By CV Aravind
The name Kondela Sivasankara Varaprasad might not ring a bell, but drop his screen name Chiranjeevi and a legion of fans would immediately recognize their icon, an actor they had idolized for well over three-and-a-half decades, a mass entertainer who danced his way into their hearts.
Arguably one of the greatest Telugu heroes ever to grace the silver screen, Chiranjeevi proved to be a worthy successor to superstars NT Rama Rao and A Nageswara Rao, the legends who held sway over Tollywood for years together. Chiranjeevi is back facing the arc lights, shooting at a brisk pace for his 150th film tentatively titled â€˜Kathilantoduâ€™ after a long sabbatical.
Chiranjeevi went off the filmi radar sometime in 2008 when he plunged into politics forming his own party â€˜Praja Rajyamâ€™ hoping to emulate one of his illustrious predecessors - NTR - who entered politics, formed his own outfit Telugu Desam Party and stormed to power soon after.
Praja Rajyam however could not replicate the success of TDP and Chiranjeevi who faced the electorate in two constituencies won in one and lost in the other. In 2011 he merged his party with the Indian National Congress and served as a Union Minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet holding independent charge of the portfolio of Tourism. After the UPA government was voted out of power and the Congress came a cropper in Andhra Pradesh and the newly carved out state Telengana, Chiranjeevi is back to what he does best: acting.
Much water has flowed under the bridge during his rather long hiatus and several young heroes including his nephew Allu Arjun and his own son Ramcharan Tej have been busy carving their own niches in the industry. His contemporaries like Balakrishna , Nagarjuna, Mahesh Babu and Venkatesh too are still around still delivering hits with an odd flop or two in between. And to cap it all the audience or at least a large part of it could well have shifted their loyalties in the interregnum.
No less a person than Indiaâ€™s legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan was left clutching at straws after he returned to films after a rather disastrous foray into politics and dabbling in film production and distribution and had to bide his time till the industry once again reposed its faith in him and his fans also began to root for him all over again.
All these factors may have weighed in on the mind of the megastar and perhaps could have goaded him to play safe for his comeback film by working with people who have given him hits in the past. Titled â€˜Kathilantoduâ€™, Chiranjeeviâ€™s comeback film is a Telugu remake of AR Murugadossâ€™ Tamil hit â€˜Kaththiâ€™, which will be directed by VV Vinayak and produced by his son Ramcharan Tej. Chiranjeevi and Vinayak worked together in â€˜Tagoreâ€™ while â€˜Stalinâ€™ was the official remake of Murugadossâ€™ Tamil hit â€˜Ramanaaâ€™.
Chiranjeevi, who had done a course in the Madras Film Institute was bitten by the acting bug very early in life. He first entered films enacting minuscule roles and then graduated to villain roles in films like â€˜Idhu Katha Kaadhuâ€™ and the Tamil hit â€˜Raanuva Veeranâ€™ in which Rajinikant played the hero. After his transition to lead roles, Chiranjeevi, who had by then built up a substantial fan base, mostly worked in entertainers directed by K Raghavendra Rao and others which required him to play the romantic hero to the hilt.
A brilliant dancer who never failed to captivate audiences with his break dancing skills, Chiranjeevi kept his fans happy by churning out commercial potboilers with all the box office ingredients such as action, comedy, song and dance sequences in perfect proportion.
In his career spanning well over three decades, perhaps only a handful of films really tested his mettle as an actor and were directed by accomplished masters like K Balachander and K Viswanath.
In Balachanderâ€™s â€˜Idhu Katha Kaadhuâ€™, Chiranjeevi reprised the role by Rajinikant in the Tamil original â€˜Avargalâ€™ and played a sadistic husband to perfection. â€˜Rudraveenaâ€™, also directed by Balachander, easily gave Chiranjeevi one of his best roles to date, that of an idealist who crossed swords with his father, played by Tamil cinema veteran Gemini Ganesan. â€˜Rudraveenaâ€™ enabled Chiranjeevi to prove that he had the ability to get under the skin of a character and deliver the goods in meaty roles. â€˜Rudraveenaâ€™ won the National Award for the Best Film on National Integration. Incidentally, Balachander also cast him as an anti-hero in the film â€™47 Natkalâ€™ in which Chiranjeevi was at his villainous best as an NRI who tortures his wife endlessly.
Viswanath, one of the finest directors of Telugu cinema, directed Chiranjeevi in films such as â€˜Subhalekhaâ€™ and â€˜Swayam Kushiâ€™ and got the best out of him as these films did not take the beaten track and were shorn of the routine, commercial elements.
One of the safest bets at the box office in his prime, Chiranjeevi gave the industry some of its biggest hits like â€˜Gharana Moguduâ€™ â€˜Khaidiâ€™ â€˜Mutta Meshtriâ€™ â€˜Indraâ€™ â€˜Shankar Dada MBBSâ€™ etc. Winner of as many as 10 Filmfare Awards, Chiranjeevi is also a recipient of the Padma Bhushan.
The million dollar question on everyoneâ€™s mind now is whether the actor deservedly dubbed as â€˜Megastarâ€™ will be able to win back his numero uno position with his comeback venture â€˜Kathilantoduâ€™. Murugadossâ€™ original had ample scope for the hero and it is certain that Vinayak will incorporate sequences where Chiranjeevi can score and with the dual roles being as different as chalk from cheese, the veteran can easily give his best.
Tollywood has a number of top heroes, many of whom have been able to woo the box office successfully. Chiranjeeviâ€™s younger brother Pawan Kalyan too finds a place in this august list. There is no doubt that all Chiranjeevi fans will wait with bated breath for the release of his film. Since it is a home production, no corners are likely to be cut and the film should hit the bullâ€™s eye as a lavish entertainer.
K Balachander once described Chiranjeevi as an amalgam of two of his illustrious protÃ©gÃ©s, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikant. Such lavish praise from someone who was hailed as star-maker and was credited with introducing more than 60 new faces to the film industry, clearly revealed the high esteem the auteur had for the actor. And true to his name, Chiranjeevi could go on, forever re-creating his old magic and charming audiences in his own inimitable style.