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Home / Bollywood / 0Before Prabhas’ Saaho, a look at how South Indian actresses have made it big in Bollywood, while men have failed

0Before Prabhas’ Saaho, a look at how South Indian actresses have made it big in Bollywood, while men have failed

Before Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor’s Saaho hits the screens, here’s a look at how, historically speaking, women have done better in moving across industries, while men have failed to do so.

bollywood Updated: Jun 23, 2020 06:53 IST
Nivedita Mishra
Nivedita Mishra
Hindustan Times
Saaho stars Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor in lead roles.
Saaho stars Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor in lead roles.

Come August 30, Prabhas will make his Hindi film debut with Saaho. How so? That is because the Baahubali franchise was essentially in Telugu, and was dubbed in Hindi for north Indian audiences. Prabhas’ voice in the Hindi release was that of actor and dubbing artist Sharad Kelkar. In Saaho, audiences will, for the first time, hear Prabhas deliver his lines in Hindi. Will he succeed? The first weekend will give us a clearer picture.

In the past, too, a number of stars from the south have tried to break into Bollywood, but could not succeed. In recent times, Akshay Kumar starred as the antagonist in Rajinkanth’s 2.0, but the film rested on the shoulders of the veteran Tamil actor. It is quite strange that in the history of Indian films, female actors have been more successful in moving from one industry to the other, while the men have mostly faltered.

Kamal Haasan with Rati Agnihotri in Ek Duje Ke Liye.
Kamal Haasan with Rati Agnihotri in Ek Duje Ke Liye.

On the eve of Saaho’s release, here’s a look at how female actors could easily (and successfully) crossover from different industries while male actors find acceptance harder to come by. In 1981, actor Kamal Haasan starred in Ek Duje Ke Liye, which marked his debut in Hindi films. In it, he spoke very little Hindi, but it was a mainstream Bollywood film, which turned out to be blockbuster. He followed it up with films such as Sanam Teri Kasam (1982), Sadma (1983), Raj Tilak (1984) and Saagar (1985) but he could never become a Bollywood star in the traditional sense. His contemporary, and Tamil cinema’s other big star Rajinikanth, also tried his luck in Bollywood, only to bite the dust. Although he worked in successful films such as Andha Kanoon (1983), Geraftaar (1985), Chalbaaz (1989) and Hum (1991), the kind of success he saw in Tamil films never came his way in Mumbai.

Rajinikanth with Hema Malini in Andha Kanoon.
Rajinikanth with Hema Malini in Andha Kanoon.

In the years to come, Mohanlal (Company, 2002; Aag, 2007), Chiranjeevi (Aaj Ka Gunda Raj, 1992), Nagarjuna (Shiva, 1990; Zakhm 1998), Venkatesh (Anari, a forgettable film with Karisma Kapoor) would try their luck in Mumbai and fail.

Also read: Amitabh Bachchan says his assets, estimated at Rs 2800 cr, will be divided equally between Abhishek, Shweta

Vyjayanthimala with Dilip Kumar in Naya Daur.
Vyjayanthimala with Dilip Kumar in Naya Daur.

In comparison, women from south India have seen phenomenal success in Bollywood, and it is almost a time-honoured tradition. The streak began with Vyjayanthimala Bali, celebrated for her dancing skills, who was the first to taste success in Bollywood. Her pairing with Dilip Kumar, and later with Raj Kapoor, resulted in several hits, including the likes of Naya Daur and Sangam. Actor Padmini, one of the famous Travencore sisters (Ragini, Padmini and Lalitha) also worked with several leading men, the biggest among them being Raj Kapoor (Mera Naam Joker and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai), but didn’t make the kind of dent that Vyjayanthimala could.

 Saaho star Prabhas says he’d like to do keep making Bollywood movies

The 1970s saw the emergence of two powerhouse performers -- Hema Malini and Rekha. Hema had been exposed to north Indian culture, as her family had lived in places like Bihar and Delhi in her early childhood. But it is Rekha, whose success in Mumbai, is worth mentioning. A child born to Tamil and Telugu parents (her father is the famous Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan while her mother was a small-time actor Pushpavali, whose native tongue was Telugu), Rekha reportedly made her film debut at age 13! She had been brought up in Chennai and knew little of Hindi. Much of the ’70s saw her struggle with getting A-list films, but by latter half of the decade, Rekha had been reborn. Not only had yoga changed her physical appearance dramatically, her Hindi/Urdu diction was a revelation. The result is what you saw in Umrao Jaan.

