For the first time ever, an array of stars who are neither Khans, Kapoors, Kumars or a Devgn for that matter, are headlining several Bollywood blockbusters. For a change, a veritable army of south Indian silver screen demigods is setting the Hindi box office on fire.
The stream of pan-India movies starring male actors from South Indian states throws the spotlight on a breed of new gen stars like Dhanush, Dulqer Salman, Ram Charan, NTR, Yash, Sudeep, Prabhas, Rana, Vijay Devarakonda, and Allu Arjun.
First it was Telugu stars Prabhas and Rana that captured the imagination of an entire nation when ace director SS Rajamouli’s epic ‘Bahubali’ unleashed its magic in two instalments. A mythological thriller was something that Hindi mainstream cinema has never explored seriously. The portrayal of characters of epic proportions was eagerly lapped up by Hindi audiences.
Even before Hindi audiences could get over the ‘Bahubali’ experience, came the smashing success of ‘Pushpa – The Rise’ starring Allu Arjun. The raw emotions portrayed by the Telugu star held audiences across the country in thrall.
Just when everyone felt that things couldn’t get better, came along SS Rajamouli with ‘RRR’ starring scions of the NTR and Chiranjeevi clans – Jr NTR and Ram Charan. The hype surrounding the movie didn’t disappoint and the movie went on to create magic at the Hindi box office. Surprisingly, despite a distinctively Telugu background and setting, the movie managed to bring in audiences across the country.
By now, it was amply clear that Hindi audiences just can’t have enough of south Indian cinema. And the South didn’t disappoint either. But for a change, instead of yet another Telugu movie, it was Sandalwood’s turn to entice Hindi audiences. ‘KGF – Chapter 2’ starring Kannada star Yash has been on a record-breaking spree ever since it released in April.
More pan-India releases are on the anvil, including ‘Vikram Rona’ starring Sandalwood star Kiccha Sudeep, and ‘Liger’ starring Vijay Devarakonda.
In Hyderabad, noted film critic and industry expert Prabhu points out that the success and acceptance that ‘Bahubali’ enjoyed with audiences across India, especially the Hindi heartland, turned out to be the trigger for south Indian film makers to think big. “It was only after Bahubali, that producers here realised the true potential of the market and started working on it with aggressive branding and promotional activities,” he explains.
Secondly, the proliferation of satellite movie channels, OTT platforms and other media have literally broken traditional barriers to acceptance that factors such as language and culture. “For many years now, stars like Allu Arjun, or NTR or Ram Charan have been familiar faces due to their successful dubbed versions. So, a direct Hindi theatrical release is an extension of their presence in that market. They are already known and loved faces,” Prabhu elaborates.
More importantly, the current breed of south Indian stars venturing onto the pan-Indian stage, confidently wear their cultural roots on their sleeves. They are not trying to look nor ape conventional Bollywood stars in the looks department. Instead the strategy is to leverage on their unique looks and acting talent.
The results are there on screen. Dhanush made his Bollywood debut with ‘Ranjhanaa’ and went on to pit himself against Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Shamitaabh’ before making his third foray into Bollywood with ‘Atrangi Re’.
Interestingly, a majority of the stars hail from established film dynasties in the south. Dulqer Salman is Malayalam cinema superstar Mammootty’s son, while Dhanush is from a leading Tamil film family and has recently separated from his wife who happens to be superstar Rajinikanth’s daughter.
Elsewhere in the south, it’s very much a similar story. From Allu Arjun, the son of noted producer Allu Arjun, Ram Charan who is Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi’s son, Jr NTR who happens to be Telugu acting legend NTR’s grandson, and Prabhas who is actor Krishnam Raju’s nephew, to Rana who hails from the D Rama Naidu film family, most of the stars happen to be people who can afford to think big and take calculated risks.
“Having a support system helps these stars withstand temporary setbacks. Moreover, all these stars have a good 10-15 years of grounding in their respective industries which gives them an advantage when it comes to sensing the opportunities and setbacks,” Prabhu states.
Observers point out that it was, in fact, Rana’s connections that helped ‘Bahubali’ gain traction with Bollywood bigwigs like Karan Johar. And the rest, as they say, is history.
While it’s certainly a good time for south Indian film stars to try their luck in Bollywood, they also need to see the writing on the wall. After his dream pan-India debut in ‘Bahubali’ Prabhas went on to sign a couple of big ticket projects, all of which failed to register box office success. It only goes to underline the fact that script, screenplay and production values are more important than star value. Something which mainstream Bollywood had apparently lost track of in between.
–By Narendra Puppala