Is modesty the secret to Telugu cinema’s bountiful success?: Anupama Chopra
Politeness, modesty, humility and reticence are recurring qualities among the this film fraternity from the south
Is humility a prerequisite for stardom in Telugu cinema? Have the powers that be found a way to bottle modesty and make sure that actors take a daily dose? I ask because last week, I met yet another Telugu actor who reeked of success but not swagger: Allu Arjun. He recently had a monster hit, Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, which made more than ₹200 crore without a Hindi version. The film is the biggest Telugu grosser after Baahubali: The Conclusion.
Arjun is a superstar who comes from a clan of superstars called the Mega family — members include Chiranjeevi, Pawan Kalyan and Ram Charan Teja. His father, Allu Aravind, is an A-list producer who has churned out multiple blockbusters, including Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo.
Arjun is film royalty, but his manner is polite and modest. When we spoke, he was shy and laughed often, especially when I asked if he gives his father a discount. “He doesn’t give me a bonus, so why should I give him a discount?” he said.
Shyness also seems to be an industry trait. I first interviewed SS Rajamouli in 2012, after the release of Eega (Fly), which I considered the best film of that year. He wasn’t yet the national phenomenon that he would become after Baahubali.
Rajamouli flew in from Hyderabad for the interview and explained in a soft voice how it was that he turned a film with a fly as its protagonist, into such a success. His demeanour didn’t change after Baahubali broke traditional language barriers and became an all-India blockbuster. I did another interview with him on the sets of the second Baahubali film. He brushed off the success of the first Baahubali and emphasised instead the work that had gone into detailing the worlds involved.
His leading man, Prabhas, was even more reticent. He deflected all my questions with a smile and “I can’t tell you that”. He was sweetness personified but I sensed that he would rather be anywhere in the world than doing that interview.
Another reluctant celebrity is Mahesh Babu; I chased him for more than a year before he finally said yes.
And then there is Rana Daggubati — also film royalty but he seems like a company CEO who moonlights as an actor. Rana speaks as easily about start-ups and tech as he does about movies. My favorite Rana memory is from a board meeting of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI). Rana, a new entrant, sat in a corner, quietly taking notes.
Vijay Deverakonda, who seems like the local rebel, is the outlier. He’s fiery and even arrogant, but only about the work. When I asked if he thought it was his job to be liked, he said he didn’t, and added: “My job is to tell stories.”
Many of these actors are making inroads into Bollywood. Arjun says his mission is to be a pan-India star. So far, male actors haven’t had much luck crossing over from the South to Hindi cinema — even the mighty Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan retreated after a few attempts. I’m hoping one of these men will change that.