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Down South, he is hailed as the money-spinning machine. Even the messiah of box office hits Amitabb Bachchan wondered at the revenue some of Chiranjeevi’s films grossed in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere. A self-made actor with no Godfathers in the film industry, Chiranjeevi can be rightly called the last of the titans of the Telugu tinsel world this century has produced.
Even his colleague and superstar Nagarjuna once said, "There is only one ‘numero uno’ hero in Telugu cinema and he is Chiranjeevi." Such is the awe of the man, whose main goal now is to live up to the expectations of his fans. After a lean patch in 1996, the mega star as he is called, swung back with a row of four superhits, starting with ‘Hilter’, followed by ‘Master’, ‘Bavagaru Bagunnara’ and ‘Choodalani Vundi’. His played a dual role in ‘Sneham Kosam’.
It was in 1970 while studying at the Film Institute run by the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce in Madras that Chiranjeevi got an offer to act in ‘Punadi Rallu’. But the movie got delayed. Producer-director T Kranti Kumar, who had seen his photograph gave him a role in the film, ‘Pranam Khareedu’. Subsequently, director Bapu signed him for ‘Manavoori Pandavulu’, where he first gained some recognition. With ‘Khaidi’ the angry young man had arrived on the Telugu screen. The film established his position firmly. By then the slab system of taxation had come into vogue and ‘Khaidi’ proved to what extent a hit film’s collections can soar in such a system.
Chiranjeevi's ‘Gharana Mogudu’ was the first film to gross over ten crore rupees in the history of Telugu cinema. This success story spread to Hindi films too. Chiranjeevi did three films in Hindi- ‘Pratibandh’, ‘Aaj Ka Goondaraaj’ and ‘Gentleman’. The first two films directed by Ravi Raja were big hits. In these twenty years, the actor has done about 131 films.
Two decades of the mega star’s career can be divided into four parts. Between 1978 and 1983 October (till the release of ‘Khaidi’) he had acted in about 60 movies, mostly in secondary roles, some as second hero and as a villain and anti-hero in such memorable movies as ‘Di Katha Kaadu', ‘Mosagadu’ and ‘Nyayam Kaavali’. The second phase of his career started with the release of ‘Khaidi’ directed by A Kodanda Rami Reddy. A rehash of ‘First Blood’, the movie opened new vistas in film- making and also created hundreds of fans associations for Chiranjeevi. And then there was no looking back. Says veteran producer D Ramanaidu: "Even a Chiranjeevi flop can earn more revenue than any other blockbuster".
The third phase started with the mega hit ‘Gharana Mogudu’ directed by K Raghavendra Rao, a trend- setter in box office collections. But then it is difficult for any star to live up to the expectations of the audience after such a massive hit. Chiranjeevi’s career took a nosedive with a row of not-so successful movies (which however did not bring any losses to the producers). Chiranjeevi went into hibernation and took respite from films in 1996. That was the first time in the actors’ career that no film was released in a calendar year.
Came 1997 and with it the mega star had bounced back. But then the re-launch of the mega star was not easy. A story that appeals to a cross section of the audience had to be found. The audience's perception was also changing with the advent of young heroes and film- makers. Chiranjeevi himself became aware of this. He said, "Of course, when a star attains a certain position, a lot is expected of him. If the story is good it will catch the eye. The image then becomes secondary. If the script is not up to the mark the film will flop no matter how well I act".
Then came the offer to act in Editor Mohan’s ‘Hitler’, a remake of the Malayalam hit by the same title. And the gamble paid off. The film became a runaway hit. The audience and mainly his fans who grew along with him are now a matured lot. They liked him as a strict but doting brother in the movie, followed by a young lecturer in ‘Master’. And the ailing industry breathed a sigh of relief, as the master had found his form once again with two mega hits, ‘Bavagaru Bagunnara’ and ‘Choodalani Vundi’.
In spite of being the most sought after commercial star, Chiranjeevi, being a Film Institute product, had the urge to do offbeat roles. Time and again he has tried his hand at such roles in films such as Bharathi Raja’s ‘Aradhana’, K Balachander’s ‘Rudraveena’ and K Viswanath’s ‘Swayamkrushi’ and ‘Aapadbandhavudu’. The last two films won him the best actor award from the Andhra Pradesh Government. 'Rudraveena' got him the coveted Nargis Dutt award at the national level. But except for ‘Swayamkrushi’ which was a moderate success, the others failed at the box office.
Chiranjeevi is the only actor in the world to celebrate his birthday coinciding with the hundred-day run of one of his films (‘Gang Leader’). Years ago, such an extravaganza, starting in the morning and ending in the evening at Vizag, Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Tirupati (he flew by a helicopter) took his fans into delirium. He has a perfect rapport with his fans and he feels that he should do anything within his capacity for them because they his life-blood as an artiste. And naturally, his fans are actively participating in the Blood Bank and Eye Bank that Chiranjeevi has launched under Chiranjeevi Charitable Trust. The Trust has adopted Nizamabad district as a model district and would like to spread its activities to other areas as well.
He explains his success as a kind of journey that will have its breaks meaning failures intermittently but will still have to be continued just the same.
His best critics are his wife Surekha, his brother and brother-in-law who are always around him and air their views on his performance. In spite of the enormous fan following that he has, Chiranjeevi has maintained the self-discipline that he cultivated when he was still a struggling artiste and finding it difficult to make both ends meet. He feels very happy because he has had no godfather in the industry and has risen to this position of fame only through sheer grit and hard work.