South Indian cinema has always been a great launch pad for many actors. Many stars who have made a mark on the national (and some even global) scale have had their beginnings in Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu movies. With the release of Om Raut’s Adipurush this week, we will see Telugu actor Prabhas collaborating on yet another pan-Indian project after the immense success of SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali.
On that note, let’s take a look at star actors who began their careers in South cinema and rose to heights.
The global icon is known for her roles in Hindi films such as Aitraaz, Fashion, Krrish and Don as well as Hollywood ventures like Baywatch, Citadel, Quantico and The Matrix Resurrections. Priyanka Chopra gained immense recognition after winning the Miss World pageant in 2000 and then went on to star in many Hindi films and rose to national prominence. However, her cinematic debut was in Tamil cinema — with Thalapathy Vijay’s Tamil movie Thamizhan (2002). Released right after her Miss World win, the film saw her play Priya, the love interest of Vijay’s character Surya.
The ever-young actor who ruled the screens in the 1980s and 1990s with blockbusters such as Mashaal, Meri Jung, Mr India and Beta had his beginnings in the South. Although he had done a supporting role in the Sanjeev Kumar starrer Humare Tumhare, he made his debut as a lead actor in the Telugu film Vamsa Vruksham. A remake of Girish Karnad’s Kannada film Vamsha Vriksha, which itself was based on the book of the same name by SL Byrappa, Anil Kapoor starred along with Jyothi and JV Somayajulu. Though the film was not successful, it was dubbed in Hindi much later in 1986 after Kapoor gained success. Right after Vamsa Vruksham, Anil Kapoor starred in the Kannada drama Pallavi Anupallavi. The film was the debut of prominent director Mani Ratnam and is still known for its amazing soundtrack by Ilaiyaraaja. Kapoor played the role of Vijay, a rich college going-guy in Bangalore who falls in love with Anu (Lakshmi), an older divorcee with a son. The film received moderate success at the box office.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s recent portrayal of Nandini in the magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan received unanimously positive responses among the audience. But her tryst with Tamil cinema goes way back. After winning the Miss World pageant in 1994, she was roped in for Mani Ratnam’s political drama Iruvar (1997). Akin to Ponniyin Selvan, she played two roles in Iruvar (streaming on Amazon Prime Video) — one as the pristine Pushpavalli, the wife of Anandan (Mohanlal) who passes away due to an illness and another as Kalpana, an actor who becomes Anandan’s recurring co-star.
Sharing screen space with stalwart actors such as Mohanlal, Prakash Raj, Revathy and Gautami Tadimalla, Rai shined in both the roles, creating a clear distinction between the pious Pushpavalli and the impulsive Kalpana. Since then, she has starred in many Tamil titles such as Shankar’s Jeans, Rajeev Menon’s Kandukondain Kandukondain and Ratnam’s Guru and Raavanan.
Followed by a dream start in Hindi cinema with the reincarnation drama Om Shanti Om, Deepika Padukone quickly rose to stardom after delivering consistent hits in the form of Love AajKal, Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, Cocktail and more. She also starred along with Vin Diesel in the action film XXX: Return of Xander Cage. Before launching her Bollywood career, however, she made her acting debut in the romantic comedy Aishwarya (streaming on Disney+ Hotstar). The Kannada film saw Deepika play the titular character Aishwarya, a marketing executive, sharing screen space with Upendra. The film was a huge success at the box office, and ran in the theatres for 100 days and also became one of the top five hits that year.
R Madhavan became the heartthrob of the nation with his role as Maddy in the romantic drama Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein. He continued to be a prominent presence in the Hindi film industry with hits such as Dil Vil Pyar Vyar, Ramji Londonwaale and Rang De Basanti. He gained even more recognition with the blockbuster multi-starrer 3 Idiots, where he shared screen space with Amir Khan (for the second time). He also starred in the successful Tanu Weds Manu series and the web series Breathe and Decoupled. But his home base has always been the south, an industry in which he is still a star, having been part of multiple blockbusters such as Mani Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey (the actor’s Tamil debut), Kannathil Muthamittal, Ayutha Ezhuthu, Minnale, Run, Vikram Vedha, Dum Dum Dum and Irudhi Suttru. But his debut as a leading actor came in the form of the Kannada film Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi, where he shared screen space with actors Abbas, Prakash Raj and Prema. The film saw him play the role of Sidharth, a rich boy who teams up with Raju (Abbas) to achieve their dreams. The film, however, was a failure upon release.
From debuting in Hindi cinema along with Tiger Shroff in Heropanti to leading a film with Mimi and now, playing Sita in Adipurush, Kriti Sanon has come a long way in her career. However, her first pairing was with Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu in Sukumar’s psychological action thriller 1: Nenokkadine. The Mahesh Babu starrer saw Sanon play the role of Sameera, a journalist who accompanies Mahesh’s Gautham in his quest to find out about his past.
Tapsee Pannu carved a niche for herself with brilliant performances in Pink, Manmarziyan, Haseen Dilruba, Thappad and Badla. But before making her debut in mainstream Hindi cinema with David Dhawan’s Chashme Baddoor, she starred in the Telugu film Jhummandi Naadam. The film saw her play Sravya, the love interest of Balu, played by Manoj Manchu. While she has appeared in many Tamil and Telugu films since then, she is also popular for her role in the Vetri Maaran-directed Aadukalam, co-starring Dhanush.
In many ways, Sridevi was one of the first pan-Indian superstars. The brilliant performer, who pulled in audiences through her charm and acting prowess, delivered multiple hits in the 80s and 90s with films such as Mr India, Sadma, Himmatwala, Ladla and Judaai. And she delivered a brilliant comeback as a housewife who joins English classes in English Vinglish.
The late actor had an equally huge presence in the Tamil film industry, being a part of classic films such as Moondram Pirai, Sigappu Rojakkal, Guru, Johnny and Pokkiri Raja. She shared screen space with prominent actors such as Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan, and has worked with ace directors like Balu Mahendra and K Balachander. But she started her career as a child actor in 1967 with the Tamil film Kandhan Karunai. The Sivaji Ganesan starrer saw Sridevi play Lord Murugan in the mythological film. She was only three at the time.
Disha Patani gained immense recognition for her role in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story and then went on to star in multiple blockbusters such as Baaghi 2, Bharat, Malang and Radhe. She is known as a style icon and will also be featuring in Prabhas’ Project K along with Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan. But Project K does not mark her debut in Tollywood. Instead, it would mark her return to Telugu cinema 9 years after her debut in Puri Jagannadh’s Loafer (streaming on Disney+ Hotstar). The action drama saw her sharing screen space with Varun Tej. The film, however, received lukewarm responses from critics and audiences alike.