Over the years it has been noticed that many heroines of Kerala origin who started off their careers with Malayalam movies later shifted to other south Indian language films. In most cases, they had a bad start in Malayalam cinema, opportunities turned less, and subsequently moved to Tamil cinema, where they gained recognition and success. Asin, Amala Paul, Rambha, Mamta Mohandas, Kathal Sandhya, Bhavana, Nithya Menon, Priyamani, Meera Jasmine and Nayantara are among those names who moved to Kollywood when they big opportunities opened doors before them. After gaining recognition in Tamil/Telugu cinema, only a few turned have actually back.
Asin and Vidya Balan – The exceptions
Asin is an exceptional case who moved from south to Bollywood and earned name among A-grade actresses. She is better known as a Bollywood actress than a south Indian heroine, and thus she is one among those rarest artists of Bollywood film industry who started their film career with Malayalam movies.
Asin started her film career in the year 2001 with Malayalam film, Narendran Makan Jayakanthan Vaka. She played the supporting role of Kunchakko Boban’s cousin in this film. Later she moved to Tamil and Telugu movies, which provided her ladder to Bollywood. With her debut Bollywood film Gajani, she established her in the industry. Asin never returned to Malayalam cinema later.
Vidya Balan too started off her film career with Malayalam cinema. Unfortunately her film got shelved and later she made her acting debut with Bollywood. She later made her Malayalam debut with Urumi in a supporting role, and now preparing for her first full-fledged Malayalam release – a biopic of Malayali’s popular writer Madhavikutty.
Except these two cases who are those A-grade Bollywood actresses who acted in Malayalam cinema? Since 1990s, most A-grade Bollywood actresses have worked with megastars – Mohanlal or Mammootty for their debut Malayalam movie, and only a few occasions have occurred where they returned to Malayalam screen once more. Let us see.
Katrina Kaif in Balram Vs Tharadas
Katrina accepted Balram Vs Tharadas solely because she was paired with megastar Mammooty. Movie was a box office hit too. Katrina acted in this film during her struggling days of Bollywood, and later she went on to become an established actress.
Genelia D’souza in Urumi
This cute actress of Bollywood is known for her innocent looks and childish appearance in her filmy career. It was quite unconventional when Genelia was approached to play the role of a Muslim warrior in Urumi. She was paired with Prithviraj and she played the role of Arakkal Ayesha who excels in Kerala martial arts, quite contradictory to the roles she played onscreen till then. Definitely Urumi is one of her best screen roles where she was seen in a different avatar.
Urmila Matondkar in Thacholi Varghese Chekavar
Like many B-town actresses, Urmila too acted in a few Malayalam films. She played lead role opposite Mohanlal in 1995 action film, Thacholi Varghese Chekavar. Rangeela was released soon after this film which made Urmila an overnight sensation, and she never returned back to Mollywood.
In fact she started her career as an adult actress through Malayalam movie, Chanakyan in 1989. Earlier she has worked as a child artist in Bollywood. This classic movie was a box office hit, and later she moved to Bollywood and marked her debut with Narasimha in 1991.
Juhi Chawla in Harikrishnans
She owns a unique recognition. She is the only Bollywood actress who got opportunity to star opposite both Mammootty and Mohanlal. She acted in a single Malayalam film, Harikrishnans in 1997, when she was at her career peak. Only a few Bollywood actresses have appeared in Malayalam cinema during their career peak and the film did exceptionally well at box office.
The movie remained in limelight for many reasons. The movie marked the screen sharing of two megastars after many years, and it was the first Indian movie to have a double climax. Though posters of third climax were released, the third version was not released. The movie had a plot to Juhi Chawla’s previous Bollywood hit – Deewana Mastana, where she shared screen space with Anil Kapoor and Govinda, and its climax was similar to the unreleased third version of Harikrishnans.
Sridevi and her comeback through Devaragam
This Bollywood diva was associated with all south Indian language films before she made her Bollywood debut as an adult actress in the late 1970s. Once she got busy with other south Indian language movies and Bollywood, she took a break from Malayalam industry after a few movies in the late 1970s. She returned to Malayalam screen after a break of more than 15 years in 1996. By that time she became the top actress of Bollywood, and she acted in this Malayalam film at her career peak.
