Most children grow up wanting to be cricketers, or actors. In the school I studied in, most children wanted to spend their lives spreading the message of Sathya Sai Baba. One friend ran away from school in the middle of the term. When his parents were called, it was found that he hadn't planned to go home, but to the Himalayas! I myself nurtured the ambition of wanting to become a singer in the ashram (that I spent more time reading Sidney Sheldon than the Hanuman Chalisa is another matter altogether!).
We spent a decade with no access to films, television or newspapers. So, if you told me that one of my juniors would go on to become the hottest star in the Telugu film industry – you might have as well offered me three lines of cocaine and told me it was vibhuthi!
I first met Vijay Deverakonda in 2017. I knew that he was a junior of mine at school, but I'd never spoken to him. I'd watched Pelli Choopulu, and was fairly impressed. I received a call from Vijay, and Santhosh (the Marlon Brando of Film Companion Telugu reviews) and I ended up writing the script for the 64th Filmfare Awards (South).
There was another actor who would co-host the awards, and our agenda was to cram as many jokes into the script as was legally possible. We shot a video for the Awards ceremony and the other actors involved were hell-bent on appearing cool in the video. Unnecessary lines were fit in, but Vijay never asked for an extra line. Our script involved gags that needed to be acted out, and he brought in his own jokes. On the day of the event, he turned up at 10 am, ran through every line off-stage, and discussed the nuances of stand-up – premises, call-backs and applause breaks.
I remember thinking that he brought in the earnestness of an IT fresher into his work. I remember wondering if in such a cruel industry, it would all be worth it.
In two months, Arjun Reddy would release.
In the three years since, Vijay has released movies across genres and languages. He has produced films, spewed wonderful swearwords during audio-release functions, and become a bonafide superstar across the nation.
It makes sense that today's youth would look up to a self-made man, rather than the son of a son of a son of a superstar. In the age of entrepreneurship and start-ups, it is embarrassing that we still worship untalented scions of famous film households. Which is why Vijay's success seems aspirational, achievable.
Which is not to say that there haven't been superstars who made it on their own. Nani is an outsider who has risen to stardom solely due to his films. Two decades ago, Uday Kiran stormed into the scene and became a star. But their films were mostly safe, formulaic.
They did not take the risks that Vijay has taken – and his filmography is proof of that.
The youth of today understand the need to take risks. When we hear of an Indian becoming the CEO of a global company, it does not surprise us. While it is sad that the biggest stars in our industry are still sons of famous fathers, Vijay's success proves that it is achievable for an outsider.
The other reason for Vijay's success could be attributed to his interviews. Most superstars speak with a fake sense of humility. They shower praises on the earlier generation, and wax eloquent about fate, destiny and gods playing a role in their success. Perhaps deep within, they are aware of the truth. But Vijay's interviews do not sound like rehashed 'Vote of Thanks' speeches. They are not lined with that intolerable fake humility.
Another striking factor of Vijay's filmography is his proclivity to work with newbie directors. Of the 10 films that he has played the lead in, a whopping seven were made with first-time directors. He has used his stardom to promote (and most importantly – produce) indie films such as Taxiwaala – a film where he doesn't appear in the 40 minutes of the climax! Films such as Dear Comrade and Arjun Reddy wouldn't have seen the light of day if not for his push.
Compare this with our other superstars, and you'll find that most of them work with established faces who come in with stories that are as old as Paapikondalu. Stories that have been heard so many times you might as well call them Copy-kondalu.
Perhaps, that is why the youth can connect to Vijay as an actor and a star. Perhaps, that is why he hasn't been given a title by the industry – like Flashy Star or Original Star.
Of course, things will only get tougher for Vijay now on. Every film of his will be compared to Arjun Reddy at some level. There are sections of radical feminists on Twitter who believe he should share the blame for the utter evil that Kabir Singh has unleashed on the world.
Perhaps in a few years the media will give him a title – Angry Star or Hungry Star or Self-made Star. But as we speak, no actor has captured the aspirations of the youth in the way Vijay Deverakonda has. In his own way, he has shown that acting is like any other field. You need a little bit of luck, and the rest is dependent on the risks you take. At the risk of sounding like a punny manishi – Vijay has proved that it is not about the caste, it is about the cast.
World Famous Lover releases this Friday, and one can sense the buzz again. Our feed will be inundated with videos titled 'Vijay Deverakonda Emotional Mind-Blowing Soul-Stirring Corona-Curing Speech at Audio Function'. This Friday, the youth of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh will once again visit the theatres to see what story Vijay has brought to the screens.
Today, if you told me a junior of mine has become the biggest pornstar of the country, I would probably nod my head. And then snort three lines of vibhuti!