NEW DELHI :
The latest crop of south Indian movie stars is seeking inspiration from media savvy Bollywood to build pan-India popularity even though their older counterparts were known to be inactive on social media and unwilling to join the brand endorsement brigade.
Latest initiatives include active presence and engagement on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, tying up with talent management agencies to connect with masses especially in north India with a specific image and endorsement deals with national brands, in turn, looking to build regional presence.
Despite releasing in four languages, nearly 55% of the total domestic box office collections of Telugu superstar Prabhas’ action thriller Saaho came from the Hindi belt. The film that launched its Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam versions simultaneously built on the fan following that the lead actor has acquired in north India post the monster success of war epic franchise Baahubali and the familiarity that Hindi-speaking audiences have developed with him thanks to the image his agency has built for him as a ‘hero for the masses.’
To be sure, Prabhas is not the only south Indian film actor consciously looking to build a brand among north Indian audiences. Movie viewers in the Hindi-speaking belt are quite familiar with the work and image of actors like Mahesh Babu, Rana Daggubati, Vijay Deverakonda, Ram Charan and Samantha Ruth Prabhu, all of whom have broken the stereotype of south Indian stars staying away from social media and brand endorsements and consequently, pan-India popularity.
“Even now, most of the bigger (south Indian) actors are quite shy of social media. But the new rung of actors is looking at content in a different way and going that extra mile to make sure that content is accepted," said Himank Duvvuru, operational head at talent management agency KWAN South. Duvvuru refers to the fact that audiences even in the south, are no longer getting sold merely on dance, song and action, a lot of smart, slice-of-life films like Pariyerum Perumal, 96, Kolamaavu Kokila, Mahanati and so on are getting lapped up by audiences, necessitating a new approach by actors who need to start talking about their work online.
“Earlier, if you were an actor in the south, you had a demigod status and an untouchable aura, people needed to stand in front of your gates to get a glimpse of you. But now that’s changing, the new breed of actors has progressed and needs to stay connected with its fans and has a massive following already," Duvvuru added. To be sure, with 4.8 million and 1.2 million Instagram followers, actors like Vijay Deverakonda and Ram Charan are new entrants to the platform but with huge and passionate user engagement. Further, stars like Nani, Prabhas and Samantha Ruth Prabhu have been roped in as ambassadors for brands like Sprite, Mahindra and Colgate, respectively. Industry experts say some of the most popular south Indian faces can command anything between Rs. 2-4 crore per day for an association, comparable to any Bollywood star.
Prabhat Choudhary, founder of talent management agency Spice and digital marketing company Entropy said the Baahubali franchise, whose marketing in north India his company worked on, may have been a game-changer as far as south Indian content and faces breaking out in the Hindi belt was concerned.
“However, in the last two decades, there have been a lot of dubbed films of the south being played on national television so the heartland of India had gotten acclimatized to southern sensibilities and they were already aware of people like Prabhas, Allu Arjun and Mahesh Babu who had a connect with the masses," Choudhary said.
And that’s where companies like Spice with social intelligence come in. “We’ve realized that India is not just six or eight big cities, it’s a huge and complex geography and one has to be able to cater to all those segments individually," Choudhary said, alluding to the recent trend of south Indian language films that are marked by epic scale, universal and emotional subjects releasing in multiple languages to expand footprint across the country such as 2.0, KGF: Chapter 1 and Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, after Baahubali.
“I think this entire crossover trend is going to stay because projects for pan-India audiences are on the increase," said Choudhary who is in talks with several south Indian actors to build presence in the Hindi belt.