Pawan Kalyan, Rajinikanth may be two decades apart but they have mass popularity, political plunge in common

TS Sudhir

January 11, 2018 09:35:11 IST

There is a thin dividing line between a demi-god and God in south India. On Wednesday morning, soon after his Agnyathavaasi released, actor Pawan Kalyan's photograph was made the presiding deity inside a floral chariot and taken out in a procession by his fans in Railway Koduru in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh. Elsewhere, the ritual of pouring milk over cutouts of the actor took place at many cinema theatres in Andhra and Telangana.

Pawan Kalyan being worshiped

Pawan Kalyan being worshiped

No other actor in the two Telugu states commands the kind of craze that Pawan Kalyan evokes. It is extremely surprising given that he does not exactly set the box office on fire with every movie of his. Many of his films in the last decade have been duds, or 'big bombs' to put it in Telugu filmy lingo, yet there is no doubt his movies at least get one of the best openings in Tollywood.

It is difficult to explain the phenomenon called Pawan Kalyan in words. There is a certain "you don't know what to expect from him'' element that he brings to 70mm. There is an eccentric streak that has a magnetism about it, be it in the manner in which he speaks in real and reel life or in his action sequences or dance steps on screen. When he broke on to the movie scene in 1996, the Telugu industry was dominated by the big four — elder brother Chiranjeevi, Balakrishna, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh. Pawan looked younger and had a casual air about him that appealed to the youth.

It is this coolness quotient that Pawan has managed to retain, despite his age now. That makes him the poster boy of the Andhra youth who hang on to every word spoken by him, on or off screen.

Why Agnyathavaasi, which loosely translates to a Prince in Exile, is important is not because Pawan is looking to cement his hold as a bankable star. In fact, he is notorious for having an air of disinterest about him in recent years when it comes to movies. Those close to him point out that he is donning the greasepaint only in order to raise money — for his family and the party.

Agnyathavaasi is important because this may well be the last Pawan release for some time to come, given his intention to become a 24x7 politician. Since 2014, when he launched Jana Sena, the 46-year-old has been an off-and-on neta, making guest appearances for political causes. With a year to go for the elections in Andhra, Pawan would hope the movie would set the tempo for his political innings.

With Rajinikanth taking the political plunge in Tamil Nadu, it is natural to compare the two actors with a mass following, who will be tested at the same time in 2019. And it is not just their monikers that are similar. While Rajini is called the Superstar, Pawan goes by the title of Power Star. Like Rajini, Pawan too appears in public in plain handlooms, making it a point to underline his simplicity. Both wear a disheveled look on their visage, a `frankly, I don't care how I look' kind of attitude.

Though separated by two decades, both Rajini and Pawan find themselves in a similar position, looking to make a mark in their second innings. What is certain is that despite the fan craze, both will find it next to impossible to translate it into votes unless they invest in a political machine. While the grapevine in Tamil Nadu suggests that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) will help Rajinikanth in the backend work, Pawan has to make a choice in Andhra on who he ties up with — Chandrababu Naidu or Jaganmohan Reddy. In 2014, Pawan's alliance with Telugu Desam Party and BJP played a critical part in their victory. Like Rajinikanth has two strong Dravidian parties to contend with, Pawan has two powerful regional satraps to deal with.

Pawan has an astute political mind and has shown he is willing to walk the extra mile to get his work done. With an eye on getting extra shows for Agnyathavaasi in Telangana, Pawan called chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and praised his power policy to the skies. The butter overdose was perhaps with an eye to make KCR forget the sharp words Pawan had said about him during the Telangana agitation.

In his political avatar, Pawan would hope to do what the late NT Rama Rao did successfully. NTR also had the image of a maverick but he was extremely disciplined and ensured he chose the right kind of people to advise him when he entered politics in 1982. This is not something Pawan has managed to do so far and Jana Sena is still seen only as a one-man outfit.

In Agnyathavaasi, actor Boman Irani who plays Pawan's father always has a Plan B when it comes to business. Pawan is his plan B for life. With Agnyathavaasi behind him, Pawan Kalyan the politician, will have to work out his Plan B, now that his Plan A of an alliance with BJP and TDP has not worked out as he would have liked it to.

Updated Date: Jan 11, 2018 09:35 AM