There are only a handful of actors who have been game changers during their time on screen and just a notable few have been able to sustain and evolve over time. Born Asha Kelunni Nair, actor Revathy is a familiar face in the Indian film industry and has enthralled many with her performances.
Not to be tagged as an actor from the eighties, Revathy did more than just run-of-the-mill, girl-next-door characters. From the eighties through the nineties to now she has had a number of substantial roles to her credit. From the demure looking, simple-minded Muthupechi in Mann Vasanai (1983) to the bold and gutsy Sathya in Magalir Mattum (1994), Revathy has had a dynamic career, spanning across Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi film industries.
The beginning of stardom
Revathy’s first role, the one that fetched her the Filmfare Special Award – South in 1983, was that of a young girl from a village, Muthupechi. Directed by P Bharatiraja, Revathy was just 17 when she made her first debut. The very same year, her second film in Malayalam, Kattathe Kilikkoodu by director Bharatan, was a great success in Kerala that won several awards. After her third in Telugu, Seethamma Pelli by director Bapu, Revathy went on to play a blind, rape-survivor Seetha in Tamil in J Mahendran’s Kai Kodukkum Kai (1984).
1984 was an important year in Revathy’s career that helped her gain a reputation for playing undaunted, vivid women characters who were capable of fending for themselves. This was also the time when directors like Balu Mahendra, K Balachander and Mahendran were breaking stereotypes with their women-centric storylines with strong female leads and Revathy seamlessly fit into those roles.
Following Kai Kodukkum Kai, Revathy went on to play Seetha in Pudhumai Penn directed by Bharathiraja. Seetha, just like her mythological namesake, is distraught when her husband doubts her chastity and Revathy does a commendable job as someone who defies the expectations of a male hegemonic society. Drawing inspiration from writer Subramania Bharati’s Pudhumai Penn poem, the climax shows her leaving her undeserving husband, an idea that veered away from conventional endings.
The same year she also did Vaidhegi Kaathirunthaal, directed by R Sundarrajan, playing a young, lonely widow who lives with her alcoholic father. An accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer, her performance in the song Azhagu Malar Aada was highly appreciated by many. The film was a great success and was later remade in Telugu and Kannada.
As an actor Revathy didn’t just win hearts. She was versatile in her choice of roles and often played strong, relatable women characters. Her big break, the one that put her name high on the charts, was her portrayal of Divya, a very spirited and headstrong girl who transforms into a woman through the course of the movie, in Mani Rathnam’s Mouna Ragam (1986). The film explored several themes like the complexity of arranged marriages, how a woman copes in a new environment, especially after marriage and the topic of divorce that was then a very taboo topic. It remains one of Revathy’s best performances to date. Following Mouna Ragam was Punnagai Mannan, K Balachandar’s 25th film, where she played the chirpy Sinhalese girl, Malini who tries to woo the once-scorned-in-love Kamal Haasan. A brilliant dancer herself, the film gave her ample opportunity to display her talents.
By the late eighties, Revathi was juggling both Tamil and Malayalam films simultaneously. In 1988, she won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress – Malayalam for her performance in a women-centric film (with no male leads), Kakkothikkavile Appooppan Thaadikal. As a mischievous, gypsy vagabond she personified free spirit and played the outsider perfectly. In just five years since her debut, Revathi proved her mettle to portray complex and fluid characters, giving herself a distinct edge in the industry.
Peak of her career
The nineties brought several notable roles her way and she lapped them all up, sometimes even steering the focus away from the male lead. Playing the multi-layered and reticent Thayamma in Kizhaku Vaasal (1990) brought home the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actress. Portraying a character such a Thayamma, a vulnerable, single woman who had to keep herself safe from the prying hands of an influential village chief, was as complex as roles could get. With very less dialogues, the character was her most expressive one yet.
As a pained and helpless mother, Revathy made a mark for herself in Anjali (1990) directed by Mani Rathnam. Now here’s an actress who chose to play the mother at the peak of her career. Winning several awards, the film was pivotal in nurturing Revathy as an actor. In 1991, Revathy forayed into Hindi cinema with Love, a remake of her Telugu film Prema (1989). Her second film Muskurat in 1992 was also a remake of her 1991 Malayalam comedy blockbuster Kilukkam.
The early nineties saw Revathy at her peak, straddling roles in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Malayalam cinema. This period also saw several notable performances coming from Revathy. In spite of being part of several star cast movies, often male-centric, Revathy managed to carve a niche for herself with her performances.
For instance, as Panchavarnam, a naive and doting wife to a village chieftain’s son in 1992’s Thevar Magan, she won several accolades including National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress.
The following year in 1993, Revathy again won the Filmfare for playing Thulasi in Balu Mahendra’s Marupadiyum. As a woman caught in a failing marriage, Revathy portrays anguish, acceptance and eventually poise as a headstrong, independent woman. The film, a remake of Mahesh Bhatt’s 1982 Hindi film Arth, was Tamil cinema’s coming-of-age depiction of a strong woman characters. The cherry on the cake really is her portrayal of Sathya in 1994 Magalir Mattum. The film was lauded during its days for addressing sensitive topics like workplace harassment and the hardships faced by working woman. Her most recent Malayalam film, Molly Aunty Rocks! (2012) gave her a great platform after a long time for which she was nominated in Filmfare Award for Best Actress – Malayalam.
Revathy’s directorial venture happened in the year 2002. Encouraged greatly by her husband Suresh Chandra Menon who was also its producer, Revathy directed Mitr, my friend, an English film written by V Priya with screenplay by Sudha Kongara Prasad. The film won Best Feature Film in English, Best Actress (Shobhana) and Best Editing (Beena Paul) at the 49th National Film Awards. The film was also special for having an all-women crew.
Her second film, Phir Milenge (2004), though not a commercial success explored the topic of AIDS and its actors, Shilpa Shetty and Abhishek Bachchan, received acclaim for their performances. Her last directorial venture was Red Building Where The Sun Sets (2011), a short film on the kind of emotional damage a child undergoes due to his/her parents fighting all the time. The short film won the National Film Award for Best Non-Feature Film on Family Welfare.
Revathy was also one of the very few actors who forayed into television serials during the peak of her career. Penn (1991), a mini television series, directed by Suhasini Maniratnam had a stellar cast and Revathy was part of the first episode that discussed mother-daughter relationship. She also did a few other serials, including Boom Boom Shakalakka (2000), a TV series for children, where she played a liliput with magical powers.
One of the most versatile and transformational actors in the industry, Revathy is a constant presence on screen working on films like 2 states (2014), Margarita With A Straw (2015), Amma Kanakku (2016), to name a few. After Pa Pandi in 2017 (Tamil) she is currently filming Azhiyatha Kolangal and Gulebakavali in Tamil that are slated for release in 2018.
Revathy also hosted Malayalee House (Malayalam equivalent of the reality show Big Boss) in 2013 on Surya TV. She is now part of Azhagu, a Tamil television soap that is currently on air.