Nadigaiyar Thilagam (Eng: The Great Actress) is a 2018 Indian bilingual biographical film, written and directed by Nag Ashwin. It was produced by C. Ashwini Dutt, Swapna Dutt and Priyanka Dutt under the banners Vyjayanthi Movies and Swapna Cinema, made simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil. The film stars Keerthy Suresh, Dulquer Salmaan, Samantha Akkineni, and Vijay Devarakonda. It follows the life of Indian actress Savitri (Keerthy), depicting her turbulent rise to prominence, marriage with Gemini Ganesan (Salmaan), and subsequent fall from grace, viewed from the perspective of a journalist (Akkineni) and a photographer (Deverakonda). Production began in May 2017 and music for the film is composed by Mickey J. Meyer.
In Bangalore, India, popular yesteryear actress Savitri is found unconscious by her young son and hospitalised, spending a year in coma. The incident receives heavy media attention, but Savitri’s initial life and whereabouts remain unknown to the public. A newspaper editor appoints Madhuravani, a stuttering journalist, and Vijay Anthony, a photographer, to write a memoir on Savitri. Madhuravani recovers a letter written by Savitri, in which she wishes to take her son to someone called Shankaraiya. Madhuravani continues her research even after she is relieved from writing the memoir by her editor, and sneaks into Savitri’s house, overhearing her aunt talk about her childhood.
In 1942 Vijayawada, a widowed Subhadramma and her daughter Savitri are taken in by Subhadramma’s sister, Durgamamba, and husband, K. V. Chowdary, much to the latter’s chagrin. Magnanimous in speech, thought and action, Savitri befriends Susheela, and they become best friends. She becomes an accomplished dancer and later earns a profit for Chowdary by acting in plays with Susheela. On one such occasion, she is praised by the Bollywood actor Prithviraj Kapoor for her performance.
The increasing popularity of cinema leads to less attendance for plays, and Chowdary incurs huge losses. He tries to have Savitri join the film industry centred in Madras, but her young age and inability to speak Tamil hinder her prospects. She, however, succeeds in meeting Ramasamy “Gemini” Ganesan who works in the casting department and has her photograph taken for a casting directory. A year later, a director comes across the directory and wants to launch Savitri, but she gets the dialogue wrong and is thrown out. However, she successfully earns a role in a film song, and her distinguished performance helps her in getting major roles.
Savitri is offered a role opposite Ganesan, now an actor, and he teaches her the Tamil language. The two actors together rise as superstars and Savitri falls in love with the married Ganesan. They secretly marry, which leads to a clash with Savitri’s family. Reluctant to act in films after marriage, Savitri gives in to the persuasion of filmmakers and Ganesan, and the films turn out to be successful. Savitri gives birth two children– a girl and a boy. Initially supportive of her career, Ganesan starts to feel jealous, with Savitri’s fame overshadowing his, and starts consuming alcohol. Savitri tries to stop him, but Ganesan instead introduces her to drinking.
A few ladies urge Savitri to both direct and star in an all-woman cast and crew film. On the day of her film’s release, Savitri finds Ganesan in their guesthouse with another woman. Feeling cheated, she angrily refuses to talk to him and shuts him out of their house. Savitri becomes an alcoholic, and also gains weight. Meanwhile, her mother dies, and poor financial decisions lead to a raid by the Income Tax Department, resulting in the loss of her wealth. One day, Savitri fights with her daughter about her excessive alcohol consumption and faints, accidentally setting their house on fire. They learn that Savitri has diabetes.
Chowdary visits Savitri, and she asks both her daughter and uncle for forgiveness and gets her daughter married. Savitri stops drinking and loses weight. She begins living in a smaller house with her son and starts acting in low-budget films. She sets aside money for opening a rehabilitation centre but discovers that she still owes income tax, strongly refusing to part with any more money. She visits Bangalore with her son the next day; feeling lost, she calls Ganesan but cuts the line before speaking. Angry with him and with herself, she drinks alcohol again, before collapsing into a coma.
Madhuravani realizes her love for Anthony via Savitri’s story. She interrupts what is supposedly Anthony’s engagement and speaks strongly without a stutter, but discovers it is his sister’s engagement and that Anthony loves her. Madhuravani writes the memoir about Savitri, which reveals that Shankaraiya is a statue in her hometown that she talked to as though he was her father and that she always had an unsatisfied wish to see her father. Madhuravani visits the comatose Savitri, and places a picture of her father in her hands, retrieved from a newspaper archive.
Directed by Nag Ashwin
Produced by C. Ashwini Dutt, Swapna Dutt, Priyanka Dutt
Screenplay by Nag Ashwin
Starring Keerthy Suresh, Dulquer Salmaan, Vijay Devarakonda, Samantha Akkineni
Music by Mickey J. Meyer
Cinematography Dani Sanchez-Lopez
Edited by Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao
Production Vyjayanthi Movies & Swapna Cinema
Distributed by Trident Arts
Release date 11 May 2018
Running time 172 minutes
Language Telugu / Tamil