Agnyaathavaasi: Pawan Kalyan's career is an open book of highs and lows yet the reluctant actor remains a bonafide superstar

Hemanth Kumar

Jan 10, 2018 08:42:33 IST

It was the summer of 2001 when I had just completed my 10th standard. One fine day, when I met a school friend during the vacation, he nudged me to give him a treat. We did not have too many options to have ‘fun’ back then. A visit to a local bakery was a luxury and if we had enough money to spare, we would have probably paid a visit to Bawarchi or Cafe Bahar — two of the restaurants where you still get the best biryani in Hyderabad.

But that summer was different. My friend wanted to watch Pawan Kalyan, Bhumika Chawla starrer Khushi which had released in early summer that year. Those were the days where the range of a blockbuster film was judged by the number of days it ran in theatres. Khushi was one of the biggest hits ever until then in Telugu cinema, but more than that, it was the pinnacle of Pawan Kalyan’s stardom at the turn of the millennium.

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Pawan Kalyan in a still from Agnyaathavaasi. Twitter@PawanKalyan

It has been close to 17 years since Khushi turned Kalyan into a demigod. In the decade that followed, the actor saw dazzling lows both personally and professionally but his stature had not diminished a bit. From Johnny (2003) to Panjaa (2011), the star had a string of flops (Jalsa was an exception in this phase) at the box-office, and his stint in politics with Prajarajyam Party, founded by his elder brother ‘Megastar’ Chiranjeevi, came to a standstill post the 2009 elections. During those eight years, one statement that you often heard from his was — “Whatever happens to the film in its long run, his films still get the best openings at the box office”. It was not until Gabbar Singh (2012), a remake of Dabangg, that the star found his mojo.

At an event a few years ago, Kalyan said, “I had a premonition just before Khushi released that my acting career is going to go downhill and my gut feeling was right. There was nothing much I could do. I wanted to quit films and settle down as a farmer. A lot of fans would meet me and beg me to deliver at least one hit because it was embarrassing for them to see my films not live up to expectations. I do not know how but finally, I found that same old energy once again while acting in Gabbar Singh.”

Farming was not the only thing on his mind. Even at the peak of his stardom, the actor confesses that he was hinting that he wanted to serve the nation and profess nationalism in some manner or the other. 'Yeh Mera Jahaan', a song from Khushi, became a sensation among the youth although we could only connect the dots about his political aspirations much later. In early January, 2015, when Kalyan joined Twitter, he would only talk about social issues, zero budget natural farming and later, turned it into a platform to become more vocal about political issues primarily in Andhra Pradesh.

In the meantime, his allegedly strained relationship with his brother (Chiranjeevi), divorce with Renu Desai and subsequent secret wedding with Anna Lezhneva, a Russian whom he had met during the making of Teen Maar, continued to dominate headlines. On top of that, his own statements in recent years that he does not have the money to pay his own staff and comments on his life by filmmakers like Ram Gopal Varma have kept everyone on their toes over the years.

Amidst all this, the actor’s decision to join active politics, after launching Jana Sena Party, left everyone with a big question on their mind — Will he quit films? He has hinted that he might do just that but then, you never know if he is going to change his mind. The thing is Kalyan has been quite unpredictable, just like the success or failure of his films. And in turn, we are left with no other option but to enjoy his onscreen persona as long as it lasts.

To be a Pawan Kalyan fan is to be trapped inside a recurring dream, which oscillates between 1997 and 2001, arguably the golden phase of his career when he had a string of hits like Suswagatham, Tholiprema, Thammudu, Badri and Khushi. Even today, a subtle reference to his mannerisms in these films is enough to make his fans go wild in cinema halls. In that dream, he is a boy-next-door, a youth icon, who set a new trend and the actor who bridged two generations of moviegoers. And that image of a young man charting his own path, despite the presence of more illustrious actors like Chiranjeevi, Balakrishna, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh in the late '90s, has stuck on for nearly two decades now. Sure, he started off his career as younger brother of Chiranjeevi, but he is in a league of his own now.

A lot has changed in the past few years. A new generation of actors and directors, like Harish Shankar and several others in the industry, have glorified the actor to another level through their films and statements off-screen. There is a dialogue in Gabbar Singh, where Pawan Kalyan says, “Popularity emundhile passing cloud laantidhi. Vathavaranam vedikkithe vanai karigipothundhi. Nenu aakasam lanti vadini. Vurumochina, merupochina pidugochina, nenu eppudu okela unta. (Popularity is like a passing cloud. If it gets too hot, then it’ll melt and turn into rain. But I’m like the sky. Even if there’s thunder or lightning, I’ll always remain the same).” Although it is a situational dialogue, it was a veiled reference to the actor’s everlasting popularity despite failures. But nothing spells the cult of Pawan Kalyan like another famous line from the same film, which goes like — “Aayina sthaayi veru, aayina sthaanam veru (His stature and position are quite different from others).”

For someone who once confessed that he knows he is not a good actor, Kalyan’s popularity might seem like a paradox. But the truth is he has reached a state where the line between his off-screen and on-screen image has blurred even further. No matter what character he plays, it is Pawan Kalyan, the person, who is highlighted, not his character in the film. He is quite aware of his influence on the public and it is only in the recent few years that he has begun playing an active role in raising his concerns on the state of students, farmers and health issues of people living in tribal areas among others.

Unlike his predecessors in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, such as MGR and NTR, who built their image to a level where they were accepted with open arms when they made a transition from films to politics, Kalyan’s journey so far has been filled with obstacles. And the road ahead does not seem like a bed of roses either.

At the moment, all eyes are on his latest film Agnyaathavaasi, directed by his close friend and one of the top directors in Telugu cinema, Trivikram Srinivas, which is expected to be a proof of his strength at the box-office. While there is plenty of suspense if it is going to be his last film before he takes a plunge into campaigning for the elections next year, one thing is certain — it is going to be an electrifying atmosphere in theatres this Sankranthi.

All of a sudden, the memories of the summer of 2001 have resurfaced once again with this film. Back then, I could not fathom why I had to spend Rs 200 bucks to buy a ticket in black to watch Khushi more than 10 weeks after its release. Now, it all makes sense to me. Because people would do anything to earn the license to have fun. And Pawan Kalyan is the reason, and also the catalyst, to make that experience priceless.

Updated Date: Jan 10, 2018 08:42:33 IST