Prabhas Raju Uppalapati, aka Prabhas, might very well be the shiest and sweetest guy from your batch who went on to become a superstar a few years after graduating from college. Prabhas's rise to fame has been filled with so many ups and downs that his current state of stardom sounds like the final act of a fairytale.
Born in 1979, the 6”2 actor has turned into a force to reckon with, thanks to SS Rajamouli's Baahubali.
When Prabhas made his debut in 2002 with Eeshwar, he was yet to show those early glimpses of a superstar in the making. All that changed with Varsham which made him a 'darling' to his fans and earned him a huge following. Directed by Sobhan, Varsham is loosely based on Ramayana and the film went on to become a smash hit at the box-office in 2004.
Another film which cemented his place in Telugu cinema as an action hero was SS Rajamouli's Chatrapathi which released in 2005. When Prabhas yells that all he wants is 'okka adugu' (one step) just before the interval in the film, he claimed his place in the minds of the viewers. The following dialogue by LB Sriram, who played an important character in the film, sealed the deal. He tells Prabhas, "Thippara meesam" (Twirl your moustache). And thus, a star was born.
Despite the success of Varsham and Chatrapathi, Prabhas's career has, for the longest time, been a work in progress. It was as if he was squandering his potential with a series of mediocre films post Chatrapathi.
The star is known for his swag and that's what his fans got in Yogi, Munna and Bujjigadu. The films might not have worked at the box-office, but he was still in the race. In 2009, Meher Ramesh's Billa, a remake of Ajith's film of the same name, presented Prabhas in an uber-cool avatar and his fans were thrilled with his makeover.
His subsequent films like Darling, a name which Prabhas uses to address his fans or just about anyone who's close to him, and Mr.Perfect worked quite well and they marked the beginning of a new phase in his career. The action hero turned into a suave, urban hunk who could also pull off a romantic drama.
The biggest turning point in Prabhas's career, much before Baahubali happened to him, was Koratala Siva's Mirchi which released in 2013. Right from his makeover to the intense drama, every aspect of Mirchi was the Prabhas film that his admirers were looking for. The reticent youngster people once saw was now the coolest guy in the room. And then came Baahubali. End of story.
While the box-office successes and failures tell the story of Prabhas's tryst with fame, it's his off-screen persona which has earned him a lot of respect and admiration from the film fraternity and audiences alike.
He's shy and everyone knows it. Like every other teenager, he was a happy-go-lucky guy who spent plenty of time with his friends. Two years ago, when this writer visited Mogulthur, the native place of Prabhas's family in West Godavari district (Andhra Pradesh), plenty of people spoke about spotting Prabhas spending time in mango orchards, enjoying rooster fights with his family during Sankranthi, and cycling around in his shorts. Despite being an introvert, he mingled with everyone and didn’t let stardom stop him.
Prabhas never planned to become an actor despite being born in a film family. His father Suryanarayana was a popular producer and his uncle Krishnam Raju was one of the biggest stars in Telugu cinema in his heydays.
"I am born shy and my friends were in shock when I told them I was taking up cinema. As a kid, I saw my dad as a producer and uncle as an actor and wondered how they manage to do all of these in front of so many. In fact, they once asked me if I would like to be a child actor, I said no with a straight face. I am opening up these days, but I can never be an extrovert,” he said in a recent interview, adding, "I am extremely lazy. I need to be entertained always and so I surround myself with some form of the entertainment or other like – music, movies, games etc. There seem to be two people inside me. I sometimes become the person who takes a holistic approach in making even a small decision. At other times, I become the one who is too lazy to think and forget to take a decision."
Over the years, Prabhas has kept a low-profile in the industry and he's rarely been the subject of a controversy. His close circle of friends, some of whom have been with him for nearly 20 years, are the centre of his world and the actor himself confessed that he would be lost without them.
A few years ago, he built a 'guest house' for himself in Hyderabad and it's so heavily guarded that it's become his private sanctuary. But his doors are always open to those who have known him over the years on a personal level.
Undi Vasu, who started the first fan club for the actor back in 2002 in Bhimavaram, recalls, "He has always been extremely sweet to us. In fact, he makes it a point to take our opinion before approving posters of his films. A few years ago, my father wasn’t well and I was under a lot of emotional and financial stress. When Prabhas got to know about it, he personally called me and assured me that he’s always there for me. He was on his way to Bulgaria at that time, but he had instructed his manager to take care of me. I can never forget that conversation in my life. He’s a lot younger than me and he didn’t really have to go out of his way to do that for me. But he did it."
Thanks to the success of Baahubali, the actor is now widely-recognised across the country; however, he's pretty humble about what this new found super stardom means to him. "Baahubali has helped all of us to reach out to a wider audience all over the country. It's nice to be respected and recognised for the work we have done, but I don't know what it's going to lead to. I really don't know what to say when people say I've become an international star with this film. I hope they aren't mocking me," the actor quipped in a recent interaction with the media.
The two-part epic drama is, in his own words, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it'll always be a special film in his career. Meanwhile, his next film, touted to be a spy drama on the lines of the James Bond series, too, is said to be budgeted around Rs 150 crores and will be made in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi.
Of late, there's been a lot of speculation about how Prabhas's career could unfold post Baahubali: The Conclusion, but there's little doubt that his legion of fans will continue to grow. His career is proof enough that even if you are lazy or extremely shy, nothing can stop you when time favours you.
At the audio launch ceremony of Baahubali: The Conclusion in Hyderabad, MM Keeravaani said, "The reason why Prabhas is liked by everyone is because he is not arrogant and has no false pride."
Ask Prabhas if he agrees with Keeravaani and he laughs saying, "Maybe I'm pretending that I'm not arrogant (laughs). Jokes apart, when I look at Baahubali and what it has done to me, I don't see a reason why I should be arrogant about it. I didn't write such an epic and intense film, neither did I direct it. All I did was trust in Rajamouli and worked hard towards making his dream come true."
To put it in perspective, there's a line in Mirchi where Prabhas says, "Cut Out Choosi Konni Konni Nammeyali Dude (You should believe in few things when you look at a man's physique)." It couldn't be more true in Prabhas's case, especially in the post-Baahubali era, where he’s now one of the biggest stars in the country. Cut Out Choosi Konni Konni Nammeyali. Dude.