Pawan Kalyan is an anomaly in many ways than one can imagine. Contrary to conventional wisdom that an actor's fan base increases only when he delivers a string of hits at the box-office, Pawan Kalyan's popularity grew by leaps and bounds even when he had a spate of flops.
And yet, he's one of the few actors in his generation who hasn't encouraged his fans to form clubs or associations.
In 2013, when news broke out that the actor had married Anna Lezhneva, a Russian who reportedly met Pawan Kalyan while filming Teen Maar, it sent everyone into a tizzy. It was his third marriage and it wasn't until March 2014 that he confessed, at the launch of Janasena Party, a political party he founded, that he’d married again and has a kid too.
Then, there are his candid confessions about how he has never considered himself an actor and his hero worship of Megastar Chiranjeevi.
To those who vouch for 'Pawanism', an unwritten code which binds all Pawan Kalyan fans together, the actor is akin to God.
Meeting Pawan Kalyan
In early 2016, this writer met Pawan Kalyan on the sets of Sardaar Gabbar Singh to pitch a few ideas for the film's promotions. The aura surrounding the star was palpable and everyone was on their toes to ensure everything was in order.
Before we could get talking, the first thing he asked was - "Bhonchesara? (Did you have lunch yet?)" When we said 'no', he insisted that we have our lunch before we sat down for a discussion. This, clearly, wasn't the first or a one-off instance.
Sateesh Botta, a Hyderabad-based software engineer, recalls meeting Pawan Kalyan in the late 90s and ever since, he has seen the actor grow from strength to strength.
"I was a teenager when I met him for the first time. A bunch of us from Vizag had gone to meet him on the sets of a film. When someone introduced us to him as fans, he insisted that we have our dinner and he even sat down with us for the whole time,” says Satish.
He adds that the star did not speak about his films and instead, the focus of the conversation was about how they could give back to society.
“It's been close to 18 years since that incident happened. He still talks about the same things, not his films or box-office collections. He always insisted that we, as fans, should focus on our studies and families, and never make cinema or stars the centre point of our lives," Satish shares.
Pawan's rise to stardom
In 1996, when Pawan Kalyan made his debut as an actor in EVV Satyanarayana's Akkada Ammayi Ikkada Abbayi, his identity was that of Megastar Chiranjeevi's younger brother.
A year later, his next film Gokulamlo Seetha earned him respect as an actor. But the film which turned him into a star and sowed the seeds for his meteoric rise in the late 90s was Suswagatham.
A remake of Kollywood actor Vijay's 1997 film Love Today, Suswagatham portrayed Pawan Kalyan as a youngster who loses everything in his life because of his blind love towards a girl. The film's climax and Pawan Kalyan's dialogues were so popular that he became the poster boy for a new generation of actors who were ready to take over the reins from the Big 4 - Chiranjeevi, Balakrishna, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh.
"There's barely a fight in Suswagatham. And his performance was so earnest that every teenager and young adult back in the late 90s could relate to him. That's when Pawan Kalyan began earning an immense fan-following on his own right," Sateesh says.
He adds, "He set a new trend in everything, especially, action sequences and costumes. Pawan Kalyan was a youth icon, a style icon. Anyone who saw and enjoyed his films from 1997 to 2001 has remained his fan ever since."
The cult-status that Pawan Kalyan's next four films - Tholi Prema, Thammudu, Badri and Kushi - achieved among the youth at the turn of the new millennium is the stuff of legends.
Back then, Pawan Kalyan had no rivals, so to speak. Other actors like Mahesh Babu, NTR Jr were just getting started when Pawan Kalyan was at the peak of his career.
And the fall
Post the blockbuster success of Kushi, which turned him into one of the biggest stars in Tollywood, the actor surprised everyone by announcing that he was going to direct a film – Johnny.
It was a disaster. And it took him nearly a decade to recover from the setback.
Referring to the success of Kushi, Pawan Kalyan, at a recent event, said, “A day before Kushi’s release, while I was watching the film, I had a premonition that my career is going to crash. And it took me a decade to find that energy once again, while filming Gabbar Singh (2012), which I had until Kushi. During those years, all I prayed to God was to give me the strength to face failures, just like how I would celebrate success. And today, I’m in a state where I’m not affected by success or failure.”
