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The anatomy of Nayanthara’s road to Jawan: The ‘ostracised’ superstar who reclaimed her throne in style

Everything boils down to this day: September 7, 2023. With Atlee, known for his mastery in crafting films that radiate superstar charisma, and the ultimate superstar Shah Rukh Khan teaming up for the very first time, the expectations from Jawan are sky-high.

And, there are two ways to approach Jawan: you can either watch it as a Bollywood film featuring many Tamil talents in significant roles or as a Tamil film with a Bollywood icon at its centre. Anyhow, Jawan, with its exceptional cast and crew, seamlessly blurs the lines between Bollywood and regional cinema in terms of collaboration.

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In the extensive lineup of skilled talents comprising the cast and crew of Jawan, the standout name is undoubtedly that of’ Nayanthara.

Despite her immense popularity in the south, it surprises many that Nayanthara has never made an appearance in Hindi cinema in her 20-year career. Now, she is poised to make her highly-anticipated debut in India’s largest film industry, in one of the year’s most eagerly awaited films.

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Meanwhile, let’s delve into her career and anatomise what attributes elevated her to the status of ‘Lady Superstar’ and explore the path that led her to this point.

The beginning

Born to Malayali parents, Diana Mariam Kurian embarked on her silver screen journey at the age of 19 in 2003. Rechristening herself as Nayanthara, she made her debut in Sathyan Anthikkad’s Malayalam film Manassinakkare. Her portrayal of Gauri, a strong and independent woman from a Kerala village, earned immediate recognition and landed her key roles in two Mohanlal films, Vismayathumbathu and Natturajavu, the subsequent year.

Notably, her performance in Natturajavu garnered attention, even though she wasn’t in a leading role. In 2005, Nayanthara’s career truly took off. She started the year by making her Tamil debut in Ayya and quickly landed a major role opposite Rajinikanth in Chandramukhi, a film that enjoyed an extended run in theatres. Additionally, she starred in two consecutive Malayalam movies with Mammootty: Thaskara Veeran and Rappakal. While she endeared herself to Malayalam audiences, Nayanthara solidified her presence in Tamil by playing one of the female leads in the blockbuster Ghajini. With the exception of Thaskaraveeran, all films achieved tremendous success, establishing Nayanthara as a lucky charm. Her performances, neatly in tune with the characters, and her willingness to explore various genres earned her acclaim.

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During this time, her dance number “X-Machi” in Ghajini also became a chart-topper, thanks to her natural flexibility and stunning looks. Unfortunately, this marked the onset of an era in which the roles she received often included at least one ‘item song’ or a ‘steamy’ scene for the sake of commercial value. Nevertheless, Nayanthara didn’t let this deter her from reaching new heights. She embraced such roles with professionalism, embarking on her ascent to stardom.

Rise to immense fame

Soon after, she made a complete shift away from Malayalam and directed her attention towards the Tamil and Telugu industries, where she secured big roles in even bigger movies. Unfortunately, this period coincided with a time when both industries were predominantly producing male-centric films, often depicting women as mere ‘eye candies’ or ‘love interests’. Nevertheless, Nayanthara embraced every significant film opportunity that came her way, seizing the lead female roles in these projects.

In her Telugu debut, she co-starred with Venkatesh and shortly after, she took on another project, Boss, alongside Nagarjuna Akkineni, establishing her presence there as well. Additionally, she had a string of successful Tamil films, including Thalaimagan, and Vallavan.

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Nevertheless, these films failed to delve into her acting talents and instead relied heavily on her beauty. Though Nayanthara made an effort to make the most of normal moments in her films and establish herself as a talented actor, these attempts often went unnoticed.

On the other hand, in 2007, it appeared that Nayanthara decided to stop trying and started starring in a series of mindless blockbusters like Yogi, Dubai Seenu, Tulasi, and Billa. By shifting her focus entirely to it, she started receiving the same level of attention as her male counterparts, which seldom happened before in the south, except for Sridevi.

