While the massive success of SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali sealed Prabhas’ position as this generation’s first legit pan-India star, his road toward nationwide stardom wasn’t full of roses. The country knows him as ‘Baahubali Prabhas’ today but his filmography is a mixed bag, housing many forgettable works and some films that make you wonder how chilled out and goofy the majestic Baahubali looked in some earlier films.
As we all gear up to watch Adipurush this Friday, perhaps it’s a good time to revisit Prabhas’ bumpy beginnings and eventual ascension to superstardom. Here, we take a look at seven Telugu movies of the actor that contributed to his growth in way or the other.
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Varsham, his third outing, was his first bonafide blockbuster, after his initial two films, Eeswar and Raghavendra, failed to make a mark. Varsham features a killer intro scene designed to allow the actor to flaunt his biceps, and it marked the arrival of a star. The image of Prabhas running to save his uncle as explosions take place in the quarry around him is the first of many such epic moments he would go on to be featured in.
Varsham was a wholesome package. It had a great love story featuring Trisha at its core, a menacing villain in the form of Gopichand, and a lovely soundtrack by Devi Sri Prasad that remains fresh to date. What makes Varsham even more special is that it was Prabhas’ first tryst with Ramayana, having come out 20 years before Adipurush. The crux of the film follows the hero saving his former lover who was kept hostage in the villain’s huge empire. A scene from Ramayana is also enacted as a stage play at one point in the film. Life did come full circle for Prabhas.
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Although his next two films, the pot-boiler Adivi Ramudu and the Kal Ho Na Ho-inspired Chakram didn’t fare well at the box office, Chatrapathi overcompensated for those failures. The actor’s first collaboration with SS Rajamouli is an intense action drama laced with amma sentiment, a combination that just can’t go wrong. Despite being one of Rajamouli’s weaker works as a whole, parts of it are brilliant. The intermission action sequence that culminates in a fiery speech is the stuff of dreams for any young actor aspiring to cement themselves as an action movie star. Chatrapathi was a wonderful platform for the actor to portray both his machismo and vulnerability, and the actor did excel. The film immediately exalted him to the mass hero status, a territory he continues to thrive in.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Post Chatrapathi, Prabhas had to wait slightly longer than usual for success with his next three films, Pournami, Yogi and Munna, putting up an underwhelming show at the box office. His first collaboration with Puri Jagannadh, who was at the peak of his game back then, gave us what was Prabhas’ first fun role. The actor had tried his hand at comedy in his earlier films like Chakram and Adavi Ramudu, but his reticence, which is a popular part of his off-screen persona, would somehow seep into his characters. Bujjigaadu being his most theatrical, loud and energetic role, in true-blue Puri Jagannadh fashion, was a breath of fresh air. While the film wasn’t a massive hit, it did present a rejuvenated Prabhas.
Streaming on: Voot
Prabhas followed up Bijjigadu with the ultra-stylish Billa, which, being the 6th remake of Don, had its limitations story-wise. While reports state that the trade wasn’t entirely happy with its performance during its release, Billa remains special because of two reasons: it was a big step up for Prabhas in terms of scale, and two, he shared screen space with his pedha naanna, Krishnam Raju.
Streaming on: SunNXT
Darling was Prabhas’ biggest attempt at reinventing himself. He teamed up with the cuteness specialist Karunakaran, who was just coming off of the sleeper hit Ullasanga Utsanga, and it was an exciting team-up that resulted in an equally enjoyable film. From his wardrobe to his body language, everything about Darling was a breeze. A pure romantic comedy with zero violence and bloodshed, it was the makeover Prabhas badly needed after enduring a streak of staleness in the action genre. The film is particularly famous for its interval twist about the love story narrated by Prabhas in the first half being a complete lie, thereby cheating the audience. While this choice might be panned today, it was quite amusing back then. GV Prakash’s lovely soundtrack, his pairing with Kajal Agarwal, and the mood of the film ensured that Darling was a jolly good watch. Looking back at Darling now, it's almost unbelievable that ‘Baahubali Prabhas’ did something so light and cute.
Mr Perfect (2011)
Streaming on: YouTube, Amazon Prime Video (Hindi dub), Zee5 (Tamil dub)
In 2011, Mr Perfect achieved a feat only reserved for Baahubali 2 in Prabhas' career. To let the actor follow up a hit with another hit. In this family entertainer, Prabhas plays a materialistic game designer who seeks perfection and has to go through a coming-of-age arc to understand his own limitations and priorities. The surprising quality of Mr Perfect is that it places more importance on the protagonist’s internal conflict instead of creating external antagonists. You see, this is a rarity in Telugu films, especially the kind of films Prabhas is known for.
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar
After Mr Perfect, Prabhas went on to star in the painfully loud and unintentionally hilarious Rebel, which was dead on arrival, but quickly made up for the mistake with Mirchi in 2013. The Koratala Siva film did the impossible possible, to lend freshness to the beaten-to-death faction film genre that had lost its sheen by then. In Mirchi, Prabhas aced both the class and mass avatars. Mirchi is also surprisingly emotional, by making the violent hero complicit in his mother’s death, thereby instigating him to go on a redemptive journey. His cut-out was used to the fullest extent in the action sequences. The story of this film might be as old as the hills but it has a presentation and coolness rarely associated with this kind of loud revenge dramas.
While Prabhas’ career can be easily bifurcated into before and after Baahubali, Mirchi’s success ensured that the star moved on to his Baahubali journey with his newfound confidence. It is also his last simple, straight Telugu film.