Even as the Tamil film industry grows enormously to rival Bollywood in terms of production values, Kollywood has made history by importing heroines from northern India, particularly Punjab. It has also imported its heroines from neighbouring Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Today the top heroines of the Tamil cinema are not from Tamil Nadu but from other states showing the industry’s flexibility to cast non Tamil speaking heroines and its cosmopolitan tolerance to other language speaking actors. This compares sharply with regionalism that is growing in northern states and also some southern states giving predominance to the local language.
Paradoxically the film industry’s diverse stand is in sharp comparison to the political world in Tamil Nadu which still abhors Hindi and feels it should not be foisted on the state. And yet Hindi films prove very popular with Tamil audiences as weekend gate collections at cinema houses add to the prosperity of the film makers in Bollywood.
Nayantara the top most heroine of Tamil cinema and the highest paid actress at over Rs two crore per film migrated from Kerala where she was better known as Diandra. She recently reprised the role of VidyaBalan in Kahani in the Tamil remake Anbe Nee Enge(Darling where are you?) which is setting the cash box jingling for the producers. Nayantara is also known for her famous swim suit role in Billa, the Tamil remake of the highly successful Hindi caper film Don.
Anushka is another top heroine in Tamil films who migrated from Mangalore in Karnataka charging in crores per film. Lakshmi Rai is another Mangalore beauty finding pride of place in Tamil films. TapceePannu gave up her IT job in Jalandhar to act in Tamil films, HansikaMotwani, the Sindhi girl who acted as SmritiIrani’sneice in TV serial SaasBhiKabhiBahuthi , is a most sought after heroine in Tamil films.
Tamanna Bhatia is yet another Sindhi girl who has made it big in Tamil films. The glamour quotient that these north Indian or Kerala girls have over Tamil girls could be one reason. Another reason could be the Tamil cultural milieu is still dominated by conservative ideals of prudish parents who do not allow their girls to take to films. Yet another reason could be the changing preference of Tamil audiences which has now become global. Tamil films outreach to audiences beyond the shores of Bay of Bengal to Malaysia, Singapore, London, Paris, and Canada and USA.
This also explains why the Tamil film industry has grown out of its regional stranglehold of politicians some of whose mind-sets have also changed such as in the DMK family where the scions of Stalin and Alagiri run film companies that cast north Indian heroines and up production values comparable to films made in Bollywood. Sun Pictures run by KalanidhiMaran, son of former central minister MursoliMaran, nephew of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, makes the biggest banner Tamil films, the biggest of them being Enthiran/Robot bilingual that broke box office records globally.
Kamalahasan , who did not make it in Hindi films and chose to remain in Tamil films, produced Vishwaroopam with a cast that predominantly had actors from Bollywood, the heroine Pooja was a north Indian immigrant from USA, the villains were Rahul Bose and the upcoming JaydeepAhlawat of Bollywood. ShekarKapoor , an internationally acclaimed actor turned director, topped the cast as Kamal’s intelligence boss in the film. The films technical aspects were handled by Hollywood.
Whatever the political stand points on the language issue over the years, the Tamil film industry has a history of tolerance and known to promote non Tamil speaking actors. If the Lalitha, Padmini and Ragini sisters from Kerala ruled in the fifties and sixties and even later, RatiAgnihotri, Swapna, and Simranand others ruled much later in the Eighties.Saroja Devi the dusky beauty from Karnataka won the hearts of millions opposite the immortals of Tamilcinema, Chevalier SivajiGanesan, and Dr MG Ramachandran.
Jayalalitha and Sri Devi , though naturalized tamilians, were originally from Karnataka and Kerala. TheAmbicasisters –Ambica and Radha, were also beauties from Kerala who dominated the Tamil cinema.
The heroes were always from within Tamil Nadu but the heroines always from outside with a few exceptions. The trend hasn’t changed much in the 90s or the early part of the 21st century. SivajiGanesan, MG Ramachandran, Jai Shankar, Ravichandran,Vijay Kumar, Kamalahasan, Ajith, Surya, Vijay,Madhavan, Vishal , Bharath, Dhanushare all true blooded Tamils whose mother tongue is Tamil.
