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Does an eight-year-old decide on her career?

Usually, not.

But that’s how old Nithya Menon was when she shot her first movie, the 1998 English film, Hanuman - The Legend of the Monkey God.

She was cast as actress Tabu’s sister after a neighbour noticed photographs of her at her house. The neighbour worked in an advertising firm and thought of the little girl’s pictures during discussions for its casting.

That film could have just been a one-off role.

But another opportunity came along when Menon was in 12th grade when Malayalam superstar Mohanlal spotted her on the cover of a tourism magazine.

And so Menon made her debut as the lead heroine opposite Mohanlal in Akasha Gopuram.

“Acting was never planned,” says Menon, who studied journalism at the Manipal Institute of Communication.

Her big hit came with Nandini Reddy’s Telegu film, Ala Modalaindi. She won the Nandi Award for Best Actress for her role. She debuted in Tamil with 180 (Nootrenbadhu), a film that got mixed reviews, but everyone was unanimous when it came to Menon’s performance.

With rave reviews for Mani Ratnam’s O Kadhal Kanmani, Menon’s star is soaring. Her character, Tara, will definitely be counted among the outstanding performances of her career.

Endowed with beautiful eyes, Menon lets them do most of the talking and therein lies her greatest strength. Another plus is her spontaneity that appears natural onscreen.

“Tara is similar to who I am and so it was easy to connect,” explains Menon who was enjoying a break at home in Bengaluru after back-to-back movies.

“Acting is emotionally draining, so I make it a point to not do anything when I am home.”

Looking back on the sets of OK Kanmani, she says Ratnam is one who believes in spontaneity.

She had to put in more effort for the scene where Tara talks to Aadi about her father. Another one was for the tango scene and getting it right.

“It was physically hard with long hours of practice,” revealed Menon who has just wrapped up Telegu film, Rudramadevi.

On the anvil is the Telegu remake of Anjali Menon’s Bangalore Days; Menon will be reprising Nazriya’s role from the original.

Films apart, this music lover, though not trained in music, has sung for Malayalm, Telegu and Tamil films. Mad about cars and driving, Menon lets her hair down on the roads with friends — with hopes of one day getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari, her dream car.