Samantha Ruth Prabhu is one of those rare stars in the Indian film industry, who have managed to make themselves a household name across the country, breaking barriers of language. That Samantha has managed this without doing much work in Hindi–which constitutes the bulk of the audience in the country, differentiates her from others.
In a career that began in 2010, Samantha has grown, experimented, and found her niche at last. She is a star who is not afraid to experiment, and an actor who loves to defy the rules. On her birthday, we decode how, over the last few years, Samantha has not just broken language barriers but set an example for the next generation, all of it while taking the road less travelled.
I could go on about her career and the roles she has done–from Ye Maaya Chesaave to Oh! Baby and even stellar cameos like Nadunisi Naaygal–but I do not feel there’s the need to do so. Samantha’s career and her filmography is for everyone to see. What makes her career and life significant are the choices that lie beneath them, particularly of late.
Like most female actors in India, Samantha has had to do her fair share of roles where she has to play second fiddle to the hero. Her characters in Alludu Seenu and Rabhasa were described by critics as ‘attractive props’. But unlike many others, Samantha rose past that phase. She chose to do those roles in order to help establish herself as commercially successful. Once she was able to do that, Samantha experimented.
Over the last few years, it seems Samantha has made a considerable and conscious effort to challenge herself as an actor, a performer. And in that, she has constantly made choices that one does not expect from the ‘traditional Indian heroine’. It began with Oh! Baby, where she played a character not often seen in Indian cinema, one where she had to look 24 and act 70. And she aced it. Probably it emboldened her to further push the envelope.
This was followed by what I reckon is her bravest role yet–as Tamil rebel Raji in the Amazon Prime Video series The Family Man. Not many had seen her cameo in the 2012 Hindi film Ek Deewana Tha because not many had seen the film. So The Family Man was to be her first real introduction to the Hindi audience. She chose to play a villain in a streaming show and yet again, she managed to steal the show in a series that had Manoj Bajpayee as its lead.
And then, as if to put a cherry on the cake, at 34, when she was already considered the top ‘heroine’ in the industry, Samantha decided to dance in a special song in Pushpa: The Rise. These numbers have almost always featured starlets looking to be more visible. Samantha didn’t need that. These songs are often criticized as titillating, objectifying, and needless. She needed none of that either. But Samantha being Samantha, got a song where the lyrics talked about objectification. It was the most Samantha thing ever!
And these choices have extended to Samantha’s personal life too. In 2017, she married Naga Chaitanya, an actor no less popular than her, and one who hailed from the first family of the Telugu film industry. But in 2021, after the couple separated and divorced, fan clubs went to war. A lot was said, most not decent enough to put to print here, other too unparliamentary to even mention. Samantha was called names but all through, she maintained a stoic silence. As the country and millions in it dissected her personal life, Samantha continued to work.
It is perhaps this attitude towards life and works that endears Samantha to her legion of fans and to her co-stars. Male actors, who are her juniors or even contemporaries in the Telugu industry, refer to her as Samantha garu, a mark of respect. This is respect few female actors have been able to command at this stage of their careers.
She benefits from living in a time when film industries do not discard actors when they reach 35. She has big projects with her and a fan base that only widens with each passing day. So it won’t be wrong to expect that the respect she commands and this stardom she has amassed, will continue to grow. But her greatest legacy will probably be showing a whole new generation of female actors that moulds can be broken, images can be changed. And the hope is that Samantha garu will continue to do so.