Nepotism Did Not Kill Talent In Malayalam Film Industry; These Actresses Are Proof

Athira Nair
·5-min read

The debate on nepotism in Bollywood has been mostly centered around the argument that talented “outsiders” are losing out to “star-kids” with connections in the industry when it comes to making it big in Hindi commercial cinema. Actor Kangana Ranaut, among others, have openly lashed out against this trend, which she claims was the reason for the suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput a few weeks ago.

True, very few actors have succeeded in Bollywood without family ties to the industry. Notably, such “nepotism” has been rampant in not just Bollywood but in regional cinema as well. In South India - across Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, and Malayalam film industries – star kids have shone in front of the camera as well as behind it. However, a striking contrast is the acceptance of talented youngsters without any “film background” – thereby making cinema a democratic medium that it should be.

Nazriya Nazim in a still from her film 'Koode'
Nazriya Nazim is among the actresses who attained stardom in Malayalam cinema even without any family links to the industry. (Image: A still from her film 'Koode')

In Malayalam cinema, the most successful of actresses in the last two decades – whether it is Manju Warrier who is termed the “Lady superstar,” or Nayantara who is probably the most bankable actress in Tamil as well today – have come from families with no connection in film industry. (In fact, Manju was “discovered” from a dance performance at a school festival, and Nayantara from the cover photo of a local magazine.)

Following in their footsteps, a slew of talented actresses with no particular links to the industry came to Malayalam silver screen – including classical dancer Surabhi Lakshmi who won the National Award for Best Actress (2016) and Amala Paul who has won Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actress (2011) for her debut film and later multiple Filmfare awards.

Parvathy Thiruvoth (Image from Instagram)
Although she comes from no film background, Parvathy Thiruvoth is among the most bankable actresses in Malayalam cinema today. (Image from Instagram)

Interestingly, Malayalam heroines often do well in other Southern languages too. The 2000s saw huge success for Meera Jasmine and Mamta Mohandas – two award-winning actresses who had no family connections to the world of cinema – doing well beyond Malayalam too. This was followed by the next generation of youngsters, including Nithya Menen – who, like Asin long before her – has even reached Bollywood.

MAKERS India takes a look at few of these female actors in the Malayalam film industry, who have established themselves as viable actors with sheer talent in a short span of time.

Aishwarya Lekshmi commands more than 1.6 million followers on her Instagram profile.
Aishwarya Lekshmi, who is just six films old, has amassed a fan following of 1.6 million on Instagram.

Aishwarya Lekshmi

A doctor by qualification, this 29-year-old debuted in 2017, and won the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut (Malayalam) for the highly acclaimed film Mayaanadhi. Formerly a model, Aishwarya Lekshmi is just six films old in Malayalam, and has already debuted in Tamil cinema. Today, she commands more than 1.6 million followers on her Instagram profile.

Nazriya Nazim

Having debuted as a child artist in 2006, Nazriya became the lead heroine in both Malayalam and Tamil in the early 2010s. A darling of the masses, Nazriya won the Kerala State Award for Best Actress in 2015 for Bangalore Days and Om Shanti Oshana. Although she got married in 2014, at the age of 20, she refused to take the ‘No-acting-after-marriage’ route which is a norm in the industry. Most recently, she was seen in Trance (2019), which she also co-produced.

Nimisha Sajayan
Nimisha Sajayan (Image from Nimisha Sajayan's Instagram profile)

Nimisha Sajayan

All of 23, Nimisha is already 10-films old after her debut in 2017, and has won multiple awards including Kerala State Film Award for Best Actress (2018). A martial art expert, Nimisha became a fan favourite not just with her acting chops but with her views on beauty and womanhood. Recently, she also acted in a women-centric short film in Hindi, titled Ghar se.

Parvathy Thiruvoth

Whether it is her superior acting skills or strong stance on women’s rights, Parvathy Thiruvoth (32) is the firebrand personality you can’t ignore. Winner of Kerala State Award for Best Actress as well as Special Mention at the National Film Award, her repertoire includes gems like Take Off (2017) and Uyare (2019). Arguably the most bankable female actor in Malayalam cinema today, she is applauded for her work in Tamil, Kannada, and Hindi cinema too.

Rima Kallingal (Image from Rima Kallingal's official page on Facebook)
Rima Kallingal (Image from Rima Kallingal's official page on Facebook)

Rima Kallingal

It was winning second prize at the Miss Kerala pageant of 2008 that launched dancer-model Rima into cinema, in the same year. With 22FK (2012), Rima won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of a rape survivor who is unforgiving in the face of injustice. Having done more than 30 films in Malayalam, she recently starred in Sunny Side Upar, a Flipkart Video Original film in Hindi.

Rajisha Vijayan (Image from Rajisha Vijayan's official page on Facebook)
Rajisha Vijayan (Image from Rajisha Vijayan's official page on Facebook)

Rajisha Vijayan

In 2016, Rajisha debuted in - and also won the Kerala State Film Award for the Best Actress for – Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, a sleeper-hit. Just a year later, she gave another blockbuster with the coming-of-age romantic comedy June (2019), which had no major star cast to speak of. Having reached the big screen via a short career as a television anchor, she is a graduate in Journalism and Mass Communication.

(Also read: When Cinema Gets Real: These Malayalam Heroines Inspire Women to Stand up for Themselves)

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