The first time I watched Keerthy Suresh on the big screen was two years back in Sivakarthikeyan’s Rajini Murugan. Rajini Murugan could have been named Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam part 2 for all the spillover it had from the latter, but the film was a box office hit. Keerthy Suresh, a film old in Kollywood then, struck gold with Rajini Murugan. Overnight, she had several big projects in the pipeline. I remember my social media timelines were flooded with appreciative memes about the young actor. Her role wasn’t remarkable, but she was fresh. We finally had someone who knew the language and was confident about dubbing for herself but that was about it.
There was a wave of popularity she rode until the memes started. While it is tough to decipher a starting point but memory brings up a textile advertisement as the earliest point of reference. And overnight, Keerthy, or to be more precise, her smile became a converging point of memes and trolls. Unflattering screenshots and pictures of Keerthy became templates for several meme creators. In the meantime, she was still acting in films that had big stars. Keerthy had Thodari with Dhanush and Bhairavaa with Vijay, but both of them flopped. Her next Paambhu Sattai with Bobby Simhaa also sank without a trace. Her Telugu films fared better. Nenu Local with Nani was a box office success, Pawan Kalyan’s Agnyaathavaasi didn’t fare as well. Her roles “were characters where it didn’t matter whom they were done by,” as a fellow journalist put it. She was paired against Sivakarthikeyan in Remo. It again was a blockbuster but didn’t save her from memes or trolls.
It was at this point that Keerthy Suresh was brought on board for the veteran actor Savitri’s biopic. Keerthy replaced Nithya Menen, the original choice for the role. Keerthy was once again subject to trolling. Several people decided the fate of the film even before it saw the light of day. How could Keerthy, who has only played cutesy roles, pull off essaying Savitri, who was called Nadigaiyar Thilagam for a reason? Keerthy silenced all our questions with a performance that astonished everyone. It has been around a week since Mahanati has hit the screens and the praises haven’t stopped yet.
The doubts and the praise showered upon Keerthy gave me some food for thought — about how we critique our artistes and the pattern in the careers of our heroines. Several of our top heroines seem to have followed a pattern — be the heroine commercial cinema dictates, climb up the star ladder and then, slowly and steadily begin to experiment. Trisha, Samantha and even our lady superstar Nayanthara is not an outlier to this. They get a film that completely breaks the stereotypes built around the breezy characters they have played so far. For Trisha, it was Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya and later Kodi. Nayanthara’s lady superstar journey began with Maaya. Samantha is now picking films like Rangasthalam, Mahanati and Irumbu Thirai.
Several people had severe doubts about Keerthy playing Savitri, thanks to her filmography until now. But is it fair to judge the caliber of our actors by what they have done when they don’t always get the roles they deserve? As Samantha tweeted, quoting my Irumbu Thirai review, “Yes… Thankyou @Psmithran just for this. Good female roles are no longer a request it is a demand !! The industry is full of talent just waiting to explode on-screen if you only give us the opportunity to do so !!.”
What else can we judge them based on, you might ask. As a film reviewer, the biggest lesson Mahanati and Keerthy Suresh has given me is to give art and artiste an objective chance — review and judge based on what I see on screen after I see it. While reviewing can never be completely objective, we come close to being so when we lose prejudices. When Sivakarthikeyan did Velaikkaran, his most serious film yet, we gave him a chance and it worked. Mahanati has me reminded that every film could potentially be the one that transforms the audiences’ perception of the artiste. And that’s a reminder that I am glad I received.