SOUTH, THE NEW SEXY
Tollywood's hot crop of heroes are breaking South stereotypes and fast gaining national acceptance
Bollywood seems to be in the midst of a South Indian invasion. While the last few years saw a horde of South films being successfully remade into Bollywood — "Ghajini", "Singham", "Wanted", "Ready", "Bodyguard" — we now have a new breed of South Indian heroes who are making their presence felt in Bollywood. Gone are the South stereotypes in which the hero was a moustache-twirling, middle-aged man. The current crop of stylish and goodlooking
South heroes are making the right noises nationally now. From landing lead roles in big ticket movies to being linked to Bollywood heroines, South Indian heroes have become the flavor of the season.
A look at the number of South Indian actors landing Bollywood productions in the last one year tells a story. Dhanush ("Raanjhnaa"), Vikram ("David"), Prithviraj ("Aiyya"), Rana Daggubati ("Department"), Ram CharanTej ("Zanjeer"), Siddharth ("Chashme Baddoor")... it's a pretty impressive list.
Actor Ram CharanTej who has just been signed up to play the lead in "Zanjeer" thinks it is a sign of changing times and marks the birth of the "Indian actor. He says, "I don't think the tags of being a South Indian actor, North Indian actor etc hold any good these days. I think we are heading into a time where geographical boundaries are blurring and it does not matter which part of India you come from. I think we are all going to see the dawn of the era of the Indian actor."
While in the past, superstars like Rajinikanth, Kamal Haasan, Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh tested their luck in Bollywood, with not too much success, the desirable young new lot have found a lot more acceptance among the Bollywood audiences, feels ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar. "The current crop of actors are a far cry from the stereotyped South Indian star of the past who was a middle-aged, pot-bellied, moustached alpha-male-runningaround-North-Indian girls half their age. The young actors, who are chiseled, suave and a lot more 'with it' and can give their Bollywood counterparts a run for their money as far as good looks go. Just like their films, the actors have also become acceptable to national audiences," he says.
Mana men get hotter
Thanks to the changing times, South heroes have become more dapper than ever and now appeal to a pan-Indian audience, says Nandi Award-winning costume designer and character stylist Deepa Chande. "With rapid urbanization you can't tell where somebody comes from by just looking at them. Be it Siddharth or Allu Arjun, they all have reasonably neutral features. A Ram Charan Tej could easily pass off as a Mumbaiite or a Calcutta-born just as easily as a Rana who could be a Punjabi or a Haryanvi jat. Add to that the fact that these guys are well-travelled and exposed to what's happening around in the world of fashion and styling and are also incredibly talented, no wonder, Bollywood is finally opening its doors," says Deepa.
In an industry like Bollywood, which is always in need of fresh talent, a South hero brings much more value than a rank newcomer, feels Komal Nahta, Bollywood trade analyst. "Bollywood filmmakers are exploring with a lot more genres and this has created a demand for new talent. The South Indian stars may be reasonably unknown entities in the North, but they are all proven performers in their own right and offer a much better business proposition than a rank newcomer. Whether they will be successful is another ball game altogether, but there's definitely more opportunities, and this trend will continue," he says.
There's a whole lot of business sense involved too. G Geetha, former CEO of a leading Telugu news channel who's worked as an executive producer for Tollywood flicks, says, "Be it Ram Charan, Suriya, Vikram or Dhanush, their film budgets are right up there with big ticket Bollywood productions and are hugely popular. It assures Bollywood filmmakers of guaranteed openings and a chance to release the film in regional languages as well besides guaranteed revenue in terms of satellite rights, music rights etc. With the right kind of scripts, these actors offer some guaranteed revenues as well."
It's however, not just the big South names who are getting Bollywood offers. Actor Sundeep Kishen bagged "Shor In The City" before he signed his first Telugu film. He is playing the lead in a Bollywood flick to be directed by Raj and DK, the makers of "Shor". "I don't think you need to be a star with an established market to break into Bollywood. I landed my first Bollywood film through an audition. I landed my Tamil film because the filmmakers saw a soft drink commercial I did and realized I was the guy in "Shor..." Thanks to my upbringing, I am fluent in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi. But more importantly, I am lucky to be born at such an exciting time in showbiz in India. There is so much 'cross-pollination' of talent between the industries. I think it's a great time to be an actor."
Ram Charan Tej