There’s a lot of difference between ’Young Rebel Star’ Prabhas and ‘Darling’ Prabhas, although both of them refer to the same person.
On one hand, there’s the legacy of ‘Rebel Star’ Krishnam Raju (Prabhas’s uncle and a star in his own right) and on the other hand, you have a shy teenager who hasn’t changed much over the years.
Prabhas, today, is a bit of both; however, people close to him are more enchanted with (and vouch for) ‘Darling’ Prabhas. In a recent interview, Prabhas remarked, “I still don’t know how to handle stardom.” He was referring to the new phase of his career - the post Baahubali phase - where he’s become a household name, not just in the two Telugu speaking states and amongst the Telugu speaking diaspora, but in the minds of every movie goer across the world, who’s well-versed with Indian cinema.
In fact, the actor has been trying to do everything in his power to not let the euphoria change him as a person. Just before the release of Baahubali 2, when a journalist asked him “what his thoughts are about him being called an ‘International star’?”, Prabhas looked at him as if he had been given a crossword puzzle to solve. His anthara-athma might very well be saying, “Nenu vinnadhi nijamena? Meerem maataadlathunnaro meekaina ardham avthundha? (Did I hear this correctly? Do you even understand what you are asking about?).”
So, how did one of the most reclusive actors in the industry become such a powerful brand?
Speaking about Prabhas, Rajamouli once said, “There are two factors at play here - Prabhas is the kind of person who will call a spade a spade, but at the same time, he just doesn’t want to hurt anyone. And that’s the reason why he doesn’t talk much. His friends’ circle has pretty much remained the same over the years.”
In fact, by his own admission, Prabhas didn’t even dream about acting in films until his late teen years. People in his native village - Mogalthur, located in West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh - remember him as a kid, who was more than happy playing in the fields, spending plenty of time near the fish tanks, that are ubiquitous in the region, and living a very normal life.
Of course, the vibe has changed a lot over the years and his legion of fans, especially in Bhimavaram and surrounding towns and villages - have been looking for his ‘homecoming’ for a longtime now.
Back in 2009, when I had just begun writing about Telugu cinema, Prabhas was nothing short of an enigma for me. I kept wondering if he ever talks in public. His “speeches” at audio launches felt like extended tweets, and the only thing that he perhaps underlined was his love for his fans, whom he prefers calling ‘Darlings’, and how grateful he is for the team behind making his films.
In fact, he addresses all his male friends as ‘Darling’ for some inexplicable reason. Truth be told, it was a nightmare to write about him. I mean, what do you even write about a person who speaks so little and is so shy when it comes to interacting with people outside his comfort zone?
From shy boy to Baahubali
But all that changed once the principal shooting of Baahubali began. He had entirely submitted himself to making SS Rajamouli’s vision come true. But beyond that, he was slowly rising up the challenge of expressing himself a little more.
Unlike most other actors who articulate their thoughts rather well, you know that it’s always going to be a different ball game when it comes to Prabhas. And it often makes me wonder, if he’s even ready for all the things that life has offered him in recent times.
Maybe he isn’t, but things did change for good. No wonder, a lot of us were shocked when he handled the gruelling promotions of Baahubali 2 with a lot more ease than he had ever displayed. He was finally speaking, but he’s also the kind of guy who wants his films to do the talking.
Like several other stars, consistency has been his Achilles heel over the years. The highs of Varsham and Chatrapathi were followed by the lows of Pournami and Yogi. The ‘Mr Nice Guy’ avatar in Darling and Mr.Perfect was followed by a preposterous, blood-carnage called Rebel.
And then, everything changed with Koratala Shiva’s Mirchi, which struck the right balance between the action and romantic hero image that the actor has built over the years. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get another film like Baahubali in my lifetime,” Prabhas once said. Maybe. But the film was a classic case of a perfect role at the right time in his career.
There can never be an Amarendra Baahubali as authentic and regal as Prabhas was in the film, and the image of him riding a horse with a spear and a sword tucked in his armour will forever etched be in our memories.
When one talks about Telugu films, especially the ones which turn an actor into a superstar, it’s often a case of the actor outgrowing the environment the story is set in. But that was hardly the case with both parts of Baahubali. In hindsight, the sequence of Shivudu aka Mahendra Baahubali climbing the waterfall feels like a perfect allegory to the ascent of Prabhas’s stardom.
And when he’s coronated, the entire country joined the chorus to praise him for his work. With his next action thriller, Saaho, Prabhas has to fight yet another battle of having to live up to expectations. With every move under the scanner, the actor cannot afford to get away with anything that falls short.
We often tend to glorify people who love and admire, and that’s always the case when one talks about their favourite stars. For the uninitiated, fans of Prabhas often bring up the term ‘Rebelism’. For the love of my life, I haven’t been able to figure out what it stands for or what are people who chant the term expected to do. And it feels quite contrary to the image of a man who’s yet to come to terms with the new phase of his life.
But one thing is certain, no matter what happens, you cannot separate Prabhas from being the ‘Darling’. And perhaps, it’s also time for us to stop being so obsessed about the other question which often pops us - “Prabhas ki Pelli eppudu?” (When is Prabhas going to get married?).