Junior NTR to host Bigg Boss Telugu: Significant casting coup, getting the crowd-puller as host
When the production house roped in Kamal Haasan to host the Tamil version of Bigg Boss, the expectation was that a senior actor in Tollywood would similarly do the honours in the Telugu space. After all, the likes of Nagarjuna and Chiranjeevi had already made their foray into television in Telugu. But in a strategic move, Star Maa has gone in for N T Rama Rao, known as Tarak or Junior NTR. The grandson of N T Rama Rao, the legendary actor and former Andhra chief minister, Tarak is one of the top notch young actors in Telugu cinema.
For a fan association-driven film industry, this is a significant casting coup, as NTR is a huge crowd-puller. Tarak's fans see this as a landmark moment for Telugu television, as no young hero in the top league has attempted an appearce on the small screen. NTR himself believes that "the show will be a game changer" in Telugu television.
"Star Maa was looking for someone with spontaneity and energy, and these two aspects define Tarak," says Mahesh Koneru, trade analyst who closely tracks the Telugu film space. "Since the show does not have a fixed script, it will work for Tarak, who has a sense of humour," he added. And lest it be missed, the name NTR still works like magic in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
In terms of remuneration, the grapevine has it that NTR, who is also a trained Kuchipudi dancer and playback singer, has been offered the highest ever remuneration offered ever to a Telugu actor to host a TV show.
Incidentally, like Kamal, Tarak also started off as a child actor. His first film, at the age of 13, saw him starring in the lead role in Ramayanam, which won the National Film Award for Best Children's film in 1996. He made his debut as a hero four years later with Ninnu Choodalani. Among the Telugu heroes, he has worked in the maximum number of movies with Baahubali director SS Rajamouli, delivering three hits with him in Student No 1, Simhadri and Yamadonga.
It is interesting that Tarak was chosen over several other actors in Tollywood. Nagarjuna was a hit with Meelo Evaru Koteeswarudu, the Telugu version of Kaun Banega Crorepati and helped the channel move ahead in TRPs, but his successor Chiranjeevi proved to be a flop. Sources say this is what may have prompted the producers of Bigg Boss to go in for a younger hero.
From NTR's point of view, it is also a smart career move. Though he had two releases in 2016 in Nannaku Prematho and Janatha Garage, he will have only one release in Jai Lava Kusa towards the end of the year. Staying connected with the audience through another medium therefore will ensure he is not out of sight, out of mind.
What kind of an impact is this likely to have on NTR's film career? "How a show on TV does makes little impact on the love and affection the audience shows for the star on the big screen,'' points out D Suresh Babu, producer and distributor, adding, "Salman Khan's fan following has not been adversely affected by his appearance on Bigg Boss. Similarly, though Chiranjeevi's show did not do well, it does not mean his next film will not get a good opening. At the same time, the TV shows that some actresses host do not help their film career.''
Interestingly in recent months, NTR has also been posting pictures of playing with son Abhay Ram on social media, projecting a very familial image. That will also help convey the gravitas needed for his role as the host of the show apart, from relating to a family audience watching Bigg Boss.
In the past, thanks to his family's connect with the Telugu Desam — NTR founded the party in 1982 and became chief minister the following year, at the same time that NTR Junior was born — Tarak campaigned for the party during election time in 2009. That led to comparisons being drawn between him and Nara Lokesh, Chandrababu Naidu's son. But now with Lokesh's entry as a minister in the Andhra cabinet, NTR has decided to be the Bigg Boss in the film and TV world, without getting into any competition in the political space.
The late NTR was a trendsetter in the manner in which he excelled in mythological roles of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna on the big screen. Junior NTR will hope to be a similar trailblazer on the small screen. The grandfather was the big boss of Telugu cinema and the Andhra political landscape for nearly half a century, and the grandson has makes it a case of 'NTR Returns'.