Right before the pandemic broke out in March 2020, Telugu superstar Allu Arjun had a massive success in Telugu called Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo. Released on Makar Sankranti 2020 it was one of Indian cinema’s last big successes before the first lockdown.
As far as star vehicles go Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo is a masterclass of cine-seduction, with Allu Arvind presiding over the oldfashioned but engaging plot without overwhelming the proceedings. There were episodes in the hero’s exhibitionism–almost like one super-enticing item song after another– when Arjun unleashed a kind of tantalizing crowdpleasing tamasha that takes his inherently persuasive screen presence to dazzling heights of virtuosity.
Playing the do-gooder with a heart of gold who can without any warning, turn into a fire-spewing dragon, Allu Arjun has many occasions in the film to show the audience who the real boss is.
But the Allu Arjun ‘item’ that had the audiences roaring in approval , and the one that would be almost impossible to pull off by any actor except Allu Arjun , is the sequence in a boardroom corporate conference where Allu’s character Bantu makes his point to the gawking executives(one of whom even joins the Superstar in his swag spree) by singing old popular Telugu film songs. By the time Allu Arjun comes to “Abbanee Teeyani” from Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari he makes it clear to us that he’s a Chiranjeevi fan.He is also not above leering at his girlfriend Pooja Hegde’s legs as though they were food on his table.Ms Hedge doesn’t mind the gawking, so are we?
Luckily for Allu Arjun, the screenplay provides him with ample opportunity to play the traditional do-gooder with an aplomb that’s entirely his own. No Telugu actor in recent times has been seen doing the crowdwooing thing so effectively. The weatherworn plot about long-lost children being exchanged at birth could have been killingly hackneyed. Arjun and the supporting cast specially Jayaram and Tabu (as a long-married couple with complex issues that warrant a separate film of their own) and Sachin Khedkar(as Tabu’s privileged father with a mischievous glint in his eye) ensure new life is breathed into a weatherworn tale.
The film has outstanding dialogues ,which salute oldfashioned sentiments , and that includes movies and actors of yore, without bending backwards to be cutely reverent. At one point when Khedkar employs Allu Arjun to work for his company someone wonders in what capacity Arjun is being hired.“Until we figure that out he can ogle at girls on the internet,” the old man winks.
One of the many songs and dances(I didn’t mind the frequent song breaks, as the choreography is constantly fresh) makes a reference, to the loved one being “silent like the audience at a multiplex.”Niiiiiice.
No doubt the film will be a roaring hit,for Allu Arjun in a dubbed Hindi version when it opens on January 26.
I had spoken to Allu Arjun just after the release of Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo and was on Cloud 9(Covid back in January 2020 seemed a minor threat). “I’m overwhelmed. It’s also very humbling to be given this kind of response,” says Arjun whose career since 2003 is cluttered with blockbusters.The two things that I keep hearing repeatedly about Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo is that it’s a one-man show, and that it has repeat value. As far as being a one-man show goes, I can’t take the credit for my performance. Full credit must go to my director Trivkram Srinivas.”
Trivikram and Allu Arjun have worked together before. “Yes, we teamed up in Julai and S/0 Sathyamurthy before. So there is a huge comfort level. We needed to do something different within the commercial format.The story(of babies getting switched at birth) has been done repeatedly for generations. The freshness had to come in the treatment, not in the plot.”
Arjun said he tried to do something different in Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo with his performance even while adhering to the needs of a commercial audience. “You see, when we mass entertainers do a formula film we tend to go over-the-top to seem larger-than-life. This time in Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo I decided to keep my performance on an authentic level even as I did all the things that commercial cinema demands of me.”
About the boardroom jig Arjun had laughed, “You liked it?It was an afterthought.We thought the boardroom sequence needed something extra. So why not a medley of old songs for me to dance to?We had a very experienced veteran choreographer to guide my steps. When we were doing it we never thought of how much it would be liked. When I am doing a film I don’t think about how successful it would become. I don’t put that kind of pressure on myself. I’m not thinking now about what to do in my next film to be one-up on Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo. But I can tell you I’m putting everything that I can into my next.”
But here is the one thing that Arjun would never abandon. “I am never going to step off the commercial platform. It is where my dreams were realized and as far I am concerned it is the commercial cinema that gives me all the success and fans.”
Speaking of fans does it get too much to handle them? “Not at all . I love their attention. I am what I am because of the fans. They’ve made me into the person that I am today.”
Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo has the incandescent Tabu playing Arvind’s mother. How did they manage the feat?Says Arjun, “It took no great persuasion. One phone call from the director….five minutes into the narration and she was on board. She knew my director’s work and We needed someone with great dignity and grace, someone who doesn’t talk much, but can freeze you with one glance. Who but Tabu?”
Arjun also told me he has no plans of heading to Bollywood. “Don’t get me wrong. Bollywood is a lovely place. I love the work that’s being done there. A film like 3 Idiots is truly inspiring to me. There have been offers from Hindi cinema. But for me to take a break from my busy career in Telugu cinema it has to be something worth the effort. Maybe some day soon.”
Would Allu Arjun like it if his son and daughter showed an interest in acting? “I’d welcome it. Right now they’re too young. But when they’re old enough to choose their own path and if they tell me they want to be actors, I’d extend all support to them. I come from a family devoted to cinema. My grandfather gave his life to the movies. And my father is completely devoted to producing films. For me cinema is life.”
Interestingly Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo is being remade into into Hindi as Shahzaada with Kartik Aaryan take over Allu Arjun’s swag. It’s being directed by David Dhawan’s son Rohit Dhawan.