What will stardom look like in 2023? Kannada superstar Yash provides clues
His is a story of talent, humility, vision, perseverance, ambition and lots of hard work. We need more dreamers and doers like him, says Anupama Chopra.
Last week, after a 90-minute Q&A session with me at a Film Companion event in Bengaluru, Yash (aka Rocky Bhai from KGF: Chapter 2) offered to pose with his fans. Not in a group photo but in individual photos with each one. There were hundreds of attendees who cheered loudly when he said this. I panicked a little, but he gave his fans a few instructions in Kannada and they lined up in front of the stage. It wasn’t exactly orderly but it wasn’t pandemonium. A few sneaked back into line to get a few more seconds with their favourite star; he affectionately reprimanded them but continued to pose. This process took an hour or so. I asked him why it was necessary, and he smiled and said, “Because it’s my job.”
Earlier this year, Karan Johar said to me that big, blow-out stardom was dead. Clearly, Yash hasn’t got that memo. The 36-year-old delivered the biggest hit of 2022, KGF: Chapter 2, in April. The film has raked in about ₹1,200 crore worldwide, with the dubbed Hindi version making ₹54 crore on opening day (the best opening for a Hindi film ever).
Intriguingly, this blockbuster success wasn’t followed by chest-thumping interviews or a slew of announcements or even a success party. Instead, Yash went quiet. He was already planning his next move. Rumours of a Hollywood project have been floating about. He has neither confirmed nor denied them; just said that he will speak when he is ready.
Yash has a goal that reaches far beyond himself. In a speech made at an awards function in 2018, he talked about how his ambition was that the whole of India would take notice of the Kannada film industry. Speaking in Kannada, he added: “Take notice and how? Through applause and by saluting us. That is my next dream.”
With KGF: Chapter 2 and Kantara (a blockbuster written and directed by Rishab Shetty, who also plays the lead role), this has arguably been the year of Kannada cinema, earlier considered the weakest link among the film industries of the four south languages.
Yash has been a prime player in this success. In 2018, he pushed director Prashanth Neel and production company Hombale Films to take KGF: Chapter 1 pan-India. The film was released in December, at the same time as Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero, and was the sleeper hit of the year. With KGF: Chapter 2, he has cemented his position as a star whose appeal cuts across state lines, and firmly established the might and talent of the Kannada film industry.
When I asked what the next step was in his plan for world domination, Yash replied: “My vision is, let me work towards content, let me work with people who are hungry and passionate. I don’t want to work with people who are looking at my box office numbers. I want to work with people who say, ‘Can we try something else here?’ or ‘Let’s do something very exciting.’ I’m not taking this success for granted. 24x7, from morning to night, I just think of cinema. I’m brainstorming. I’m just trying to do what it takes to make a good film. It should fall into place. That’s all I can say.”
Yash, whose father worked as a bus driver with the state transport service, is an inspiring story of perseverance, audacity, talent and ambition. We need more dreamers and doers like him.