When stars come down
Following the resounding success of films like Baahubali, Kaala, and 2.0, it seems Bollywood stars are keen to add South Indian films to their resume
What is the one thing common between Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta apart from them all being winners of beauty pageants? They all made their respective debut in South Indian films, of course. It’s not just the aforementioned actors; even top heroines in Bollywood including Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Taapsee Pannu, and Kriti Kharbanda have all had their big breaks in the South Indian film industry. While many have made the jump to Bollywood, only a few like Taapsee and Kriti have tried to straddle both industries.
While the migration of South Indian stars into Bollywood has been a time-tested occurrence, the reverse crossover was done only by some heroines and character artistes. Bollywood heroes had never quite jumped on the bandwagon, barring exceptions in Anil Kapoor doing Pallavi Anupallavi, Shah Rukh Khan doing a cameo in Kamal Haasan's Hey Ram, or a Suniel Shetty doing director Jeeva's 12B. However, that seems to be changing with the recent resounding reception to SS Rajamouli's Baahubali franchise and Shankar's 2.0. It seems the boundaries between the various industries are finally blurring, and the belief is that we could see names like Amitabh Bachchan get associated with South Indian cinema. While major Bollywood stars are slowly beginning their South Indian sojourn, more often than not, it is usually mainly for supporting roles or for playing the villain.
Vivek Oberoi, who made his Tamil debut as the antagonist in Ajith-starrer Vivegam, and was one of the first major stars to make a successful crossover, says, "From the very first film in my career, I played a villain. The clear demarcation between a hero and a villain is passe now. It is all about interesting characters and how you are appreciated in that character."
While Vivek does agree that there has been a clear divide between North Indian and South Indian cinema, he says there have constantly been attempts to bridge that divide. "I have always wanted to bridge this gap, and have tried it by being a part of a film in the other South Indian languages this year— Lucifer, Vinaya Vidheya Rama, and Rustum are some of them," says the actor.
The reception hasn’t always been positive to their participation though. There has been criticism about imperfect lipsyncing, and sometimes, local filmmakers get asked why the roles couldn't have been played by local actors. A case in point concerns actor Ashutosh Rana, who was seen in the recently released Prashanth-starrer Johnny. "We zeroed in on Ashutosh to play the role, after a number of actors from here couldn't be part of the project. We had seen him in Motta Shiva Ketta Shiva, and felt he would do justice to the character. Despite issues with the language, his thoroughly professional attitude and performance more than compensated for it," says Vetri Selvan, director of Johnny.
Undoubtedly, language is a barrier for actors traversing languages. Even Vivek, who is familiar with Tamil due to his parentage (his mother is Tamil), feels stifled at times by the complexities of the local languages. "When I am doing a South film, I request everyone to talk to me in that language. It gives me immersion into their culture, and people. I've heard stories about actors who learn the first two words and the last two words and then just mumble something in between during their shots. I can't do that," says Vivek.
Adding her two pence to this topic, actor Huma Qureshi, who was a part of Mammootty's White, and Rajinikanth's Kaala, says she doesn’t perceive the language difficulty as a barrier. “I feel, as an actor, that one should constantly push the envelope and always try to better their craft. No knowledge gained or skill learned is ever wasted."
While there might be a variety of reasons for the recent trend, it is no coincidence though this comes close on the heels of the phenomenal success of Baahubali. Bollywood has never been found wanting when it comes to keeping tabs on trends.
Huma hopes that the success of multi-starrers like Baahubali or Kaala will bridge the gap between South Indian cinema and Bollywood. Kriti, who’s remained active in the South, says, “Baahubali has changed the perception of the South industry, and now, more and more Bollywood films are inspired by South films."
Though actors like Sachiin Joshi or Kunal Kapoor have headlined major South Indian films in the recent past, the trend never really caught on before. Words like commercial value, market, box-office pull, and fan-base were offered as excuses when asked why many Bollywood heroes weren’t open to starring in South Indian films, despite delivering humungous hits off their remakes.
Even Kannada actor Yash, who is releasing his next film, K.G.F, in five different languages on December 21, says, "Though there might be people in Karnataka who watch films in Tamil or Hindi, the majority of the audience still watch only Kannada cinema. If I can't do a film that satisfies my Kannada audience, I don't see a reason why I should be a part of it."
Kriti, who achieved stardom with her debut Kannada film Chiru, is part of Raana in Kannada, Housefull 4 in Hindi and the Tamil film Vaan, and her co-stars in these films — Yash, Akshay, Rana Daggubati, Dulquer Salmaan — are actors who are also part of various films across languages.
"It is just weird that I am working with people who are making that effort to explore different industries. So, I think slowly but, surely it is getting there. Heroes tend to do less number of projects a year; so, that too might be a reason," says Kriti, who believes that despite being divided by language and sensibilities, the ultimate goal of cinema is to entertain.
So, despite the language barrier or market compulsions, the trend of major Bollywood actors being part of South Indian films is clearly here to stay. You have both the present and past Bollywood stars being part of South cinema. The names of Akshay and Ajay Devgn are doing the rounds, as rumours of Indian 2’s cast circulate. You also have actors like Suniel Shetty (Priyadarshan's Marakkar and Sudeep's Pailwaan), and Aftab Shivdasani (Sudeep's Kottigobba 3), also making the crossover. As Vivek succinctly says, "Films mirror culture, and the way people think, speak and react. When you smile, nobody’s asking if it’s Hindi or Tamil."