She played the role of a traditional Brahmin girl in Devaragam (1996), the movie known for its melodious songs by Keervani. Arvind Swamy played the male lead in this film, and though the film met with critical acclaim she never acted in Malayalam films. She got settled with her marriage life very soon.
Manisha Koirala in Edavappaati
Manisha is quite familiar to Malayalis through Mani Ratnam’s Tamil movies. However Edavappaati directed by Lenin Rajendran is her single Malayalam release. The movie got delayed for so many reasons and finally got released in 2016.
Nandita Das in Kannaki
Though she is a North Indian, her skin colour resembles an ordinary Malayali village girl and that’s why she was accepted by Malayalis when she played female protagonist in 2000 offbeat movie – Kannaki.
Tabu in Kaalapani
Tabu played the role of a typical village girl in Kaalapani quite convincingly. Mohanlal played the male lead in this film directed by Priyadarshan. The movie also marked the Malayalam film debut of the most established villain on Bollywood screen – Amrish Puri. Years later Tabu appeared in a cameo role in a song sequence of Prithviraj’s Urumi. The movie also marked the Malayalam film debut of two leading ladies of Bollywood – Vidya Balan and Genelia D’souza.
Yami Gautham in Hero
Yami made her Malayalam film debut long before she entered Bollywood film scene with Vicky Donar. Yami started her film career with a Kannada film, and marked her Malayalam film debut with Prithviraj in the film – Hero. The movie was a terrible flop.
Jayapradha in Pranayam
Actress Jayaprada had earlier worked in Malayalam movies in 1980s. She marked her Malayalam film debut through Iniyum Katha Thudarum opposite Mammootty.
Though Jayapradha had earlier worked in south Indian films and quite familiar to Malayalis through the dubbed version of cult classic – Sagaram Sakshi, Devadoodan (2000) and Pranayam (2011) brought her to limelight. Pranayam showcased the romance of matured couple, and Jayapradha played Mohanlal’s wife in the film. The movie also marked the Malayalam film debut of veteran Bollywood actor, Anupam Kher who played Jayaprada’s ex-husband.
Zarina Wahab – The most successful actor
All female artists described above have done just one or two movies in Malayalam. But Zarina Wahab has been a regular actress of Malayalam in the early 1980s who did a handful of good roles – both in main stream and offbeat category. Madanolsavam, Chamaram, Parasparam and Palangal are some of her major roles as a lead heroine. Numerous evergreen songs of 1980s sung by Janaki have been pictured on her. In fact she is the most successful among all Bollywood artists who worked in Malayalam cinema.
In 2010 she returned to Malayalam cinema after a long break, and played Salim Kumar’s wife in Adaminte Makan Abu which won several recognitions in National Film awards and international film festivals.
Sharmila Tagore in Chuvanna Chirakulla Pakshikal
The leading Bollywood and Bengali heroine, Sharmila Tagore was introduced to Malayalam cinema through Chuvanna Chirakulla Pakshikal in 1979. The movie also starred Jayan, Jayabharathi and Soman, and directed by N. Shankaran Nair. She is the most popular star of Bollywood yesterdays who worked in a Malayalam movie.
Pooja Bhatra in Priyadarshan movies
Model turned actress Pooja Bhatra started her film career with Priyadarshan movies. In 1997 she acted in Priyadarshan’s Bollywood film – Virasat and Malayalam blockbuster – Chandralekha. She was paired with Mohanlal for her debut Malayalam flick. Tamil actress Sukanya played the second lead in the love triangle. Pooja is one among the rare B-town actresses of 1990s and later, who appeared in more than one Malayalam movie.
She played Mammootty’s wife in 1999 flick – Megham. The movie also marked the Mollywood debut of Bollywood actress, Priya Gill. But the movie was a flop. Later Pooja Bhatra was paired with Jayaram for Daivathinte Makan (2000) which was a box office hit.