Hema Malini (Seeta Aur Geeta) and Rekha (Umrao Jaan) were south Indians who were big stars in Bollywood.
Hema Malini (Seeta Aur Geeta) and Rekha (Umrao Jaan) were south Indians who were big stars in Bollywood.

Yet another example was late actor Sridevi, who was a big star in Telugu and Tamil cinema of the 1980s, when she decided to give Bollywood a shot. Called ‘Thunder Thighs’ in her initial days, she spoke with a south Indian accent, and soon blossomed into a diva who ruled Bollywood from the mid-80s to early ‘90s. Hema Malini was declared India’s first female superstar after her film Seeta Aur Geeta became a hit in 1972 (in the era of Rajesh Khanna and an ascendant Amitabh Bachchan). Sridevi, whose Himmatwala (1983) was a mega hit, was anointed her successor in the ’90s. South Indian women were the darling of the audiences.

Sridevi in Himmatwala.
Sridevi in Himmatwala.

In the later years, Meenakshi Seshadri, Aishwarya Rai, Shilpa Shetty and Vidya Balan -- all south Indian by birth -- would win acclaim, though many of these actors grew up in Mumbai. In the last 20 years, a number of north Indian girls have carved out successful careers in south Indian industries. Names include Simran, Jyothika, Khushbu, Tamannaah Bhatia, Shriya Saran, Taapsee Pannu, Kajal Aggarwal, Rakul Preet Singh, and many others.

Tamannaah Bhatia and Rakul Preet Singh are big stars in Telugu films.
Tamannaah Bhatia and Rakul Preet Singh are big stars in Telugu films.

A big reason could be because these actors’ greater adaptability to pick up nuances in languages, diction, fashion trends and cultural sensibilities. While many girls in the past could barely speak south Indian languages, of late, many actresses speak the respective languages in which they make films. A case in point being Tamannaah and Rakul Preet Singh, who work more in Telugu films, and speak the language fluently, despite being Sindhi and Punjabi, respectively.

However, much of this is possibly changing. In 2017 came The Ghazi Attack, a fictionalised account the sinking of PNS Ghazi during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. It was shot simultaneously in Telugu and Hindi. With a number of familiar faces from the Mumbai film industry, including the late Om Puri, Taapsee Pannu, Kay Kay Menon and Atul Kulkarni, the film was a moderate success. The film’s lead, Rana Daggubati, was heard speaking in Hindi, though much of the film sees action and intriguing twists in the plot. The film, both in Hindi and Telugu, proved that if done well, with a theme that has a pan-India appeal, a treatment that isn’t culture specific and with the support actors from Bollywood, one could pull off a success. Yet another actor, Dulquer Salmaan, took a plunge into Bollywood with a much smaller film, Karwaan. Targeted mostly at the urban audience, the film positioned Dulquer as an urban south Indian, fluent in Hindi and English. He was able to speak to a much larger audience.

Saaho is reportedly heavy on action.
Saaho is reportedly heavy on action.

With Saaho, too, the makers seem to have ensured that much of the safeguards are in place. The film will see Prabhas speak in Hindi. He has suitably bulked up to look the part. The makers have ensured that it has enough glamour to keep audiences in place. The female lead is Shraddha Kapoor, a bankable second lead. Its songs, done by Tanishk Bagchi, Guru Randhawa, Badshah and Shankar-Ehsan and Loy, have a decent mix of beats and rhythm to speak to a young audience. The film has included an item number (Bad Boy) with glamour girl Jacqueline Fernandez doing the honours. The film’s plot is action-heavy, as is evident from the trailer. Saaho’s makers have reportedly spent as much as Rs 90 crore just on a single action sequence, shot in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. A whole host of Bollywood support cast has been included in the film — Mandira Bedi, Jackie Shroff, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Chunky Panday and Mahesh Manjrekar will be seen. The film has been lavishly shot in places like Austria, Romania, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Mumbai and Hyderabad.

What happens next will depend on how well Prabhas and the rest are able to convince an increasingly demanding audience.

Author tweeted @mniveditatweets

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