Akkineni Samantha is not afraid of heights or challenges. Proof of the pudding is in her climbing the 3500 steps to the shrine of Lord Sri Venkateswara in Tirumala ahead of the release of her movie `Oh! Baby’ on 5 July.
Proof that Samantha is standing tall professionally as well, was furnished at Devi 70mm theatre in Hyderabad where a cutout of Samantha was erected (pic below). Another one came in the cinema capital of Andhra Pradesh, Vijayawada at Sailaja theatre. Almost as if to tell the world that she is the reigning superstar of Telugu cinema. That a film like `Oh! Baby’, a fantasy comedy based on South Korean film `Miss Granny’ is proof that Samantha has come of age.
In fact, the cutout culture, unique to south Indian cinema, more so Tamil and Telugu movies, is the barometer of an actor having become a star. No actor worth his salt and craft wishes to play a cardboard character but being etched in cardboard is every performer’s desire.
For decades that space has been occupied by the Rajinikanths, Chiranjeevis, Vijays and Nagarjunas of Tamil and Telugu cinema. Which is why Samantha breaking into the male club is big news. Yes, in recent times, Anushka Shetty did that with `Rudramadevi’ but that was attributed more to the larger-than-life historical character she was playing.
In the past, Vijayshanthi was celebrated as `Lady Amitabh’ but the very fact that she was seen as a female version of a reigning male superstar was a pointer to a male-oriented prism. That a female star has been cut out on the Hyderabad landscape to underline box-office drawing power is testimony to changing times. Because over the past few films, Samantha has either held her own in a hero-dominated script or carried a movie on her own shoulders. The irony truly is that unlike the larger-than-life roles the superstars play, Samantha has risen in stature by playing real characters, people like you and me.
Whether Devi theatre will also see a milk abhishekam is not confirmed but if that happens, that will be the icing on the cake. Pardon the gastronomical mixed fare and the wastage of milk.
Samantha believes `Oh! Baby’ is the best film of her career so far. While the jury is still out on that claim, the fact that she had the courage to recently attempt a Telugu-Tamil remake of a Kannada thriller film like `U-turn’ and carry it on her shoulders, is an indication of her self-confidence.
Even in a movie like `Rangasthalam’, Samantha as Rama Lakshmi is feisty, combative small town woman with her heart in the right place. Her character was well etched out despite being a Ram Charan focused tale.
It helped that Samantha made her debut in a flesh-and-blood role like Jessie in `En Maaya Chesave’ which even though a love story, did not involve much botanical exploration around the trees. Not that it stopped Tamil and Telugu filmmakers from offering her glam doll roles.
But for every such few scenes and three songs role she got to play in movies like `Anjaan’, `Kaththi’, `Attarintiki Daredi’ or even a `Mersal’, she also got an `Eega’ where her screen presence mattered as much as Sudeep and the housefly.
Or even a `Mahanati’ where Keerthy Suresh as Savitri walked away with all the accolades. Samantha’s role as the stammering journalist was extraneous to the plot but it helped give Savitri’s life story context. Or even `Majili’ that released this summer, showed her inclination to experiment with roles that gave her scope on the big screen.
The reactions to the trailers and posters of `Oh Baby’ produced among others by Suresh Productions have been positive. If it works at the box-office and inspires many more filmmakers to experiment with cinema, director Nandini Reddy and Samantha’s baby step could well become a giant leap for Tollywood.