Priya Gill in Megham
Priya marked her Malayalam debut with Priyadarshan’s Megham in 1999. In this comedy film, Priya Gill and Pooja Bhatra played the female leads. Priya played a typical village girl in the film. The evergreen and nostalgic song which showed the village life, Thumbayum Thulasiyum was pictured on Priya and sung by Chitra.
Bhumika Chawla in Bhramaram
Though Bhumika started off her career with south Indian films, she established as an A-grade Bollywood actress through her debut flick – Tere Naam. In 2009 she played Mohanlal’s wife in Blessy’s Bhramaram, which brought her to limelight post marriage. The movie was a box office hit too. Yet she never worked in Malayalam films later.
Rambha’s return to Malayalam through Mammooty movies
Rambha started off her film career in 1992 with one Kannada film. Same year she made her Malayalam film debut through Sargam, followed by Champakulam Thachan and she was paired with Vineeth in both these successful movies. In the 1990s she was regular with Bollywood films. She made a comeback through Mammootty starrer Sidhartha (1998) and rose to fame with 2002 film, Chronic Bachelor where she was paired with Mammootty once again. Mayilattam, Kochi Rajavu, Filmstar etc are some of her movies later.
Meera Vasudevan in Thanmatra
Meera Vasudevan started her film career with Bollywood film, Rules: Pyar Ka Superhit formula, where she played female lead opposite Milind Soman. But the movie was a box office failure and she later tried her luck down South and succeeded. Thanmatra in 2005 marked her Malayalam film debut where she essayed Mohanlal’s wife’s role. Since then she is regular in south Indian movies. Yet the iconic movie – Thanmatra still remains her career best.
Isha Shervani in 5 Sundarikal
Isha is quite familiar to Bollywood through Vivek Oberoi starrer – Kisna. She made her Malayalam film debut through 5 Sundarikal. She played female lead in one of the short films in the anthology film.
Huma Qureshi in White
Huma Qureshi is the latest entry to Mollywood. She was paired with Mammooty for 2016 release, White. The film directed by Uday Ananthan was a delayed release and received cold response from box office.
Television actress Mansi Sharma known for her role as Ambalika in Mahabharat debut south Indian cinema opposite Mammootty in Acha Din in 2015. Tulip Joshi too started her Mollywood career through Mammootty starrer, Mission 90 days directed by Major Ravi. Gracy Singh (Loud Speaker) and Tisca Chopra (Mayabazaar) are other North Indian actresses who started their Mollywood career in a Mammootty movie.
Namrita Shirodkar in Ezhupunnatharakan
Namrita made her Malayalam film debut opposite Mammootty in Ezhupunnatharakan before she became busy in Bollywood.
Kanchan in Gandharvam
Kanchan marked her Malayalam film debut with Gandharvam in 1993. She played the female lead opposite Mohanlal and the film was a major hit at box office. She has earlier worked with Tamil and Bollywood films before her Malayalam film debut. Shabnam and Salman Khan starrer Sanam Bewafa are her noted Bollywood works.
Other heroines who worked in South and Bollywood
Since mid-1970s, south Indian film directors became quite active in the Bollywood film industry. It gave opportunities for many south Indian heroines to work in Bollywood. That’s how actresses like Sridevi, Jayaprada, Madhavi, Gauthami, Revathy, Madhoo, Amala, Bhanupriya, Khushboo etc got opportunity to work in Bollywood. In the 1980s and 1990s, these actresses worked in Malayalam cinema also. Heera Rajagopal worked in all south language movies and Bollywood in the 1990s.
Revathy is an exception who was fully active in Mollywood. She remained a top actress of Malayalam cinema in the 1990s before moving to character roles. She worked with all leading actors of Malayalam cinema since late 1980s. Madhoo in Yodha, Gauthami in Dhruvam, Madhavi in Akashadooth, Amala in Ente Sooryaputrikk and Ulladakkam and Bhanupriya in Rajashilpi are some of the iconic roles played by these actresses on Malayalam screen in the 1990s.