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Bollywood superiority complex: Is the tinsel town slowly waking up to Southwood?

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The year was 1964. Director Tapi Chanakya’s Ram Aur Shyam starring the thespian Dilip Kumar and the eternal beauties Wahida Rehman and Mumtaz, became a super duper hit. Most of us might not know that this film was a remake of the 1964 Telugu hit Ramadu Bheemadu. This movie starred none other than the very popular NTR. But little did we know that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Bollywood has since been making the box office click with the Hindi remakes of Telugu, Tamil and Kannad superhits. Singham, Force, Ghajini, Tere Naam, Judwaa, Sathiya, Wanted, Ready, Bhool Bhulaiya, Hera Pheri, Rowdy Rathore, Bodygaurd, No Entry, RHTDM, Sooryavansham, to name a few, were all remakes of either Tamil, Telugu or Kannada movies.

Kamal Haasan forayed into Hindi films with Ek Duje Liye, but much before that, he was a superstar down south. The Vishwaroopam actor started his career in films as a child artiste in the 1960 Tamil film Kalathur Kannamma. He received the President’s gold medal for his excellent performance. He went on to win many more prestigious awards for his contribution to Indian cinema. After Ek Duje Ke Liye, Haasan went on to do Sanam Teri Kasam, Yeh Toh Kamal Hai, Zara Si Zindagi, Sadma, Sagar, Indian, Chachi 420, Hey Ram, Vishwaroopam.

Some would argue that he was less popular in Bollywood as compared to his contemporaries then, like Amitabh Bachchan. Though his acting skills took him places and Bollywood praised his prowess, but he chose to stay away. He once said, ”because of Bollywood’s indiscipline, I deliberately stayed away. They take two to three years to make a movie, and I have a short life. Hindi cinemas may be a big deal, but actors have a short life”.

Rajinikanth popularly known as Thalaiva, is a superstar in the Tamil film industry. He enjoys a God-like status down south and his fandom has kept growing over the years. He is one of the most popular actors, in the history of Indian cinema. His idiosyncrasies and mannerisms won him a huge fan following. Rajinikanth debuted in Tamil cinema with Apoorva Raagangal (1975). 1978 saw 20 releases from him across Tamil, Telugu and Kannada cinema. He considered Amitabh Bachchan his inspiration and ended up acting in many of his remakes.

He did scores of Bollywood movies starting with Andha Kanoon, John Jaani Janardhan etc., most of which were Hindi remakes of Tamil movies. But despite his huge popularity down south, his stardom fizzled out in B-town. By the time Rajinikanth debuted in Bollywood, cinema-goers were already swept off their feet by the then angry young man Amitabh Bachchan. Bollywood didn’t have the heart to welcome another superstar. Rajinikanth then went on to play second fiddle to Amiitabh Bachchan in Hindi movies of that era.

Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are only a few examples of how Bollywood never encouraged or welcomed stars from the south. Whether it was nepotism or a bias towards Hindi-speaking actors is for you to assume. 70s and 80s saw mostly Hindi-speaking stars and they were not willing to share their throne with the superstars from south.

The female actors from south, definitely made a mark in tinsel town. Vyajantimala Bali paved the way for many actors from Kollywood, Tollywood Sandalwood and Mollywood. The Madhumati actor debuted at the age of 13 with Tamil film Vaaz Khai. She ventured into Bollywood, with her first Hindi movie Bahar in 1951 and got a breakthrough with Naagin. She was then cast in the magnum Opus Devdas and garnered appreciation for portraying Chandramukhi. She was the queen of the golden era of Bollywood and shot to fame with her acting prowess in Madhumati, Ganga Jamuna, Sangam, the historical drama Amrapali, Jewel Thief, Prince. The Padma Shri awardee later gained popularity as a Bharat Natyam dancer.

Cited as the first female superstar of Indian cinema, Sridevi took Bollywood by storm after her notable appearance in Julie in 1975. But she started her journey in cinema with the Tamil movie Moondru Mudichu. She established herself as one of the most prominent female star of the south Indian film industry. Her grandeur and elegance, made her easily the most powerful female actor Bollywood had ever seen. Sadma, Naagin, Chaalbaaz, Lamhe, Khuda Gawah, Gumrah, Ladla, Judai…Sridevi was unstoppable.

The list is unending. Vidya Balan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Tamannaah Bhatia, Kajal Aggarwal, Asin, Shriya Saran, Tapsee Pannu, Bollywood only took notice of these stars after they became superstars down south. Not to forget Madhavan, Prabhaas, Dhanush.

Successful stories from Tollywood and Kollywood have always attracted Bollywood. But only recently, B-town has stopped to notice the tornado that is slowly taking over. And Bollywood movie buffs can’t stay away either. KGF and RRR was a huge success and it attracted Bollywood movie watchers too. And not just this they even beat Hindi films like Bhool Bhulaiya 2 and Gangubai Kathiawadi at the box office. And who can forget Baahubali. Prabhaas became a household name. Clearly, north India is going southwards. Bollywood has clearly lost the battle.

More and more Bollywood directors are now choosing to cast the southern superstars as leads in the Hindi movies. Not just this, Bollywood biggies Alia and Ajay Devgn have done a cameo in the blockbuster RRR. Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and other stars will soon be working under directors from the south. Ananya Pandey will be seen opposite Deverakonda in Liger. Deepika will be working with Prabhaas. Ranveer Singh will reprise the role played by Vikram in the Tamil superhit Anniyan. Sandeep Reddy Vanga is directing Ranbir in his next Animal. Also, not to forget, Kangana Ranaut did the Jayalalithaa biopic Thailavi under AL Vijay.

On the other hand, stars from south like Naga Chaitanya, Samantha Ruth Prabhu and the likes are waiting to make a debut in Bollywood. Chay will debut in Laal Singh Chaddha, which also stars Amir Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Pushpa fame Rashika Mandana, awaits two Bollywood releases, Mission Majnu opposite Siddharth Malhotra and Goodbye where she will be sharing the screen space with none other than Big B. Vijay Sethupati, Nayanthara are the others in waiting for a Bollywood debut.

It’s a total paradigm shift. Movie watchers from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra are a whole new audience for tinsel town now. They are the new target audience and their power should not be underestimated. No wonder movies like Brahmastra are being released not only in Hindi but also in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam.

Is Bollywood scrambling to collaborate with the southern stars and banners? Is south the new north? Well, the truth is that the southern connect is now seen as a huge advantage. It’s the big catch for viewership and the best way to bridge the gap between the audiences from both north and south. It’s time to embrace the creativity, the cinematic brilliance, the superstars from the south. This will only add to the magical brilliance of Indian cinema.

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