Disclaimer—The author is a Non-Malayalee from Mumbai, and the article is written from the lens of a pure cine lover with no bias towards any south star.
While the Great Crossover Experiment still continues, from Kamal Haasan to Rajnikanth, Chiranjeevi to Venkatesh, Dhanush to Prabhas, etc. very few regional stars have yet to be accepted wholeheartedly across India. The stars mentioned in this article are young, still relatively unknown to non-metro pan Indian audiences and have the biggest chance of crossing over. There are other notable mentions such as Parvathy, Antony Verghese and Shane Nigam but I have not seen enough of their work to include them in the list. As the streaming giants Netflix and Amazon continue to expose us to genuinely talented INDIAN artists, I hope the North-South cinematic divide and debate is about to end and that great Indian talent is declared the winner. Here are some of the brightest rising southern stars to emerge via the digital galaxy that have the potential to mass appeal across geographical and linguistic lines.
‘DQ’ AKA Dulquer Salmaan
Someone who’s fast becoming a familiar crossover star is Dulquer Salmaan, aka DQ. With his last two forays in Hindi cinema, Dulquer is now the chiseled face of young Malayalam cinema to the rest of India. And without a shadow of a doubt, DQ has the star wattage and chops to make it happen. With an impressive filmography thus far, DQ is making bold choices and not relying on his macho yet boyish charm persona to carry him.
Emerging successfully from the long shadow cast by superstar Dad Mammooty, DQ has gathered a tremendous following worldwide. Select cuts from his oeuvre must include Ustaad Hotel, Bangalore Days, C.I.A., and the underrated SOLO. His last venture into Hindi cinema ‘The Zoya Factor’ met with a lackluster response, but DQ still walked away intact from the wreckage with his star power intact. It’ll be exciting to watch what he chooses for his next Hindi crossover film. Rest assured, pan India will be watching.
‘Rowdy’ Vijay Deverakonda
Will the real VD please stand up? It’s still hard to decode the draw of raw Vijay Deverakonda, the so-called outsider, who like some nocturnal interloper, gleefully scaled the heavily guarded walls of the Tollywood film family fortress, while its keepers were caught napping. A bit of young Bachchan, mixed with Nagarjuna’s Shiva, with some sprinklings of James Dean tossed up in a Jim Morrison cocktail. That’s what you get with Vijay Deverakonda. His film choices have been like a promising batsman’s early career. A couple of big hundreds followed by a quick succession of ducks.
With Arjun Reddy, VD reintroduced the grammar of ‘rowdy’ back in mainstream India in a way not done since Mr. Bachchan wrote the textbook on it. He then gave us the eminently laughable gems Taxiwaala and Nota. The lukewarm response to his biggest and most hyped film Dear Comrade came as a massive blow. The crash and burn of his debut production “MMC” and online trolling of his modestly titled upcoming film “World Famous Lover” aren’t helping his cause either in staking his claim to becoming a genuine A lister. However, with the backing of Bollywood mega producer Karan Johar who’s rumored to be launching him in a Hindi crossover, his future seems bright for now. Here’s hoping he lives up to the promise shown in Pelli Chupullu, Geeta Govindam and Arjun Reddy and doesn’t have to live off the profits of his Zara ripoff clothing line Rowdy Wear.
The reigning chameleon of Malayalam cinema. With a film career so deliciously intoxicating, it makes your head spin, FF is easily the star-actor many pretenders aspire to be. An artist who keeps his contemporaries on their toes and forces their hand. How else would you explain his biggest rival Nivin Pauly’s image transition from boy-next-door to macho man with grey shades? FF’s range extends far beyond the tropes of a regular Malayalam star with a certain image to upkeep. Only an actor of his caliber could pull off roles such as Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Super Deluxe, Kumbalangi Nights, Njan Prakaashan and Annayam Rasoolam with equal ease.
Whether it’s dashing or creepy, pathetic or heroic, FF has played it all, and made acting look extremely easy, which is what the greats do. For North Indian cinegoers, a dive into his filmography is a rabbit’s role into acting masterclasses. FF manages to give you a cinematic high with every performance while retaining the everyman flavor so unique to Malayalam cinema. I wonder when FF will eventually decide to do a Hindi film so that bigger audiences are exposed to this electric performer. Whatever may be the case, expect the unexpected with FF.
Samantha Akkineni and Nithya Menen
Both these wonderfully talented and beautiful actresses are breaking the mould for new age south actresses with some fantastic choices. Hindi audiences have got to see the effervescent Nithya recently in the blockbuster Hindi hit Mission Mangal. For audiences wanting more of Nithya at her best, there’s 100 Days of Love, Ustad Hotel, Bangalore Days, and the Nani produced experimental indie AWE! An actor who’s not bowed down by convention, and wears her natural beauty with confidence, Nithya is breaking on through as the Vidya Balan of the south.
Samantha Akkinenni could be the girl next door you fall for, or be done for by. At once a glamorous daydream, at other times a femme fatale nightmare. Her choices are leaving the rest of her contemporaries behind, who are still content being gorgeous props with the usual song and dance limitations. With an increasingly experimental and fearless approach, Samantha is capable of a Super Deluxe, U Turn, as well as an SVSC, Mersal or an Oh! Baby. A full fledged A lister in south cinema, Samantha has the looks, charm and talent to make that transition to Hindi cinema leading lady and give a bigger audience a chance to be dazzled by more of her upcoming work.
VS’s unconventional looks and floppy hair will immediately remind you of a certain megastar who has ruled Tamil filmdom for the past 30 years. Imagine the audience’s delight and Vijay’s, when he eventually got to share screen time and exchange barbs and blows with The Thailava himself. With a wide range of increasingly layered performances, daring script choices, and fearlessness to play marginalized characters, Vijay Septhupathi has emerged as one of the South’s most exciting talents in a while. The former accountant turned accidental actor may appear reticent and softspoken off screen, but lets his work do the talking for him.
A director’s actor self admittedly, he injects every new part with such unabashed freshness, that you’re left with a sense of euphoria coming out of a screening. Vijay, in his own words believes that you “don’t need to become any character, because we all have those characters deep within us waiting to be brought out.” This inside-out approach rather than the opposite method most of his contemporaries employ is perhaps why you completely believe him in any role. Keep an eye out for more adventurous parts from this dynamic star from Tamil Nadu. Select cuts to watch- Pizza, Petta, Vikram Vedha, Super Deluxe.
An educator, cinephile, fitnesser and sports lover.