While the exodus of Malayalam film heroines to Tamil and Telugu cinema continues, a few actresses prefer to stick around in their home ground, where meatier roles that make for greater aesthetic satisfaction are easier to come by. One such actress who began her career as a topnotch model and also shared honours with the likes of Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai in beauty pageants, is today a sought after star in Malayalam cinema.
Shweta Menon, tall and lithe with dusky good looks, has been an all-rounder of sorts. Apart from being a multilingual star, Shweta has also been a successful TV anchor hosting hit shows like Razzmataaz and Dancing Queen in Hindi, Star Wars and Honeymoon Travels in Malayalam. She kicked off her career in Malayalam with the film Anaswaram in 1991, opposite Mammootty, directed by Jomon. But the actress had to wait for quite some time to prove herself as someone capable of handling roles that had more emotional content. The Ranjit-directed Paleri Manikyam: Oru Pathirakolapathakathinte Katha, which had Mammootty in the lead, saw her essay the role of a tribal girl Cheeru, thus offering the young actress a golden opportunity to prove herself. Her performance won her the Kerala State Award for Best Actress.
With this role, Shwetha proved that she was not averse to accepting roles that required quite a bit of deglamourisation. Another challenging role was offered to her when veteran Rajeev Kumar decided to remake the Bharathan-directed Rathinirvedam, a film that had raised conservative eyebrows with its treatment of a subject that revolved around the sexual awakening of an adolescent boy, who is enticed by the charms of his buxom neighbour. The original film starred Jayabharathi, an actress with considerable sensual appeal, and it was a tall order for the lissome Shweta to reprise the role. Though she left no stone unturned to equal Jayabharathi, critics felt that while the film in itself was hardly a patch on the original, Shweta’s performance too suffered in comparison.
Shweta also landed plum roles in films like Paradesi, where she played Sarojini, a gutsy young woman fighting great odds. She also worked in films like Tantra, Keerthi Chakra, Kerala Café, August 15, Ivan Megharooopan, T D Dasan VI B, City of God and Ozhimuri. However, the super hit Salt & Pepper, where Shweta was cast as a middle aged spinster yearning for love and affection, brought her back into the reckoning and also fetched her the Kerala State Award for the second time. Currently, Shweta has three films in the pipeline including the Blessy-directed Kalimannu, Platform No. 1 and Mirror. Kalimannu has, however, already run into controversy, as perhaps for the first time in Indian cinema a heroine has allowed her childbirth to be filmed.
Moreover, Shweta has worked in several Hindi films, but the roles have been far from substantial. While some of the films had her in cameo roles, she had better scope to perform in films like the Santosh Sivan-directed Asoka, the Vishal Bharadwaj potboiler Maqbool and the Ramgopal Verma helmed Corporate. She has, however, never revealed any intention to make her career in Bollywood. On the contrary, the role of Doraisani that she enacted in the Telugu film Rajanna has caught the eye of the audience, and Shweta, who has also done Desadrohulu, appears inclined to accept more roles in Tollywood.
Shweta is in no hurry to accept every role that is offered to her and now has her hands full tending to her baby daughter. While she can no longer offer any competition to the new entrants in Malayalam cinema, the industry can certainly saddle her with mature roles.