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From Arundhati to Bhaagmathie: The rise and rise of Anushka Shetty

When Anushka Shetty started off as an actor in 2003, little did she know she would become one of the reigning queens of South cinema. Her portrayals of strong, larger-than-life characters in Arundhati, Rudhramadevi, Baahubali and now Bhaagamathie have brought back family audience to theatres.

regional movies Updated: Feb 10, 2018 09:08 IST
Karthik Kumar
Karthik Kumar
Hindustan Times, Chennai
Anushka Shetty,Bhaagmathie,Arundhati
Anushka Shetty as Baahubali’s Devasena won over all of India.

Anushka Shetty, who once lived a simple life as a yoga trainer in Bangalore, is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars of southern cinema today. The recent phenomenal success of her film Bhaagmathie has only elevated her star status to dizzying heights, stirring up the debate if she’s the next lady superstar on social media. Thirteen years since her debut in 2003 Telugu film Super, directed by Puri Jagannadh, Anushka has come a long way and it can be said with conviction she has no competition. When she signed Super, she didn’t even know that she can ask for a story narration. “It was only after director Puri Jagannadh asked me if I want to listen to the story did I even know that an actor has to do that before signing a project,” she told Hindustan Times in a recent chat.

Anushka Shetty in Bhaagamathie...

In 2009, when Kodi Ramakrishna’s Arundhati released and struck gold at the box-office, it changed how Anushka was perceived by the audiences until then. Winning over audiences and critics alike in a performance of a lifetime, her majestic screen presence gave many filmmakers the courage to write these larger-than-life characters and be convinced that Anushka could do justice to them. According to Bhaagmathie director G Ashok, who waited four years to make the film with Anushka, he couldn’t imagine the story with anyone else. “I knew only she could do justice to such a role. Apart from the fact that she’s a talented artist, she looks majestic in these characters. Anyone can play a regular love interest to a hero, but only Anushka can play a character like Bhaagmathie. I doubt if audiences would have accepted anyone else in that role. Even they did, I doubt the film would have created a similar impact,” he said.

Anushka’s career took a detour post Arundhati. People started making similar films; trade began betting big on historic projects. The success of the film tuned a new leaf at the box-office for heroine-centric films. “Arundhati gave producers the confidence to bet on heroine-centric stories. While some of the subsequent films with women in the titular role may not have been as successful as Arundhati, the latter’s success surely widened the market for such attempts. Arundhati is one film that brought back family audiences in hordes to the cinemas. Today, it’s extremely challenging to bring family audiences to theatres because they have so many options to choose from to get entertained at home. After Arundhati, it was SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali that won over family audiences,” a leading distributor said.

As Arundhati... you wouldn’t want to mess with her, would you? That’s if you have survived her beauty.

Arundhati’s success also gave Anushka the opportunity to experiment with projects such as Vedam and Panchakshari. “Arundhati effect helped Anushka have an audience of her own for many of her subsequent films. Audiences thronged to cinemas to catch a film that featured Anushka in a pivotal role. Of course, it didn’t take long people to realize that not all films can recreate the magic of Arundhati, but it didn’t affect Anushka’s image,” the distributor added, for instance, was lauded by critics and a section of the audience. The film couldn’t make an impact at the box-office. However, Anushka was praised for her performance as a prostitute.

The Baahubali franchise helped Anushka expand her market beyond Telugu states and Tamil Nadu. In an interview, talking about Anushka’s ability to slip into a character, Rajamouli once said: “She’s someone who can literally play any character. When I was shooting with her for Baahubali, I was stunned how she scored over veterans like Ramya Krishnan and Sathyaraj in many scenes.” While it is said that she’s personally drawn more towards these larger-than-life characters, Anushka says her heart beats for love and drama. “Honestly, I’m not drawn to historic, larger-than-life characters. Personally, I prefer drama, a love story over historic characters. I don’t know why I always end up picking up the sword and killing people. But I owe my career to producer Shyam Prasad Reddy (producer of Arundhati) whose conviction in me really made me what I’m today. I have a market of my own because of Arundhati, and maybe its success gave filmmakers the confidence to write these kind of roles for me. As an industry, our focus should be more on writing better stories and not try and capitalize on an actor’s popularity or screen presence,” she had said.

In Vedam, Anushka played a prostitute.

It has to be seen where will the success of Bhaagmathie, the first south Indian heroine-centric film to breach into the million dollar club in the US and enter the Rs 50 crore club market, take Anushka next in her career.

In a still from her Telugu film Om Namo Venkateshaya.
Playing the love interest of Suriya in Si3 of the Singam series. She has a fondness for love stories and drama, not sword-wielding historicals.
In a still from Rudhramadevi -- costume dramas and Anushka Shetty go hand-in-hand.

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First Published: Feb 10, 2018 09:04 IST