The super star Rajnikanth and Action King Arjunwre the only exceptions – both came from Karnataka and got pride of place among the Tamil speaking population. Rajni is ShivajiRaoGaikwad from Belgaum, who could speak Marathi and kannada fluently. Vikram came to Tamil films from Andhra Pradesh and is one of the most talented artistes.Tamil became Rajni’s 2nd language to make him Indian cinemas highest paid star at over Rs 50 crores. He has given a string of box office hits in Padaiyappa, Chandramukhi, Sivaji and Enthiran.
All this goes to show Tamilfilmdom’s constant search for talent and the Tamilfilm audience greatest cosmopolitan outlook to absorbing the best talents and looks from different parts of India. Today Tamil films rival Bollywood in production values that aggregate to over Rs 50 to Rs 60 crore average per film. The heroes account for one third of the production cost and actors such as Ajith, Surya and Vijjay are the most sought after box office stars who are well trained in all forms of martial arts, dancing skills and dialogue delivery to spawn fan clubs across the state and beyond the shores of Tamil Nadu.
Audiolaunches, pre film promos on TamilTV channels accounts for a substantial part of the production cost of a film. A film is sold well worldwide much before its release much as its illustrious brother Bollywood in Mumbai.
Among the top ten heroines of Tamil cinema are:Asin, a kerala girl and a stunner with her bubbly performances who is in top league after the box office success of Gahjini in both Tamil and Hindi with Surya and Aamir Khan. Sneha is another homely girl with the girl next door charm who has won the hearts of millions. She comes from Andhra Pradesh and is another bi lingual star who has given sterling performances in Pallikoodum and Vasul Raja opposite ulaganayagan Kamala Hasan.
She has also acted in a number of movies opposite the current heart throb of TamilNadu, Surya, one of the highest paid actors in TamilNadu with Rs20 crores to his credit.
Shreya a Rajasthan girl shot to fame with Sivaji acting opposite Rajnikanth in the blockbuster movie. She was reputedly paid Rs 20 lakhs plus a retainer of Rs 5 lakhs only to not to accept shooting dates in any other film while shooting for Sivaji was complete. She hails from a middle class background and her father works in BHEL.
Sameera Reddy is another sexy babe from Andhra Pradesh who is consolidating herself with a string of good movies and good performances made by GautamMenon ,VarnamAyiram, and some more of his latest movies . She played the bimbette in Race with Anil Kapoor, a far cry from the movies she acts in Telugu or Tamil. Another lass who has capitalized on her hour glass figure and looks is the dusky ReemaSen from Bengal who shot to fame with Minnale with Madhavan which was later remade as RHTDM with DiyaMirza. Genelia D Souza is another girl from Manglore who has a name in Tamil Cinema. She hails from a middle class background and her father works in TCS in Bangalore. She is married to Hindi star RiteshDeshmukh, son of former Maharashtra politician VilasraoDeshmukh, former CM.
Long before these youngsters came in, the comparatively older sisters Naghma and Jyotika, ruled the world of Tamil cinema with sterling performances and killer looks. Both are from Mumbai and one of them has a Gujarati origin. Namita and Mumtaz, the two bombshells who exude sexism on the screen as Tamil film journals describe them, are again imports from Punjab and Kerala. Another typical Punjabi girl who was the uncrowned queen of Tamil cinema was Simran who has acted opposite all the big heroes of Tamil cinema including Kamalahasan. Simran endeared herself to the Tamil audiences with her fluent Tamil and typical south Indian looks, and how she managed this transformation from a Punjabi kudi is history.
There are more and more beauties knocking at the doors of the Tamil cinema from northern, western, eastern India more than from the south. It’s easier to get opportunities in the south as there are so many new film makers unlike Mumbai where there is a strangle hold by film families. Tamil Nadu has indeed shown great magnanimity in absorbing film heroines from other states unlike Mumbai which rotates around AishwaryaRai, KareenaKapoor ,BipashaBasu and Priyanka Chopra or KanganaRaut. But all these heroines barring Kareena made their bow to filmdom through Tamil films only.AishwaryaRai in Iruvar of Mani Ratnam and Jeans, Bipashabasu in Sachin, Priyanka Chopra in Tamizhan, SushmitaSen in Rakshakan, KanganaRaut in DhamDhoom,. is the list of Tamil films in which top Hindi heroines acted.
(The author is a film critic and a noted economic journalist of New Delhi).