Avery early memory of watching Malayalam movies on the big screen was bursting into tears every time ’70s tragedy queen Sharada started doing her number, so much so the big sisters had to shield one inside the dark hall at times. Now Sharada was a Telugu actress who was ruling the roost in Kerala, so it was only logical to presume that Malayali actresses too were breaching the fortress (and putting little kids through the wringer!) in the other southern states. And to an extent they were too: the Travancore Sisters started way back in 1938 (Lalitha in Adithan Kanavu), and every decade hence has seen two or three stars from Kerala making their presence felt all through the south.
But for the most part, it was always a sideline act. Okay, there were the few shooting stars—Padmini making it to even RK’s Bollywood (’60s), Shobha’s national award for Pashi (1979), and a personal favourite (and which won the vote hands down in the college hostel), Jayabharati’s rustlin’ muslin turn in Alauddinum Arputhavilakum (1979 bilingual). But that was it, brief sparks in the night sky.