Priya Warrier, Roshan Abdul Rahoof and Omar Lulu talking to Gulf News in Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

A new young actor can only dream of rising to fame after the release of her debut film.

So it’s incredibly rare when an 18-year-old breaks the internet with just a teaser of her upcoming movie.

Priya Prakash Varrier has skyrocketed to stardom ahead of her upcoming Malayalam film Oru Adaar Love in what has been, quite literally, the wink of an eye. Her now famous trademark wink — seen in a 10 second YouTube clip of love song Manikya Malaraya Poovi that was released on February 9 — went stupendously viral overnight drawing both appreciation and controversy.

The video has been viewed more than 61.4 million times so far and Varrier has since amassed more than 83,000 followers on Twitter and a whopping 5.3 million on Instagram — a million or so more than the platform’s billionaire owner Mark Zuckerberg.

Of course she’s not complaining about the online attention that’s driving positive publicity for the film. But she is concerned about the offline outcome and the label she’s now stuck with.

“People wink at me when I go out,” Varrier tells Gulf News tabloid! in an interview on the sidelines of a visit to Medeor24x7 Hospital in Dubai.

“They look at me and they wink at me, and they smile and say ‘Oh the wink girl is going’... and I’m like oh God, I have a name! They tend to call me the ‘wink girl’ or ‘wink ladki’ everywhere I go.”

“But when you want to become an actress you want to prove yourself in everything, so I don’t want to just be tagged the ‘wink queen’.”

The budding actor, who is also a trained Indian classical dancer and talented singer, says she wants a chance to show her talent and hopes to become renowned for more than just a viral video.

“I would look to be known as a good actress in the future, not just the wink lady or whatever,” Varrier explains. “I would like to prove myself as a good actress.”

Bollywood beckons

But while she is yet to show off her acting prowess on the big screen, the wink-fame has already landed her significant potential offers from Bollywood bigwigs.

“I predict huge stardom for this girl,” Bollywood veteran Rishi Kapoor declared on Twitter.

More importantly, however, rumours have been rife that Varrier is set to star opposite superstar Ranveer Singh in upcoming film Simmba, a joint venture between director Rohit Shetty and Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions.

“There was a call from that side,” Varrier confirms when asked about the rumours. But nothing has been signed “yet”, she adds.

“I haven’t committed to any [other] movies,” she says. “A lot of offers are coming, definitely, but I’m working on my first movie now so I’ll look at other movies after that.”

Asked if she prefers to stick to the South or be on her way to Bollywood, the teen says: “I just want to try my hand at everything and all industries.”

Varrier dreams of heading to Hollywood too, it appears, as she jokes that the star she’d truly like to wink at in real life is Bradley Cooper.

Meanwhile, her wink power has ousted the likes of award-winning actor Deepika Padukone and starlet Sunny Leone to become the most searched Indian celebrity on Google.

However, Varrier refuted reports of brands offering her Rs800,000 (Dh45,125) for an Instagram post.

“A lot of news has come about around this but none of them are true actually,” she says.

Coping with controversy

On the flip side, Varrier’s wink in the viral clip has been the subject of a lot of controversy in India.

The song Manikya Malaraya Poovi, sung by Vineeth Sreenivasan, is a revised, modern version of a 1978 Mappila tune — a traditional song from the Malabar region of Kerala.

Following the release, some activists lodged police complaints against Varrier and the film’s producer-director Omar Lulu for hurting religious sentiments by using the song as background music for the scene.

But the Supreme Court has since stayed the criminal action.

“This song has been around since 1978 and I was surprised how it became an issue now,” Lulu said in a statement to Indian media in February. “In Kerala, I don’t think there was any opposition. Now, we are all happy and we can go forward with the project confidently.”

Thrissur-based Varrier says she and her family have been quite stunned by the commotion.

“This is just our first movie so any negativity causes a lot of tension,” she says.

“For a couple of days I was numb. They [my family] were all actually numb. We didn’t know how to react. We used to ask each other, ‘what is happening, you just winked, that’s it?’ It was just an innocent wink bringing nostalgia of school life so I didn’t expect that there would be [court] cases.”

Funnily, the contentious gesture was the first time Varrier had winked, in a scene she did not rehearse for or even practice on her own in front of a mirror.

“I never used to wink before this... I guess this was the first time,” she jokes. “It happened on the spot. We thought that it would create some sort of new trend in Kerala, but not to such a level. We never expected that a wink could go to such an international level.”

The worldwide focus on her eyes hasn’t got her doing anything differently though.

“I used to line my eyes very nicely before too so nothing has changed personally,” Varrier jokes.


‘She’s my heroine’

Directed by Lulu, Oru Adaar Love is a teenage romantic comedy.

Varrier’s co-star, fellow newbie Roshan Abdul Rahoof, believes the global attention thanks to the wink is a huge boost for the film as well as its cast and will help draw crowds to cinemas.

“It’s been a great experience and I’m very excited as this is my first film too,” Rahoof, 19, says. “This video has been seen worldwide and that’s lucky for us.”

The former Abu Dhabi resident adds that he’s been enjoying the fame with several new offers coming his way after the viral clip. The teen has a sizable following of his own with a million Instagram followers. He took social media by storm after showing of his dancing skills that won him fourth prize in Malayalam dance reality show D3-D4 in 2016.

While the lion’s share of the limelight has been around Varrier’s wink, Rahoof is generous in praise for her and pragmatic about the benefits.

He says: “I’m so happy and so proud because she’s my heroine right?”

Oru Adaar Love is expected to release in September 2018.