In the 2011 film, Thambikottai, Meena played actor Narain’s elder sister. This was the first time she played a supporting role in a film since she had turned heroine. Incidentally, this also marked the last time she was part of a Tamil film. Meena, who made her debut as a child artiste in 1982, and has been acting in multiple industries over the past 37 years, has never before been away from Tamil cinema for more than a couple of years. During this sabbatical from Tamil cinema, she was still part of some blockbuster films in Malayalam, including the 2013 Mohanlal-starrer, Drishyam. She even reprised her role in the 2014 Telugu remake, Dhrushyam.
“Fans have always asked me why I was only acting in Malayalam and Telugu films all these years. They were genuinely disappointed that I wasn’t being part of Tamil cinema. To be honest, the roles I was getting in Tamil weren’t interesting enough,” says Meena, who is returning from this sabbatical with the mother-of-all-comebacks in Thalaivar 168, Rajinikanth’s next with director Siva. The film, which marks her seventh collaboration with Rajinikanth, also stars her Nattamai co-star Khushbu, Keerthy Suresh, Soori and Prakash Raj.
“In Malayalam cinema, content is king, and there aren’t many compromises made for a star. The characters are more important than who’s playing it. This hasn’t been the case with other industries. Although I do see it gradually changing in Tamil and Telugu cinema, I wish it happened faster so that I can do more roles,” says Meena, who was recently seen in the ZEE5 web series, Karoline Kamakshi, which has the actor playing a humorous CBI agent who does a fair bit of action too. The show ran into trouble right from the time the trailer dropped. Not many found Meena saying the choicest of expletives funny. “When I saw the trailer, I asked Vivek (the director) why they had to use this particular scene. But then, I understood that it was about the shock value, and portraying me in new light. Well, it clearly worked.”
Assuring Karoline Kamakshi is more than just about its adult content, Meena reveals this wasn’t the first time she was offered an action-packed role. “While I have been part of action sequences in my career, this is the first time I got to do hardcore stunts. I did get cop roles, but I wasn’t mentally prepared. I believed it was a guy’s job. But then, I saw heroines delivering bold roles; then I too wished to be part of such ventures,” says Meena, who is proud of being one of the earliest heroines to embrace the Tamil digital space. “When I entered the medium, I didn’t know so many actors would follow suit. I banked on it to give me the space to reinvent myself, and put my trust in people’s acceptance of unique attempts.”
But can an actor be boxed into a particular category? Is it even fair that an audience cannot accept an actor breaking an image? “The audience cannot be blamed for expecting a certain kind of role from an actor. They react only to what they know. However, it is important for a reaction to be a result of proper information. The context of a scene is important, and it is not easy for the makers to take out time and explain themselves to negative opinions. Remember that all this is nothing when compared to other web series out in the digital space,” says Meena, who shares awareness that her image in Tamil cinema got the audience reacting adversely to her latest experiment. “I did want to portray roles with grey shades in Tamil, which, unfortunately, never happened. I am open to playing completely negative roles. I believe we are at a time when people know how to separate art from the artiste. And at this point in my career, these are roles I would find challenging.”
Having spent so much time off Tamil cinema waiting for a challenging role in the right kind of film, does her character in Thalaivar 168 tick all these boxes? “Well, Thalaivar 168 is a proper fun-filled commercial film. Naa vara edam ellaam nalla kalakalappa irukkum. I can assure the audience would love it,” signs off Meena.