Chiranjeevi is back: Why the star still matters to those young and old

For the older generation, he is nostalgia, a throwback to their era of idols. To the younger generation, he is the biggest star they have ever known.
Chiranjeevi is back: Why the star still matters to those young and old
Chiranjeevi is back: Why the star still matters to those young and old
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Latha Srinivasan

He was the biggest Telugu superstar in 2007 when he did Shankar Dada Zindabad. It was then that Konidela Siva Sankara Vara Prasad aka Chiranjeevi decided that his future lay in politics, and went on to form the Praja Rajyam Party.

But fate seemed to have had other things in store for him as his political career was short-lived. After a decade in the political arena, the 61-year-old ‘Boss’, came back to cinema once again with Khaidi No 150, his 150th film in January 2017.

So, what prompted Megastar Chiranjeevi to come back to films? Many south stars who have entered politics have had a remarkable career in that sphere as well. NT Rama Rao, for instance, could successfully capitalise on his superstardom to be elected as the CM of Andhra Pradesh thrice, as the leader of the Telugu Desam Party.

Unfortunately, for Chiranjeevi, his dreams did not pan out as expected. The merger of the Praja Rajyam party with the Congress was seen by many as the last nail in the coffin. His silence on issues affecting the people of his state, including the farmers, also didn’t go down too well. With his popularity waning, Chiranjeevi’s political journey seemed to have struck a major roadblock. And there was no better way to regain lost ground than going back to the silverscreen.

Khaidi No 150 released on January 11 and has till now grossed over Rs 100 crore in India and US $2million in the US. These box office figures clearly show that the Boss hasn’t lost his mojo despite missing from the big screen for a decade.

Interestingly, Chiranjeevi chose his comeback with a film that didn’t touch upon politics at all. A remake of A R Murugadoss’ Kaththi, the film focussed on a social issue and dealt with helping farmers. One wonders whether this was a deliberate choice on his part. For someone who - for most of his film career - made mass films that were purely commercial, the choice of Kaththi seems to send a message that Chiranjeevi could be looking deeper at what films he stars in.

While Khaidi No 150 did have the megastar’s signature dance moves, fights and an item number, a strong social message lies at its core. There is speculation that this choice shows that he still harbours political aspirations and that he wants to be part of more responsible cinema. In fact, in the film, he makes subtle references to politics and his failure there.

One line that is being celebrated now is, “Galli nunchi Delhi politics varaku chusi thatukuna gunde ra idhi, aa navve vadiki cheppu edche roju vastundani.” Meaning he has witnessed everything from local politics to Delhi politics and that he was still strong. "A day comes where people who are laughing today will cry," he adds. Is this him hinting that in future too, one could possibly see him as a strong contender in the political arena?

The success of Khaidi No 150 has shown that the Megastar enjoys immense popularity still. Today, there are younger heroes in Telugu cinema, including his son Ram Charan, who are dominating the film industry. But the large crowds in theatres, posts on social media and innumerable stories in the media show that Chiranjeevi continues to be a big attraction even today. His popularity as an actor hasn’t waned and people – young and old – want to see his inimitable style on screen.

For the older generation, he is nostalgia, a throwback to their era of idols and hero worship, but to the younger generation, he is the biggest star they have ever known and heard of. In fact, most of the younger Tollywood heroes speak reverentially about Chiranjeevi and wish to emulate his success in the business. For instance, Baahubali star Rana Daggubati said that Chiranjeevi is ‘a father after my father’. Speaking at the audio launch of Rudhramadevi, Allu Arjun spoke about the Megastar: “He has worked hard under the sun to reach the number one position and we have all grown under his shadow. For me, anybody else comes next to Megastar in the Telugu industry.”

For the fans of these young heroes, watching Chiru on screen is trying to decode the star who inspired their heroes. For his hardcore fan base (who are in their 40s and above now), it’s taking their children (even if they are 20) to show them their idol. For those who just love cinema, it’s discovering a new star. Ultimately, the younger generation is attracted to him because of his films and not his politics. Look at some of the recent posts on social media:

Now it’s the age of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and the Megastar needs to compete with the young guns in these areas as well. But his strong support system and network through his son and extended family will ensure that Chiru rolls with the times. Ram Charan and Chiranjeevi are said to be joining hands for a two-hero subject next and this film will likely bridge any generation gap that exists among their fans.

At 61, Chiranjeevi hardly looks a day over 50 in Khaidi No 150 and with his dance moves and fights, he can still give any younger hero a run for his money. His cinema seamlessly integrates with the present day and that perhaps is his strongest USP. But as a senior member of the Telugu film fraternity and one who allegedly still harbours political ambitions, Chiranjeevi should perhaps continue his comeback with responsible and good cinema.

A Chiranjeevi admirer named Avinash wrote an open letter to his hero: “The current movie generation is rational, sensible and practical. They will accept you only if you are realistic as a person which will reflect in your acting.” This succinctly sums up what the current generation expects from the Megastar who’s looking at a successful second innings on and off the screen.

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