Bollywood’s struggle at the box office hasn’t ended. By now, those who have watched their films sink know that the modern-day viewer does not gravitate to the theatres because of hype and star cast any longer.
Just how quickly does this viewer pass judgment? A little too fast, on social media, which happened once again after the Rohit Dhawan-helmed Shehzada’s teaser became available on the Internet. Shehzada, a remake of Trivikram Srinivas’ Telugu action drama Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, has Kartik Aaryan in the central role originally played by Allu Arjun.
Arjun’s Pan India stardom
Arjun has become a pan-Indian phenomenon after the nationwide success of Sukumar’s Pushpa: The Rise – Part 01. The bearded actor with a striking screen presence has been loved in the Hindi belt for his effortless portrayal of Pushparaj, an ambitious man from a humble background who acquires a position of power in a smuggling syndicate. The film’s action sequences in which he confronts and conquers impossible challenges make us applaud his larger-than-life heroics. His dance moves are delightfully smooth, and the few steps and gestures in his performance with the Devi Sri Prasad-composed pop classic Srivalli are being copied by youngsters nationwide.
Non-Telugu viewers who have watched Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo online would know that Arjun’s character in the film is named Bantu, a man who inhabits a middle-class environment. That is not where he belongs, having been exchanged at birth with a child from a rich family. After 25 years of growing up, circumstances bring him close to the same rich family. His identity, somewhat predictably, is revealed in the end. The story is hardly great, but Arjun makes the proceedings eminently watchable with his characteristic qualities. Can Aaryan do the same? Questions are being asked and doubts expressed after the teaser’s launch.
Challenge before Kartik Aaryan
Stepping into Arjun’s shoes and making Shehzada’s protagonist as appealing as the former’s Bantu in Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo won’t be easy for Kartik, despite his undeniable talent, screen presence and popularity. The 32-year-old Bollywood star with an endearing young-man-next-door image has delivered popular romantic comedies: the two Pyaar Ka Punchnama films, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Luka Chuppi and Pati Patni Aur Woh. He was the star attraction of Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, the 2022 horror-comedy success story.
He has ventured beyond the obvious and played a journalist with a lot of success in Dhamaka, a Netflix thriller. In Freddy, his upcoming thriller that will premiere on Disney+Hotstar on 2 December, he is a dentist who turns into a killer at night. The actor’s versatility, in short, is beyond doubt.
The biggest challenge of Aaryan’s acting career, however, is that he must make an impact with a convincing performance in Shehzada. That will happen if he meets the expectations of those who have watched Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, among them judgmental social media vultures and hardcore fans of the Stylish Star of Telugu cinema, who adore his ‘swag’ that shines on the screen. Aaryan’s protagonist cannot be a copy, and besides, he must match the appeal of Arjun’s stardom at a time when remakes are rejected easily.
Social media conflicts
After watching the teaser in which the evidence of Aaryan’s performance is far from adequate, trolls and Arjun fans have already expressed their disappointment. Fans of the Bollywood star, also in large numbers, have liked him in his action-packed avatar.
Conflict arising from hastily made conclusions on both sides is an uneasy possibility the film industry must anticipate and accept. There is that odd occasion when most social media activists come together to criticise in one voice, which happened in the case of Om Raut’s big-budget mythological film Adipurush. Usually, however, those who like a teaser differ and clash with others who don’t. The final result, of course, is delivered a day or two after the film’s release.
Shehzada’s commercial outcome will make a strong statement of Aaryan’s stardom. If his performance leads to success, he will respond to critics of the teaser and remind everybody that he is among the most talented long-distance runners of his generation.
Can he do it?
The author, a journalist for three decades, writes on literature and pop culture. Among his books are ‘MSD: The Man, The Leader’, the bestselling biography of former Indian captain MS Dhoni, and the ‘Hall of Fame’ series of film star biographies. Views expressed are personal.