Nayanthara’s remarkable ability to master style and swag, coupled with her willingness to fully embrace the demands of her roles, further propelled her rise to stardom. In the subsequent years, she consistently starred in major films, maintaining a busy schedule.

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Once she reached the peak of stardom, either because she felt lonely at the top or a desire for more substantial roles, Nayanthara made a significant decision. She returned to the Malayalam film industry, where she received a character that didn’t rely solely on her physical attractiveness. Her character and performance in Siddique’s Bodyguard garnered acclaim, showcasing her depth as an actor and challenging preconceived notions about her. She continued to select roles with substance, such as in Boss Engira Bhaskaran and Elektra, which further solidified her reputation as an actor rather than just a star.

Regrettably, her rumoured relationship with the married Prabhudeva, meanwhile, brought her significant criticism. Strangely, despite the involvement of two persons in that affair, Nayanthara bore the most public backlash. It all happened during the period that she decided to slow down in her career. However, in 2012, reports emerged that they had parted ways. While many dubbed this as a consequence of her involvement in a family’s collapse, Nayanthara chose not to respond to the controversies. She remained composed and took some time off from the limelight.

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The return, reinvention and reclaim of the throne

In 2013, it was the same Atlee who paved the way for Nayanthara’s remarkable comeback with his directorial debut Raja Rani. The actor skillfully portrayed the role of a young woman struggling to come to terms with the pain of lost love. This role allowed Nayanthara to showcase a side of her acting abilities that viewers had rarely witnessed before. The character’s subtle resemblances to her own life experiences played a role in altering the audience’s perception of her to some degree.

The actor, however, was determined to not let go of her throne. In the same year, she starred in the Tamil action thriller Arrambam alongside Ajith Kumar and once again demonstrated her status as a genuine powerhouse.

Simultaneously, Nayanthara had a new vision during her 2.0 phase and was no longer content with roles “as prominent as the male leads”. Her next film choice held great significance as it marked her debut as the sole leading actor. Opting for a remarkably potent character in the movie Anaamika, a remake of Vidya Balan’s Kahaani, Nayanthara demonstrated who owns the room and her ability to carry a film entirely on her own.

In the subsequent years, she adeptly managed a balance between undertaking mammoth projects and delivering high-quality content across various genres. Even in the case of the big films she agreed to, they diverged from her earlier work, featuring stronger narratives without the inclusion of her ‘item numbers’ purely for commercial appeal. For every big project like Bhaskar the Rascal and Thani Oruvan, Nayanthara skillfully counterbalanced her career with projects like Maya and Naanum Rowdy Dhaan, which had more substance. Even when films didn’t perform well at the box office, her fan base remained unwavering, and her name alone became a powerful marketing asset.

Her talent truly shone in the political drama Aramm, where she portrayed the role of a district collector, and highlighted her ability to create blockbuster hits.

In 2018, her stardom soared to unprecedented heights with her film Kolamaavu Kokila receiving early morning shows, a ‘privilege’ typically reserved for top male superstars. Following the success of the black comedy crime film, she continued to raise the bar by headlining the action thriller Imaikkaa Nodigal, both of which turned out to be major hits.

As a result, in 2019, when she starred alongside Ajith Kumar yet again, in Viswasam, Nayanthara’s characterisation differed significantly from her previous roles, clearly demonstrating that she had also become an indomitable force in the industry.

In recent years

Despite having appeared in a few notably mediocre and subpar films since 2019, Nayanthara’s fans and the general audiences still experience a sense of reassurance when she delivers a strong performance.

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While she let down with movies like Airaa, Kolaiyuthir Kaalam, Love Action Drama, Darbar, Nizhal, Aaradugula Bullet, Annaatthe, Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal, and Gold, the actor managed to strike a balance by taking on smaller yet high-quality projects like Mookuthi Amman, Netrikann, O2, and Connect.

During this period, Nayanthara also played key roles in two major Telugu blockbusters, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy and GodFather, alongside Chiranjeevi.

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Nevertheless, as the superstar, Nayanthara, and the superstar ultra max pro, Shah Rukh Khan, join forces for the first time, it is certain that the movie will be packed with electrifying moments.

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