Except for Jalsa which released in 2008, none of Pawan Kalyan's film between 2003 and 2012 were successful. But still, his fans did not desert him.
Pawan Kalyan has done plenty of remakes throughout his career and his latest film Katamarayudu is a remake, too.
Having said that, the actor’s choices over the years have hardly been inspiring, especially for someone who has tried to frame a dialogue about him beyond cinema.
Take, for instance, his dialogues in Cameraman Ganga Tho Rambabu, where he says, “Prapanchamlo ammayiluandaru ordinary ee. Edo maku unna moju walla meerandaru extraordinary ga kanipistharu thappa meeru andaru ordinary ee. (All women in this world are ordinary. It’s only a man’s desire for her that makes her extraordinary).”
The hyper-masculinity in each of the films, save for an Atharintiki Daredhi (2013), and the inherent sexism they promote are in sharp contrast to everything he has tried to profess over the years.
Powerstar and Megastar
A significant part of the discussion around Pawan Kalyan is about his equation with his elder brother - Megastar Chiranjeevi.
"He has always been a father figure to me. Before I made my debut as an actor, I had no idea what I wanted to do in my life. I used to avoid meeting people and I've always preferred reading books. At one point of time, I even contemplated running away from home and living in a forest. It was at that point in my life that my brother wanted me to take up acting as a career," Pawan Kalyan once said.
He has made it evident, time and again, that his devotion towards his brother is unquestionable. And this is precisely what took people by surprise when Pawan Kalyan chose to set up his own party - Janasena Party, even though Chiranjeevi was part of Congress back in 2014.
The two had established the Prajarajyam party (PRP) in 2008 and campaigned all over undivided Andhra Pradesh in the 2009 state and central elections. Despite the popularity of the two stars, it they weren’t able to get enough seats.
Shortly, Chiranjeevi decided to merge PRP with the Congress party. However, Pawan Kalyan did not fall in line. This, in turn, led people to believe that there has been a rift between the two, a claim which has been quashed by both of them.
Pawan Kalyan, the politician
Today, as Pawan Kalyan speaks up about important issues, like the chronic kidney disease in Uddanam (Srikakulam), special status that the centre promised to Andhra Pradesh or the 'forcible' land acquisition issue in Andhra Pradesh, he's setting the agenda for the 2019 State Elections.
Shiva Prasad, an ardent fan of Pawan Kalyan, has been closely tracking the actor's moves over the years. "He doesn't want to reveal what his future plans are; however, he's quite clear about what he wants to do next. I believe by the end of 2017 or early 2018, he's share his vision with the people," Shiva Prasad says.
At the moment, the only thing that Pawan Kalyan seems to have told his fans or anyone willing to join Janasena party is to reach out to people in their localities, villages and towns and help those who are in need.
"There's no official instruction from Pawan Kalyan, so far, about what is to be done under the banner of Janasena Party. Although a lot of fans have been voluntarily taking part in social welfare activities, they are doing it just to show their love and respect for the star. Having said that, if Pawan Kalyan doesn't like something being done under his name, he sends out a clear message that he doesn't want it to be so," Shiva Prasad adds.
At the recent pre-release event of his latest film Katamarayudu, speaking to a packed auditorium and millions of others watching the show on TV, TV9's founder and CEO said, "We've all seen the impact which Pawan Kalyan had on the state politics in the previous elections; however, he made it quite clear that he isn't after money or power. The reason why Pawan Kalyan is such an inspiring personality is because he has the courage to speak the truth and we have a lot to learn from him."
That puts a lot of things in perspective while talking about the star.
So, who is Pawan Kalyan? Is he the actor who gets an eardrum-shattering response every time he rubs the back of his neck? Or the politician who is ushering in a new wave in state politics? Or an enigma who is beyond the discourse of stardom?
In the words of writer-and-director Trivikram Srinivas, Pawan Kalyan is like a banyan tree standing tall at the edge of the village. He doesn’t discriminate or shy away from helping anyone who comes to him, and he doesn’t feel the need to talk about it. And yet, when there’s a social or political issue, he’s the first from his fraternity to speak up. He, truly, is in a league of his own.