want new content, not stuck in the star loop. That some of the female-centric subjects have emerged as hits is by default. For example, the protagonist in Imaikkaa Nodigal, might as well have been a male and not female cop.
Ashwin and film critic Baradwaj Rangan added though that the idea of the male superstar-driven vehicle has been ingrained in audiences’ minds for years and the fact that these films are working now is definitely progress for what are considered notoriously male-dominated industries.
An added advantage is the growth of multiplexes in these areas. For example, with the launch of its latest PVR ICON brand in Chennai this October, PVR took its count to 74 screens at 13 properties in Tamil Nadu, and 246 screens across 41 properties in south India.
“Last year, about 100 new screens were added overall in Chennai and Chengalpet alone," said independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai. “Out of the 1,100 screens in Tamil Nadu, a female-centric film may get 200 as compared to 500 for a male-centric film. But multiplexes have the advantage of many shows and timings."
Plus, audiences’ tastes are changing, Pillai said. Unlike earlier, women don’t necessarily have to play the homemaker in a family-oriented story if they are to headline a film. In Imaikkaa Nodigal, Nayanthara plays a cop chasing a serial killer and in Kolamavu Kokila, a drug peddler. In Bhaagamathie, Shetty plays an IAS officer imprisoned in a haunted house while in her September release U Turn, Samantha Akkieneni is a newspaper reporter embroiled in a series of murders.
Coming soon are Paris Paris, a Tamil remake of Kangana Ranaut’s Queen starring Kajal Aggarwal, Nayanthara’s upcoming horror flick Kolaiyuthir Kaalam and action film Aadai featuring Amala Paul.
“Liberalization and things like the Me Too movement have changed people’s outlook lately. Women are now willing to do films without a hero and play bold, non-traditional characters unlike 10 or 15 years ago," Pillai said admitting though that female actors in Tamil and Telugu cinema still command only one-fourth the fee of their male counterparts.