Will Ram Charan Teja break the 'south Indian hero' jinx with Zanjeer?
South superstars have always found it difficult to find sustained success in Bollywood. Will Chiranjeevi's son Ram Charan Teja, who debuts with the the high octane remake of Zanjeer, be able to break the tradition of failure?
In 1973, writers Salim-Javed redefined the grammar of Hindi cinema by introducing the angry young man into the popular narrative. The success of Zanjeer prompted Telugu cinema thespian N T Rama Rao to remake it as Nippulanti Manishi the following year and the film went on to become a Silver Jubilee hit.
Forty years on, Ram Charan Teja has good reason to be nervous. Stepping into the shoes of Big B and NTR is after all, no child's play. Which is perhaps why he chooses to describe his version of Zanjeer (titled Toofan in Telugu) as Zanjeer re-imagined, not Zanjeer remade.
Blame it on a DNA-obsessed industry, the expectations from Ram Charan are humongous. After all his father is Chiranjeevi, a veteran of 149 films. Even though he has temporarily retired to play a politician in real life and spends more time these days being the Union minister of state for Tourism, Chiranjeevi is any day more at home mouthing clap-worthy dialogues. Sample his one-liner at the launch of the first look of Toofan in Hyderabad on Monday : "This is like the silence before the storm, Toofan is about to come.''
Chiranjeevi also made it a point to emphasise that his son has bettered him because while he took 13 years to do his first Hindi film, Ram Charan has managed it in six years. Almost suggesting that Bollywood is the ultimate trophy in a south Indian hero's cabinet.
Indeed, the urge to make it big in Bollywood has seduced many a big hero from the south Indian film industry. The first serious foray into Bollywood was made in the 80s by the two Tamil superstars - Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth.
But while Kamal started with a bang with Ek Duuje Ke Liye, his career in Bombay gradually settled down to a level where he was not getting projects (barring a Saagar) that would excite the consummate actor in him. Rajinikanth's innings in Bombay was nothing to write home about. In hindsight, both lacked the skillsets for tasting long-term success in Hindi cinema - which essentially meant the right Hindi accent and north Indian looks.
The Telugu heroes - Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh - too followed suit, again to taste average success. The reason none of them set Bombay on fire was because they did not bring anything new to the table, something that a Bombay hero could not do. Moreover, all of them suffered from the label of a Madrassi hero, that Bollywood and the audience north of the Deccan gave them.
Malayalam superstars like Mohanlal and Mammootty never made any serious attempt to do too many Hindi films, their attempts at best half-hearted. It came to be accepted that south Indian stars cannot shine in Bollywood.
Of late, heroes like Rana Daggubati (with Dum Maro Dum and Department) and Dhanush (with Raanjhnaa) besides Ram Charan have decided to give Bollywood a shot. The big hurdle is their stardom that restricts them from experimenting with roles. None of the heroes can for example do a Prakash Raj, for who it does not matter in which language he is playing a bad man in. As an actor, it is easy for him to cross boundaries something a star cannot, because of the money that rides on him.
Because Zanjeer is an Amitabh Bachchan movie revisited, there are bound to be comparisons between the Vijay of 2013 and Vijay of 1973. Not that Ram Charan is new to the pressure of expectations. Being Chiranjeevi's son, an entire generation still relates to him as the Megastar's son, comparing how he dances, fights and emotes to the way his dad would. Already, in keeping with south Indian cinema's tradition of anointing titles, he is being referred to as 'Megapowerstar' - a combination of his father and uncle Pawan Kalyan's prefixes.
Taking on a huge project like Zanjeer was a smart decision because Ram Charan has ensured that he will not go unnoticed in Bollywood. If he flops, there is always Hyderabad. But if he manages to impress on debut, he could find some interesting and challenging roles coming his way from Mumbai.
For now Ram Charan says he intends to focus on Telugu movies, unwilling to keep his feet in two boats and risk a fall.
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