Image: Rajinikanth, Mohanlal: Getty Images; Prabhas: Sachin Gokhale
For quite some time now, films from the South have inspired Bollywood. From the wildly popular Arjun Reddy that was remade as Kabir Singh or the Mohanlal-starrer Drishyam and even Salman Khan’s Bodyguard, movies from the Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu film industries have emerged as a recipe for box office success in Bollywood.
As a result, southern superstars, who focussed on their own turfs for decades, are slowly beginning to flex their muscles as their movies find more takers across wider geographies. Add to it the growth of online streaming companies that have taken content across the globe in multiple languages. Prabhas, the Telugu superstar who played the protagonist in Baahubali, released Saaho in five languages, including Hindi, and raked in over ₹130 crore on its opening day alone.
“Today, social media has helped South Indian stars become as big as their Bollywood counterparts across the country,” says Sreedhar Pillai, film critic and trade analyst. “Baahubali opened up that avenue. Unlike their North Indian counterparts, many of the southern stars have always harboured political ambitions such as Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan. So, there is always an attempt to be better connected to their fans, which means going out of their comfort zones.”
The 2019 Forbes India Celebrity 100 list
features some of the biggest heavy weights in the southern film industry, including Rajinikanth (13), Mohanlal (27), Prabhas (44) and Vijay (47). Rajinikanth raked in ₹100 crore during the year, while Mohanlal’s earnings stood at ₹64.5 crore.
Today, a breed of younger actors, from Dulquer Salmaan to Neeraj Madhav, who plays the antagonist in A Family Man, are busy redefining the language barriers. “Southern stars are now much bigger than before,” says Pillai. “And their presence is only beginning to get bigger across India.”
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(This story appears in the 03 January, 2020 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)