On Allu Arjun, Khader Hassan, and the cross-over of Telugu cinema to Kerala

Telugu films came to Malayalam not thanks to the Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Venkatesh triumvirate. It did not come to Kerala because of NT Rama Rao or Akkineni Nageswara Rao.

Our closest acceptance of anything Telugu was Sharada, nay Urvasi Sharada, that remarkable actress who was at one point in time the sob-queen of Malayalam cinema. If it was a Sharada film, well, you needed hankies (no soft tissues then). We then had to wait for Jayapradha and Vijayasanthi (who, though, was born in Chennai, vouches for her Telangana roots).

While we accepted Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh via their Tamil dubbed films, we were largely ignorant of the other popular actors in Telugu with Balakrishna sort of earning appeal with his police films (one tagline still remains live: ‘duty is duty, no compromise.’)

J. V. Somayajulu-Profile-Image
Jonnalagadda Venkata Somayajulu

Nor did we give much regard to Telugu directors other than a few un-ignorable geniuses such as K Viswanath thanks to Shankarabharanam (making Somayajulu, a household name in Kerala), Sagara Sangamam (both dubbed in Malayalam) and Swathi Muthyam (Chippikkul Muthu in its Tamil dubbed version -who could forget that silent interlude in the song Manassu Mayangum); Singeetam Srinivasa Rao for Pushpak, and Dasari Narayana Rao for his eclectic profile.

Malayalam film audiences were more Tamil-oriented than Telugu maybe because we were far removed from AP/Telangana, and maybe because we had a sizeable population of Tamilians, anyway. Which towns in Kerala won’t have an agraharam in its backyard!

Telugu cinema, for us, was for taking potshots at the multicolour costumes of its heroes and the over-melodrama of its heroes including, sadly, NTR. The over-emphasis on ‘God-movies’ in Telugu was another put-off for the so-called ‘literate Keralites.’ For us, that was the terrain of P Subrahmaniam, who used to come out with all those ‘punya purana’ tales under his Merryland banner.

It took Chiranjeevi and his dancing skills (and that India Today and The Week cover story describing him as someone who could be India’s real superstar) for us to even consider dubbed Telugu movies as worth our time. And when Nagarjuna redefined the angry young man, and Venkatesh came in with his cheeky endearing romantic-comedy-thrillers, there seemed room for Telugu cinema (but strictly dubbed into Tamil).
At a time when Malayalam cinema was at its lowest ebbs, one enterprising man from Kochi hired his team of dubbing artists, and headed straight to Tollywood. The man went by a hunch, and today, the business of dubbing Telugu films into Malayalam has become a multi-crore rupee enterprise.

Khadar Hassan
Khadar Hassan (Pic: Courtesy Facebook)

That man, Khader Hassan, is not feted much by mainstream media. You might come across just a smattering of articles on him (if you are really lucky), and might see a quote or two of his (always in reference to Allu Arjun).

Khader Hassan and his Redakh (well, the ulta of Khader, if you haven’t already guessed) Arts undisputedly set into motion a new trend, and a new and not-so-bad-lucrative market for Telugu films. Since then many have walked the path cut by Khader including Rafi Mathira (who has also to his credit a number of songs as lyricist).

While most of Kerala refused to recognise Khader and his imported Telugu films, the youth took notice. And they took notice because Khader (who had had two bitter experiences as a Malayalam film producer — with Nakshatrakannulla Rajakumaran Avanundoru Rajakumari and Swapnam Kondu Thulabharam — both atrocious!) introduced a new hero to them: Allu Arjun alias Bunny.

Allu, we mocked. What sort of name is that? And Bunny? They must be kidding right!

Allu Arjun
Allu Arjun

Khader hit pot-gold, and Bunny became an overnight hero in Kerala. Redhak Arts brought back-to-back Allu Arjun films and almost all of them minted money. And so was a new star born in Kerala without speaking a single word in Malayalam. Today, Allu’s fans in Kerala do not mind flouting all norms of decency to attack a critic (female, but naturally) for her snide comments about his film.

Since then, it has been a floodgate of Telugu dubbed films every year — most of which earned decent money. So when SS Rajamouli arrived with Eega and Bahubali, Kerala was prepared to embrace the new heroes — directors and actors from Telugu.

There is historic justice though. For all the films that Tollywood dumped on Kerala, it is giving back with a creative kick. While our heroines regularly make a beeline for Telugu (for the money, of course), our actors too haven’t let the opportunity slip.

Biju Menon.jpg
Biju Menon

The immensely talented Biju Menon was among the more recent character actors from Kerala to do Telugu films (doing two in a row in 2006 — of which one, Ranam, was also dubbed into Hindi) during his low-period in Malayalam cinema.

Now we have Mohanlal doing Telugu pucca, and Dulquer Salman gaining a backdoor entry with the dubbed version of OK Kanmani.

Better still, Bangalore Days had a dream run in Hyderabad, and remakes of Salt N’ Pepper and Drishyam did not go unnoticed although the Telugu version of Thattathin Marayathu fell rather flat.

The cross-over of Telugu to Malayalam and vice versa, however, could not have been as energetic as we see today, if not for Allu Arjun.

His absolute mirth of entertainers are not must-watches, of course. But they are a recipe for good fun.

And he has now raised the bar one step higher with DJ! Man, how he fights, how he dance, and how he endears! DJ was 165 minutes of unadulterated entertainer (more on that later).

While Rajamouli will always be the ‘garu,’ when it comes to apportioning credit for taking Telugu cinema direct to Kerala, without taking a detour through Tamil (as dubbed versions or remakes), the crown rests fully on Allu.

Here is to him then a round of applause!

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