RE­TURN OF THE KING

A peo­ple’s star, Prabhas is the first ac­tor from the Tel­ugu film in­dus­try to make cred­i­ble in­roads into Bollywood. Two years after the suc­cess of Baahubali 2, he is back on the scene with ac­tion flick, Saaho

India Today - - INSIDE - By Suhani Singh

Baahubali man Prabhas is the first ac­tor from the Tel­ugu film in­dus­try to make cred­i­ble in­roads into Bollywood

H“Hello dar­lings”. That’s how Prabhas ad­dresses his three mil­lion fol­low­ers in al­most each of his 35 In­sta­gram posts till date. He got on the photo- and video-shar­ing plat­form only after the mas­sive suc­cess of the two Baahubali films, which el­e­vated his sta­tus from a Tel­ugu su­per­star to a pan-In­dia one. Un­like other ac­tors, though, so­cial me­dia is strictly about busi­ness for Prabhas. “I am bet­ter than be­fore,” he says shyly. He is sit­ting in a ban­quet hall in a fives­tar ho­tel with five body­guards keep­ing watch out­side. He is in the mid­dle of a long day of pub­lic­ity for his lat­est film, Saaho, the ac­tion thriller shot in three lan­guages—Hindi, Tamil and Tel­ugu—re­leas­ing on Au­gust 30. Made

on an es­ti­mated bud­get of Rs 350 crore, the film was shot over two years. That’s three years less than the time Prabhas spent on his last project.

Shobu Yar­la­gadda, one of the two pro­duc­ers of the films, lauded the ac­tor’s com­mit­ment with­out which Baahubali would not have been pos­si­ble. “He was 32 and at the peak of his ca­reer when he came on board,” says Yar­la­gadda. “More than any­thing else, time is money [in this pro­fes­sion]. It showed his pas­sion for his work and hunger to go be­yond the or­di­nary.” Since his de­but in 2002, Prabhas al­ways had a re­lease a year. That changed in 2014 as he be­gan to bulk up for Baahubali: The Be­gin­ning, which re­leased in 2015, and Baahubali: The Con­clu­sion, which hit the the­atres in 2017. “After the first film, Baahubali’s char­ac­ter was on ev­ery­one’s mind and he didn’t want the au­di­ence’s per­cep­tion [of him] to change,” adds Yar­la­gadda.

While Baahubali was an am­bi­tious fran­chise led by its vi­sion­ary di­rec­tor S.S. Ra­jamouli, Saaho is perched en­tirely on Prabhas’s shoul­ders. Wide and mus­cu­lar they may be, but the film’s wide re­lease—across an es­ti­mated 4,500 screens—sug­gests that the pro­duc­ers, UV Cre­ations and T-Se­ries, might be bank­ing too much on the ac­tor’s pop­u­lar­ity. “Yes, the pres­sure is on me be­cause ev­ery­body knows me as Baahubali,” says Prabhas. The chal­lenge, he adds, was to find a big project that would help him cash in on his wide­spread fame, now stretch­ing across the Hindi belt after the suc­cess of the Baahubali films dubbed in Hindi, es­pe­cially part two. At Rs 510 crore, it is the high­est-gross­ing film in Hindi till date.

Buoyed by the num­bers, the mak­ers de­cided to make Saaho in Hindi too. This is the first time that Prabhas has dubbed the lines him­self. “The per­for­mance changed be­cause of Hindi,” he

says. “This was done to reach a wider au­di­ence.” While Tamil film stars like Ra­jinikanth and Ka­mal Haasan gar­nered a fol­low­ing be­yond their base to fea­ture in Bollywood, the Tel­ugu film in­dus­try hadn’t re­ally seen cross­over suc­cesses. Only Chi­ran­jeevi came close. Prabhas seems to be the first in the pack.

In the Tel­ugu in­dus­try, Prabhas is best known for movies such as Cha­tra­p­athi (2005) and Mirchi (2013), which made him pop­u­lar as an ac­tion star, and the ro­man­tic com­edy Mr Per­fect (2011), which showed that there’s more to him than machismo. The hys­te­ria Prabhas evokes in Te­lan­gana and Andhra Pradesh is akin to Ra­jini ma­nia. So much so that when a trailer of Saaho played in a theatre in Hy­der­abad re­cently, peo­ple started danc­ing in front of the big screen. “He de­serves it. He is ab­so­lutely won­der­ful as a per­son,” says Shrad­dha Kapoor, Prabhas’ Saaho co-star. “He is a re­ally sin­cere and pas­sion­ate ac­tor.” It’s a sen­ti­ment Yar­la­gadda echoes. “He’s all heart,” he says. “He is hon­est, a lit­tle re­served and a great host, who en­sures there’s a never-end­ing spread of food.” Son of pro­ducer U. Surya Narayana Raju, Prabhas didn’t re­ally har­bour a de­sire to do films. Not un­til he saw his un­cle Kr­ish­nam Raju play an ag­nos­tic who grad­u­ally be­comes a Lord Shiva devo­tee in Bhakta Kan­nappa. “It trig­gered some­thing in­side me,” re­calls Prabhas. “What if I too be­come an ac­tor? Then I was like, ‘No, no this is not my thing’.” He even­tu­ally joined the fam­ily busi­ness and made his screen de­but with Eesh­war in 2002. While act­ing has been the right step for him, he is cer­tain that pol­i­tics won’t be. In 1998, Prabhas’s un­cle con­tested and won the Lok Sabha elec­tion from Kak­i­nada in Andhra Pradesh. Prabhas, who trav­elled with him and worked on his cam­paign, says he didn’t en­joy the process. “Seven­teen years in the film in­dus­try and I am still not com­fort­able,” he says. “Pol­i­tics is a dif­fer­ent ball­game al­to­gether.” Saaho may be a big-bud­get con­tem­po­rary film, but is essen­tially Prabhas do­ing what his fans love most—beat­ing up bad guys with flair. Like Baahubali, the ac­tion se­quences in Saaho, he says, push the en­ve­lope. “High on imag­i­na­tion, they make for great vi­su­als,” he adds. How­ever, he ad­mits that he was re­ally look­ing to do “a love story” after the fan­tas­ti­cal epic. In­ter­est­ingly, the ac­tor cites film­maker Mani Rat­nam, the king of modern ro­mance, as one of his favourites and wishes to work with him some day. As he re­calls his first and only meet­ing with the di­rec­tor at a lounge in Chen­nai, much be­fore Baahubali, the su­per­star sounds like a fan­boy. “I shook his hands and told him ‘Sir, I’m a big fan’,” says Prabhas. For a man with a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing shy, this is per­haps the bold­est thing he has done. De­spite his last film earn­ing Rs 1,000 crore at the do­mes­tic box of­fice, his be­hav­iour has not changed. The hu­mil­ity that made his char­ac­ters, Amaren­dra and Ma­hen­dra Baahubali, kings of the peo­ple also makes Prabhas the star of the peo­ple.

KRISHNENDU HALDER

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