Samantha Ruth Prabhu turns 35 today. From a conventional and traditional perspective, she should have reached a point in her career that is close to the end of the line as a leading lady. It’s time for her to make way for the younger women to romance the much older male superstars. But, thankfully, these are unconventional times. The leading ladies that came before Samantha, including Trisha and Nayanthara, continue to challenge the myth about the shelf-life of a leading woman, and have paved the way for her to hold onto her hard-earned place in the industry.
The last 12 years of Samantha’s career felt like just a warm-up. It allowed her to gather the fame and influence that was needed to break more glass ceilings. All things considered, her career has only begun. Yes, she has come a long way since her debut with Ye Maaya Chesave (2010). But, it was only recently she has seemingly started tapping into her true potential.
After the release of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, Trisha was all the rage. Everybody fell in love with how great Trisha looked in the role of a deeply complicated heart-breaker with a simple dressing sense. And the film also saw one of her career-best performances of her. Samantha, who reprised Trisha’s role in the Telugu version, Ye Maaya Chesave, was then a novice. It’s hard to recall now whether Samantha’s performance of her in the movie created a pop-cultural wave, at least outside then the united Andhra Pradesh, as strong as Trisha’s of her.
Her first full-fledged role in Tamil cinema was in Baana Kaathadi. People may have taken note of her performance of her as an innocent, vulnerable and hopelessly romantic young girl. She seemed natural in the role. However, her first major break came with director SS Rajamouli’s Eega. She again played an innocent, vulnerable and hopelessly romantic girl named Bindu, who needed to be saved from a lustful and evil man Sudeep. Her lover de ella is murdered and now his spirit de ella takes the body of a housefly and comes to her rescue de ella. Her performance by Ella in Neethaane En Ponvasantham, however, did not get its due appreciation. In fact, Gautham Menon’s take on modern love deserved a better response from the audience and the critics at the time.
Sticking to conventional wisdom, Samantha continued to play by the rules of the mainstream industry. Besides a few notable performances here and there, she was largely confined to playing limited roles of hero’s arm candy. In her personal life, however, she was not limited by gender stereotypes. She always spoke up for issues she believed in. In 2013, she minced no words when she called out a poster of Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu’s 1: Nenokkadine. The poster of director Sukumar’s 2014 movie featured Kriti Sanon walking behind Mahesh Babu on all fours.
Saw a poster of a yet to be released Telugu film.Not only is it deeply regressive,but it’s point is actually that it is deeply regressive
— Samantha (@Samanthaprabhu2) December 16, 2013
“Saw a poster of a yet to be released Telugu film.Not only is it deeply regressive,but it’s point is actually that it is deeply regressive,” she wrote on her Twitter account. While she did not name names, it didn’t take much effort for the media to put two and two together. She went on to share her views of her despite knowing the risk of drawing the ire of the loyal fans of the superstar. And as expected, she did face the trolling for the same.
But, trolling seemingly never deterred her from taking a stand or doing what’s best for her. She also threw her weight behind women who were finding the courage to publicly recount their order of her in the wake of the #MeToo movement. “I am so happy that more and more women are finding the strength to say #MeToo. Your bravery is commendable. I am sorry though that some people, even other women themselves will shame and burden you with the question of proof and doubt. Just know that you are saving (sic),” she tweeted then.
She also stood by her friend and colleague singer Chinmayi Sripaada when she faced boycotts from some powerful men in the industry for making allegations of sexual misconduct against veteran Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu. She tweeted her support from her to Chinmayi and continued to collaborate with her.
She also got married to her then sweetheart Naga Chaitanya in a fairytale wedding amid a lot of fanfare. And when things didn’t work out and the couple decided to end it mutually, she walked away from the marriage without worrying too much about what people would say. The online trolling against her from her has only gone up manifolds.
“Don’t ever mistake MY SILENCE for ignorance, MY CALMNESS for acceptance, My KINDNESS for weakness,” she tweeted. “Kindness can have an expiration date #JustSaying,” she had warned recently amid a lot of online provocation.
At the same time, Samantha is also making great strides by carving a new niche for herself. She is no longer the vulnerable and hopeless romantic that needs a male saviour. In Super Deluxe, she plays a lovelorn woman, who cheats on her husband with her boyfriend de ella. But, that doesn’t make her a woman of questionable character. Samantha’s Vaembu in Thiagarajan Kumararaja directorial is still the protagonist of her own story. It just needs us to put aside our gender bias and look at her de ella with fresh eyes, you see a woman who did what she did because she had her own justifiable reasons de ella. And for a change, she is not begging the forgiveness of her husband de ella to save her from her sins de ella. She owns her actions of her.
Samantha continued on the unconventional path by playing a Sri Lankan terrorist in The Family Man season 2. A victim of war crimes, she is waiting to get her revenge against those who committed unspeakable crimes against people of her community during the civil war that ravaged the island nation for over three decades. She played the role of a trained operative, who is even ready to submit to sexual exploitation for the sake of her mission de ella, with a lot of conviction. She surprised everyone with the swagger she developed for her ella character Raji, who can kill any man in flat 30 seconds.
Later, she became quite a rage across the country with her most-glamorous dance performance yet in ‘Oo Antava’ in director Sukumar’s gangster saga Pushpa: The Rise. “Now people have forgotten most of my other performances,” Samantha said during a media interaction earlier this year, reacting to the craze that the song had generated.
In a way, ‘Oo Antava’ sort of sums up Samantha’s career. The song is considered an anti-item song for it shames those men who assume a decent and clean image in public but show their worst behavior towards women in private. The men in the song are too lost in a celebratory mood and mesmerized by the dancing girls, they don’t pay attention to the lyrics that slam the problematic male gaze. Like the girl in that song, Samantha is also challenging the system by thriving within the system. And the question is whether the system is paying attention to it. Or it’s too lost in ignoring reality.