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
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.