Around 50 movies across five languages since her debut in 2006 – actor Nithya Menen has an enviable portfolio to say the least. Not only has she established herself as an actor par excellence, but some of her best works have been with the country’s best actors and filmmakers. Her Malayalam debut Aakasha Gopuram (2008) starred Mohanlal and was directed by National Award Winning director KP Kumaran. Commercially and critically successful directors Mani Ratnam, Anjali Menon, and Santosh Sivan, have also worked with her on some of the best movies of the past decade.
The Malayali-origin actor, who is also fluent in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Hindi, has also sung in movies. Even as part of ensemble casts – whether it is her cameo appearance in Malayalam blockbuster Bangalore Days (2014) or sharing screen space with Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Kirti Kulhari, Taapsee Pannu, and Sonakshi Sinha in her Bollywood debut Mission Mangal (2019) – Nithya has time and again proved that less is more for an actor of mettle.
As she turns 31 today, we take a look at some of her best roles so far:
OK Kanmani (2015)
In this Mani Ratnam movie set in Mumbai, in which a young couple explores love and live-in relationship, Nithya Menen’s Tara is visceral. In veteran film critic Baradwaj Rangan’s words, she “makes the movie.” In fact, he goes on add, “If Mani Ratnam keeps employing actors like her, he may not need to write those zingers anymore.” For her role as an ambitious urban professional living life in her own terms, Nithya won the award for best actress at South Indian International Movie Awards.
Ala Modalaindi (2011)
Nithya Menen debuted in Tollywood with this rom-com directed by Nandini Reddy and starring Nani and Sneha Ullal along with her. The critically-applauded film, which also turned out to be one of the most commercially successful Telugu films of the year, won Nithya a solid fan-base among Telugu movie goers. Her growing popularity in Malayalam cinema prompted the film to be release in Malayalam as well, on the same day of the Telugu release for the first time ever.
Ustad Hotel (2012)
This National Award-winning movie, written by Anjali Menon and starring Dulquer Salman and Thilakan in main roles, has lots of culinary magic and colourful music thrown into it. But one of the outstanding sequences is when Nithya’s Shahana – a hijab-wearing interior designer – performs at a rock music concert and later runs into trouble with a truck driver. In one of the biggest hits of that year, Nithya proved that the number of scenes need not decide your impact as an actor.
This critically-appreciated Malayalam movie by VK Prakash -with only one actor- writes testimony to Nithya Menen’s calibre. As a writer who is caught in controversies and moves to a haunted house, Nithya enthrals the audience without ever making them wish if there was at least one more actor. As one review comments, “..if she had even slightly faltered at any moment, it could all have come crashing down…She can’t afford to relax, look amused, exaggerate or underplay her expressions... Nithya carries it off all so effortlessly.”
Directed and co-produced by Santosh Sivan, renowned as cinematographer since the 1980s, this magnum opus – made in Malayalam and dubbed in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi – had an ensemble cast. Among stars like Prithviraj, Prabhu Deva, Genelia D’Souza, and Vidya Balan, then 21-year-old Nithya made her presence felt as the brave and sensual Princess Bala of Chirakkal. While an ensemble cast rarely gives one a chance to shine, even in a 160-minute film, Nithya’s performance grabbed the attention of audience and critics alike.
Nithya Menen will be seen next in Malayalam film Aaram Thirukalpana and Tamil film The Iron Lady, a biopic on late P.Jayalalithaa, Tamil politician and yesteryear actress. As she turns 31 today, MAKERS India wishes her the very best in her future endeavours.