Call it attitude. Or the swag of a new generation actor. Vijay Devarakonda likes to call it 'Rowdy'. Used to being called a 'rowdy' every time he did something his folks at home did not like, Vijay realised over a period of time that the adjective defines him. Which is why he now refers to his fans as 'Rowdies' - his fan club is called Rowdy Club - and even the new clothing brand he unveiled this summer, bears the name.
"It is not a negative term, I take it positively. This is a way to say we challenge the status quo,'' said Vijay Devarakonda. A video that he released underlines his endorsement of a rebellious attitude with lyrics like "I am you, I am the Rowdy you. Speak up, rise up, stand up."
Devarakonda, the newest sensation in town with three back-to-back Telugu superhits, is now entering the Tamil film arena with NOTA. A political thriller, it will showcase the 29-year-old in the role of the youngest chief minister on Indian celluloid. During his promotional tours, Vijay has been regaling his young fans by not only taking the oath as a chief minister on stage but also revealing his politically conscious side when he tells them not to vote on the basis of caste and religion or after taking money.
What makes Devarakonda such hot property despite not being a star son or having a godfather in an industry notorious for nepotism? It is precisely this devil-may-care attitude, wearing his heart on his sleeve and not being obsessed with being politically correct that has made Vijay stand out. His story of struggle from a small budget film's supporting cast to a big star is inspirational for millions of youth from middle class families who descend on Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai with stars in their eyes and dream of making it big in the movies.
Vijay's first movie as hero was Pelli Choopulu (Matchmaking) made with a budget of Rs 1 crore. In July 2016, it had the audacity to release a week after Rajinikanth-starrer Kabali and yet withstood the Superstar storm, with the word of mouth working in its favour. A feel-good movie, Pelli Choopulu touched upon the subjects of start-ups and women empowerment while being rooted in typical Telugu value systems. The movie was adjudged the best film at the National Film Awards besides raking in the moolah.
But it was Vijay's second movie, Arjun Reddy in 2017, that made the industry sit up and take notice of this emerging talent powerhouse. It was the story of an alcoholic surgeon who, with his anger management issues, gets on to a self-destructive path after his girlfriend's marriage. How he falls and subsequently emerges out of the abyss is what made Arjun Reddy click with the young crowd. 2018 saw him in a supporting role in Mahanati and Geetha Govindam, a romantic comedy, again appealing to the college going audience.
The time when Vijay made his entry into Telugu film industry is also equally significant. The earlier generation of Chiranjeevi, Balakrishna, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh no longer has the audience-drawing power it had a decade ago, and Pawan Kalyan has gravitated towards politics. Thanks to the time taken over the Baahubali franchise, Prabhas has not been a frequent fixture on screen. The response to Vijay suggested that the audience was happy to explore an alternative to the Tollywood star sons, their familiar mannerisms and the chip of the old block style of acting. Devarakonda in contrast, felt like a breath of fresh air.
Those who understand South cinema mark Vijay as a "star of the future'', a boy with tremendous talent. The fact that he has come up the hard way instead of getting a privileged break into films, makes him more relatable to the audience.
Vijay also won hearts when he decided to auction his first Filmfare Award for best actor for Arjun Reddy and donated the Rs 25 lakh he raised, to the Telangana Chief Minister's Relief Fund. He also did something adorable on his birthday this May when he organised three ice cream trucks to move around Hyderabad and distribute free ice cream. This manner of melting hearts shows Vijay Devarakonda, the actor, knows how to become Vijay Devarakonda, the youth brand.
This week, Vijay requested his fans not to get into online spats with fans of other heroes or his critics, asking them to spread social media positivity. This is in sharp contrast to how most stars turn a blind eye to the aggressive trolling their fans do. Vijay's newfound friendship with IT minister and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's son, KT Rama Rao, means those in the movie business know the actor has the right political backing.
But is he being put on a pedestal too soon? After all, the Telugu industry has seen actors like the late Uday Kiran, who too created a splash with a hat-trick of hits in lover boy roles before fading away. So far, Devarakonda has shown signs of picking up the right scripts. Despite not knowing Tamil, Vijay decided to get out of his comfort zone to do NOTA and spent time learning the language and the right pronunciations. It is also a sign that Vijay has his sights set on being seen and accepted beyond the Telangana-Andhra boundaries.
NOTA also marks his decision to turn producer, a move that raised eyebrows as it seemed a bit too early in his career. But Vijay thinks NOTA's release across south India will give his production venture a good launch pad. "Your rowdy is getting into production,'' he announced in Hyderabad, as the screen flashed "The Rowdy's New Beginning". Interestingly, the name of Vijay's production house is a literal translation of his family name, Devarakonda and is called 'King of the Hill'.
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