Nayanthara is said to have resumed the shooting of "Bigil" before it will be released this Deepavali. She will be playing the former flame of Vijay's character and is a college student majoring in physiotherapy.

Affectionately known as 'Lady Superstar', not only has she survived the male-dominated Tamil film industry for nearly two decades, but she is capable of pulling in the crowd even without a male star in the film.

When her film "Kolamaavu Kokila" was released, many of the theatres in Chennai had allocated early-morning shows that are normally reserved for the top male actors. No other actress has been able to do that in Tamil cinema history.

Tirupur Subramanian, a leading distributor from the south Tamil Nadu market, says that she is the only female star who commands a market, even in the B and C centres. "But her films need to be good for them to work. People expect more than just action and songs when they come for her movies. Her films need to provide that quality."

Nayanthara made her acting debut with the Malayalam film, "Manassinakkare" and then moved on to other Indian languages such as the 2005 Tamil film, "Ayya".

Just like any other actress, she has had her share of flops. In fact, there was a time when her career had suffered a heavy blow from being part of multiple flops. In 2011, she had announced that she was going to retire after the release of her Telugu, "Sri Rama Rajyam". There was even a video of her crying on the last day of the shoot.

However, like a true heroine, she made a comeback two years later with "Raja Rani". She completely redefined herself and her career by making sure that she picked different types of scripts. She even developed the confidence of carrying the whole film by herself. Some of her hits after that were women-centric films such as "Maya", "Dora" and "Aramm".

She is always keen on working with first time director because of their fresh take on film-making, "I am always open to working with debutant directors as they bring a new perspective to a script. That motivates me and helps me choose unique scripts."

Kotapadi J Rajesh, her longtime associate and producer of films like "Aramm" and "Airaa" knows her value in the film industry, "Her films have a market value of around Rs.15 crore (RM 9 million) and is the only female actor to get a wide release. "Airaa", for instance, was released in around 700 screens - 300 in Tamil Nadu and 350 in the Telugu-speaking states," he said.

The main difference that makes her stand out from most male stars is her popularity in all five states. Having acted in all four south languages, with hits in each of them, she is as identifiable in "Dharwad" as she is "Dindigul".

"There are two reasons for her present stardom," says journalist and industry tracker Sreedhar Pillai. "She balances her choice of films very cleverly. Each time she stars in a film like "Kolamavu Kokila" or "Imaaika Nodigal", she also signs a major star film like "Viswasam". Even now, she's the top heroine to line up with Nivin Pauly, Vijay, Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth. Instead of alienating such films after becoming a star on her own right, she has chosen to embrace them. This gives her the freedom to take a chance with her own choice of films because her existence is not under any threat."

She is unique because her films are not the typical women-centric ones even though they seem like that on the surface. This is something that producer Dhananjayan agrees with, "Women-centric roles are those only women can do, but she has not chosen to work in films like that. Some of her hits, for instance, could also have been done by men. Like the IAS officer in "Aramm", or the drug smuggler in "Kolamavu Kokila". What people are connecting to is the heroism in such roles, just like male star vehicles. That's what makes her a star."

"Even her audience is not what you'd call families. Her fans are young, both male and female, and they whistle for her just as much as they do for her male counterparts."

Even when she does acts in male-centric star films, her characters have a lot of depth to them. "She stopped doing banal characters like the "loosu ponnu" long ago. Even in "Viswasam", she played a role where she was equal to Ajith, that too without many romantic scenes or duets. She was the mother of a 9-year-old girl in it and that has contributed to her growing stature."

Kotapadi thinks one of the secrets to her success lies in just how picky she is when it comes to scripts. He said, "For "Arram", for instance, it was chosen from over 100 scripts, so it really was special. It's the same with "Airaa". I had listened to 50 scripts before we chose "Sarjun". Another factor that works for her is how there's an added novelty when she's doing it. Male actors have completed the gamut of roles from IAS officers to farmers, from policemen to smugglers. But when a female star does it, with the required changes to suit her image, it adds a whole new dimension to the film. "Kolamavu Kokila" is doubly special because a woman is stuck in a particularly male-dominated situation."

According to Dhananjayan, being a star in Tamil Nadu is not about the strategies or planning. "It is all about the connection. Remember the three years when she had not made a single Tamil film? But she overcame all that and returned, only to become a bigger star. The audience connects to that Phoenix-like quality. She's like Rajinikanth in that sense. Wasn't he written off after "Baba"? Only Superstars can make a comeback and still remain number one."

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Source: Film Companion India
Photo source: IndiaGlitz