Unlike the secret competition among heroes, there ain’t an evident battle among female actors for the title of ‘Lady Superstar’. It is fair to say that seldom do heroines get a chance to, for lack of a better word, perform in films. And even when they do, mostly the performances that involve a lot of crying and, at times, wailing get deemed as the best. Or in the old times, playing a ‘bold’ character like Sripriya’s Manju in Aval Apadithaan (1978), Lakshmi’s Ganga in Sila Nerangalil Sila Manitharagal (1977), or Saritha’s Sevanthi in Thaneer Thaneer (1981) gets invariably deemed as best performance. A female actor either has to be in a sob story or in a provocative film. Priyamani’s Muthazhagu in Paruthiveeran is a relatively modern example. Let’s not digress into the topic of why even the monickers given to female actors are just female versions of the male actors’. Sometimes it gets worse like calling Saritha or Radhika Sarathkumar the Lady Sivaji. That’s a whole different topic. Let’s just assume such titles, despite their innate sexism, mean particular heroines are not just much-wanted actors but also artistes who can ‘perform’. And on top of that, she can do big-budget ‘female-centric films’. Nayanthara is all that. However, she is unique than all the aforementioned female actors because she got there by doing roles that didn’t involve wailing a lot, nor was it the quintessential ‘Bharathi Kanda Pudhumai Pen’ (Poet Bharathi’s idea of a modern woman). She did something as unique as Kadambari in Naanum Rowdy Dhaan. It is fair to say the film changed the career of Nayanthara. It is because we finally got to see that the star can be much more than Tamil cinema’s Lora Croft.
Not just Nayanthara’s role, director Vignesh Shivan’s film itself was a bit eccentric and unique. Naanum Rowdy Dhaan (I am a rowdy too) is about a cowardly youngster’s desperation to become a rowdy as he thinks that’s cooler than being a cop like his mom. The title is borrowed from Vadivelu’s comedy segment from Thalai Nagaram (2006), where the ace comedian plays a pretend gangster. But Naanum Rowdy Dhaan is more about the heroine Kadambari than its hero Pandian (Vijay Sethupathi). In a sense, Naanum Rowdy Thaan is a converse of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Here, it’s the guy who exists just to help the brooding/grieving girl. As far as the plot goes, Kadambari is on a mission to kill a dreaded gangster Killivalavan (Parthiban), the man responsible for the death of both her father and mother. She has also lost her hearing because of the don, who is now a politician. When Pandian falls for Kadambari, she wants him to team up with her in the revenge saga. Thus begins the journey of the couple to hunt down the demon. Undoubtedly, without the effective performance of Nayanthara, the film would have lost its impact as she has to be this emotional quirk in the movie, which is otherwise in a perennial jolly mood.
Kadambari has a lot of self-respect. But occasionally, her guard loosens up, and people around her discover she is deaf. She handles the moment of vulnerability with such ease. “Please yaarkitayum sollidatheenga (Please don’t tell anyone),” she says softly. It is adorable and funny at the same time. Adorable because of the cute performance. Funny because she pretends it to be some highly guarded secret when everyone is in the know. That’s the general tone of the film. It handles some serious moments with humour. But when it wants to get serious, it hits the right notes, just like Nayanthara’s performance.
‘Cute’ is the apt word to describe Nayanthara in Naanum Rowdy Dhaan. Be it the scene where she is cursing at the ‘Red t-shirt’ or when she subtly smiles when Pandian tricks her into riding pillion with him or when she breaks down in front of the villain saying, “Though I am deaf, I am able to hear you scream,” Nayanthara is adorable and perfect everywhere. It is still a mystery why the actor doesn’t continue to dub for her roles like she did in this film. Kadamabari always holds her head high despite all her vulnerabilities and unrealistic mission. She is desperate, silly, sensible, and beautiful… all at once. She is perfect being the “Loosu Ponnu” when RJ Balaji calls her “Paithiyam”. And she is perfect when he calls her “Worth-uh”.