While Deepika's debut was in Kannada in 2006, she did not do any south film after that for years.

Collage of actors Deepika Padukone and Prabhas where Deepika is dressed in white and looking to one side with a smile while Prabhas is wearing black and looking at the camera
Flix Cinema Monday, July 20, 2020 - 13:29

In 2006, Deepika Padukone made her debut in a Kannada film called Aishwarya in which she acted with Upendra. Her very next film, however, was the Bollywood biggie Om Shanti Om with Shah Rukh Khan. Though Aishwarya was also a big hit, Deepika, who grew up in Bengaluru, did not do any south film after that for a long time.

She was supposed to do Rana with Rajinikanth in Tamil, but the project didn't take off due to Rajinikanth's poor health. She eventually settled for what Rana became – a motion capture film called Kochadaiiyaan in 2014. The film tanked badly at the box-office, and Deepika did not sign any south film after that.

Until now. The announcement that Deepika, currently among the highest paid women actors in the country, will be starring opposite Prabhas in their upcoming multilingual film, has sent fans into a tizzy. The film will be directed by Nag Ashwin who gave us the blockbuster Mahanati with Keerthy Suresh in the lead. The producer is Vyjayanthi Movies, which has in the past made several iconic Telugu films. Although the Deepika-Prabhas film will also release in Hindi, this is essentially a south Indian project.

And with this, Deepika is making a return to south Indian films after 14 years.

Watch: Deepika Padukone in Kannada film Aishwarya

The south launchpad

While many Bollywood stars, especially women actors, have looked to the south for a launch, they have seldom signed a south Indian film once they've tasted success in the Hindi industry.

Sridevi, who was from Tamil Nadu and a popular child star, was among the few women stars to have continued to do south Indian films even as she ruled the roost in Bollywood. In contrast, Hema Malini barely did any south films in her long-spanning career after she had established herself in Bollywood. Priyanka Chopra made her debut in the Tamil film Thamizhan with Vijay but only did one other Hindi-Telugu bilingual film Zanjeer after that – the rest are all Hindi and English films/series.

Sushmita Sen's second film was Ratchagan in Tamil but apart from doing a song in Mudhalvan after that, she has focused on Hindi cinema. Aishwarya Rai, who made her debut in 1997 with the Tamil film Iruvar, did only two full-fledged south films after that – Jeans and Kandukondein Kandukondein – before returning with Mani Ratnam's Hindi-Tamil bilingual film Ravanan in 2010, followed by Shankar's Enthiran in which she acted with Rajinikanth.

Watch: Aishwarya Rai in Iruvar

An exception to this rule has been Taapsee Pannu, who has continued to sign south Indian films despite making it big in the Hindi film industry. The actor has, in fact, gone on record to say that she wants to break the assumption that a Hindi star will not do south films after tasting success in Bollywood.

This needn't necessarily be because of a bias towards south Indian films. The budgets and payment in the Hindi film industry, which has a much larger market, are likely to be higher than what south films have traditionally been able to offer. Once a star has made it to the A-list, therefore, they may be reluctant to take a paycut. They're also conscious about wanting to be seen as a ‘pan-Indian’ star.

Now, however, the south Indian film industries have become far more ambitious. And the success of these films across the country have made Bollywood-based stars reconsider their decisions.

South cinema after Baahubali

SS Rajamouli's 2015 film Baahubali: The Beginning, could not have been titled more appropriately in this context. The massive success of the franchise destroyed the idea that a ‘pan-Indian’ film could only be a Hindi film and marked a beginning for south cinema to dream big. Although the film had stars from the south Indian industries (Tamannaah is not from the south but her work is primarily in the Tamil and Telugu industries), it enjoyed wide appeal across the country and broke box-office records.

Since then, many more big budget south films have been released or announced, including Rajamouli's next RRR (Roudram Ranam Rudhiram), a Telugu period drama with Ram Charan and Junior NTR. Bollywood star Alia Bhatt will be making her debut in the south Indian industries with this film. The film will also star Ajay Devgn.

Prabhas's next after Baahubali, Saaho, had Shraddha Kapoor playing the female lead. Although the film received mostly negative reviews, it released to massive hype and enjoyed a wide opening. The film reportedly released in about 6,000 screens worldwide. For a comparison, Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy, which also released in 2019, opened in about 4,000 screens worldwide. The film had Bollywood A-listers Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt in the lead.

Watch: Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor in Saaho

Kangana Ranaut, who did two south films early in her career (Dhaam Dhoom and Ek Niranjan), is making a comeback with Thalaivi, in which she will be acting as late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. Aishwarya Rai has given the nod for Mani Ratnam's Ponniyin Selvan, which has a huge starcast, and will start filming in 2021.

Shankar's 2.0 even saw Akshay Kumar, one of the leading male stars in the Hindi industry, play the antagonist opposite Rajinikanth in 2018. While there's nothing new about smaller male stars from the Hindi industry shifting to supporting or negative roles in the southern industries, Akshay's move is uncommon. KGF 2 meanwhile will have Sanjay Dutt playing the antagonist.

With multiplexes playing films with subtitles, dubbed films and OTT platforms bridging the language gap and familiarising audiences with stars from different industries, actors have nothing to lose by acting in various languages if their salary requirements are also being met.

Prabhas and Deepika

Nag Ashwin has directed only two films so far – Yevade Subramanyam and Mahanati. The second film, which was a biopic on late actor Savitri, shot the director to fame. The film had a big star cast and straddled different time periods, but it came together beautifully and won several accolades, including Best Actor at the National Awards for Keerthy Suresh.

Not many details are known about the new Nag Ashwin project, but with two big stars in the cast who are known for their grandeur-filled films like Baahubali, Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat, the theme is unlikely to be anything ordinary.

Prabhas has Radhe Shyam on the cards apart from the Nag Ashwin film while Deepika has 83. Both stars are highly selective and that has made the announcement all the more exciting for fans. For Prabhas, the film will once again underline his status as a pan-Indian star while for Deepika, it is a return to a market that she has not explored much.

Hopefully, the film will be well worth the hype.

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