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In 2014, Malayalam actor Manju Warrier decided to resume work after a hiatus.

She had settled into domesticity after her marriage with co-star Dileep in 1998.

For the next 14 years, Kerala would long for the magic she created on screen while the cine circles quintessentially debated on ‘Will she, wont she?’So finally when she did, there was excitement, naturally.

But it also posed an unusual scenario.

She was 30-plus, and did not comply much with the ‘prescribed aesthetics’ for female leads in cinema.

She had walked out of a marriage that controlled and imposed conditions on her: But landed in a space where the same patriarchy called the shots.

Marching ahead she was, but the path was precarious.

The ‘Will She, Wont She?’ debate got much louder this time.

The implication of the question now having changed to her longevity in cinema.Nine films and four years down, she finally has a firm grip to settle it all.

Her latest, Udaharanam Sujatha, besides doing well at the box office, is a solid affirmation on her acting prowess.

The previous ones in the second outing had only flashes of it, depriving one of the Manju Warrier, she once was.

There was disappointment, but never a dismissal.

Drawing strength from that and more, she has found her groove again.What has it taken Manju Warrier, once a flawless performer, to get there? A look at the factors that possibly delayed her blossoming as an actor in the second innings.Brand overshadowing the actor?Manju in her comeback was not only an actor, but also a brand that embodied a combination of facets – of a model, dancer, actor and a social being.

And many a time, Manju the actor could not make the right choices that adhered both to the parameters of the brand and to cinema sensibilities the audience associated her with.In looks, conduct and pursuits, the new Manju Warrier remained a construct devoid of anything natural.

For a society that idolised her as ‘the girl next door’, it indeed was difficult, to accept the ‘new sculpted’ version.The real-reel cocktailStarting from the very first ad she appeared in to the narratives of her films, anything that had her, also had a steady of mix of her real life – of the drama involved and the politics that evolved.

And it all struck chords, since it echoed the closely guarded chapter of the ordeals of her marital life.In the first ad campaign on her return, we saw her sharing space with the big man of Indian cinema, Amitabh Bachchan.

Bachchan the father, cross with the daughter played by Manju, for marrying against his wishes, is shown as going back to the daughter while she is in labour.

The ad concludes with Manju saying ‘I knew he would come back if I call out to him’.

On air, the commercial seemed like it was all about her, and her (then) impending comeback to films.And when she did comeback, it was indeed all about her on screen.

The first film of her second outing centred on a middle-aged woman stuck in a loveless marriage trying to find her feet.

Titled ‘How old are you’, the film carried a tagline ‘it is never too old to dream’, and had a saree clad middle-class Manju Warrier asking the world ‘Is it my fault that I am 36 years old? The film sealed all debate on the ‘age’ factor with its astounding success.

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