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The story of Sudha Kongara is one of failure feeding into slow progress and eventual success. In the movie industry, some hit the jackpot with their first movie and keep piling up on the success, not Sudha. The misery of failures was her terrain for a while that could have led to losing hope and feeling that life wasn’t in control. But it probably taught her to make use of opportunities that came her way later on. With her Soorarai Pottru bagging five awards, Sudha Kongara serves as an inspiration to not only women directors but also to those who steer away from the beaten track of masala films.

Born in undivided Andhra Pradesh, Sudha Kongara migrated to Chennai as a child. Her schooling, college education and film forays were all in Chennai. Yet, her first film as director was in Telugu. Andhra Andagadu didn’t really draw attention when it was released in 2008. She wrote the script for actress Revathi’s Mitra My Friend but that didn’t really open doors for her.

Sudha’s next project was Dhrogi that had Srikanth, Vishnu Vishal, Thyagarajan, Poonam Bajwa, Pooja and so on. The film talked about a man coming from a marginalized community becoming a police officer and another from an upper caste becoming a gangster after undergoing child sex abuse. Their childhood friendship later turns adversarial.

National Award winners, Surya, G V Prakash and Sudha Kongara

Although found technically cutting edge, the film didn’t do too well. Dhrogi did little to change Sudha’s status as a debutante and a novice. But the film did make her known as a woman director trying to make a mark.

In the 2010s, Madhavan was acting largely in Hindi movies such as Three Idiots and Tanu Weds Manu. Sudha Kongara convinced Madhavan and made Irudhi Suttru that had a boxer, Rithika Singh, coming from Pattinapakkam in Chennai and making it big. Her portrayal of the urban underclass brought applause.

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In that film, Madhavan’s and Radha Ravi’s portrayals were different from how such characters were normally portrayed in Tamil films. Radharavi played the father-in-law who continued to respect and show care for the son-in-law despite the daughter separating and moving on in her life. Irudhi Suttru made critics and the audiences happy. But after that brought a 10-year dry period that was actually a period of sweat and tears.

Soorarai Potru is ostensibly about Air Deccan’s promoter Gopinath and the struggles his family went through. Sudha Kongara merely took the outline of Gopinath’s story but presented her interpretation, freely changing the context to add drama. Nedumaran Rajangam, played by Suriya, came from the Madurai milieu. This probably only added meat to the theme of a common man building an airline company. The struggles and failures he had to face to achieve his dream became Soorarai Pottru. Even Captain Gopinath praised the film. As before, Sudha’s film was praised by critics as well as the regular viewer. It has bagged the awards for best film, best screenplay, best actor, best actress and best background music.

Both Soorarai Pottru and Irudhi Suttru portrayed characters who did not allow them to be upended by failures. The films spoke about people raising up like the mythical Phoenix bird. They struck a chord with the regular viewer whose lives too are filled with small and big failures and unpleasant experiences that help them to savour the few pleasant moments.

Just as Irudhi Suttru became Guru in Telugu, Sudha Kongara is making Soorarai as Start-Up in Hindi. Akshay Kumar has replaced Suriya. It can be expected that the grinding poverty that is a feature of regular life in the north will be accurately portrayed by Sudha and will thus resonate with Hindi audiences.

Both Soorarai Pottru and Irudhi Suttru portrayed characters who did not allow them to be upended by failures. The films spoke about people raising up like the mythical Phoenix bird

Sudha has left her mark in OTT also. Love blossoms between an older man, Jayaram, and woman, Urvasi, who meet during the pandemic in Ilamai Idho Idho. As their love grows, they become younger at heart – and Sudha did some clever thinking by having young Kalidas and Kalyani play the couple growing younger.

Her Thangam in the Paava Kadhaigal anthology talked about Kalidas falling in love with Shantanu. The attraction is unrequited though. Transgenders are scorned in regular society, but the portrayal was accepted by viewers. The characters in the her OTT forays lived in their own worlds, probably reflecting the sequestration of life during lockdown.

Sudha Kongara has emerged as an important filmmaker who is able to provide the right combination of realism and creative imagination that would work with the general film audience. Her next movie is also said to be based on real life incidents.

Sudha Kongara had said in an interview that if someone told her something was not possible, she would venture to try it. Here’s wishing her boundaries keep expanding.

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