Riding high on her success in Hindi movies, Alia Bhatt is all set to foray into Telugu cinema this year with RRR, a period action film to be directed by S.S. Rajamouli of Baahubali fame. Incidentally, the film that features Jr. NTR and Ram Charan in lead roles, is also slated to star actor Ajay Devgn in what is touted to be a supporting role.
Meanwhile, Amitabh Bachchan will make his Tamil debut in Uyarntha Manithan, a film with actor-director S.J. Surya, months after Akshay Kumar made his Tamil debut with Rajinikanth-starrer 2.0.
While some female actors have participated in this exchange of talent before (Deepika Padukone and Sonakshi Sinha acted in Rajinikanth’s Kochadaiyaan and Lingaa, respectively. Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra, too, have done Tamil films), industry experts say the recent interest by male actors, points to the expanding influence of south Indian films.
“The south Indian film industry is expanding in market size and budgets, and no ambitious actor would want to look away," said film critic Manoj Kumar. “What Baahubali has done is unlikely to be beaten at least for the next three to four years."
At worldwide earnings of more than ₹1,700 crore, Rajamouli’s Telugu language film, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, is the highest grossing Indian film by a wide margin. Last year, Rajinikanth’s science fiction flick 2.0 earned more than ₹600 crore globally. In contrast, top Bollywood stars have floundered with big-ticket films—Aamir Khan’s Thugs of Hindostan finished at ₹138 crore domestically, while Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero didn’t reach the ₹90-crore mark. Another spectacle Kalank earned ₹80 crore within the country.
“South Indian cinema has perfected the art of making commercially viable masala movies with the right drama and emotions, a formula, as the recent failure of Kalank shows, Bollywood doesn’t seem to get right," Kumar added.
Sudhir Srinivasan, film critic and editor, Cinema Express, said there’s more awareness about the good work being done in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada film industries. In fact, Akshay Kumar’s presence helped Rajinikanth’s 2.0 penetrate deeper into north India. Considering that the film was made in both Tamil and Hindi, also helped.
RRR, too, will release in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi. Writer Vijayendra Prasad referred to the presence of Bollywood faces as a healthy fusion.
“It’s a great hybrid of almost two different genres. Plus the audience also wants to see new faces," Prasad said, referring to the fact that some of them are not well known in south India. “These partnerships typically occur in stories that transcend a specific region and have universal appeal. The union of stars from different languages expands the audience base and, in turn, helps the film get a wider release," Srinivasan said, adding. “It also allows big-budget films to be financially viable."
After Kumar in 2.0, Sunil Shetty will play villain in Rajnikanth’s Darbar. “A strong villain makes a stronger hero. Sure, the role could well be played by a south actor, too, but it appears that a top Bollywood star playing a villain brings with it a certain marketability, a certain star value and consequent appeal. New collaborations also help amp up the hype about a film in the viewer’s head," Srinivasan added.