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Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Rise and The Rise of Allu Arjun

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In an exclusive face-to-face interview, Superstar Allu Arjun who was on the rise in 2021 and is now set to rule Indian cinema in 2024, tells WOW! Hyderabad about his thoughts on pan-Indian movies, winning the National
Award and why he’s not complaining about the paparazzi
BY MANJU LATHA KALANIDHI

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In the dazzling realm of cinema, where stars flicker and fade like cosmic phenomena, one name illuminates the firmament relentlessly – Allu Arjun. His journey from a promising debut in Gangotri in 2003 to the pinnacle of
stardom with Pushpa: The Rise in 2021 is nothing short of a saga. Ever since Pushpa grossed Rs 360 crore at the box office and was declared the highest-grossing Indian film of 2021 (and the highest-grossing Telugu film of all time), Arjun became the poster boy for mass movie mania. The critics were silenced when he also bagged the National Award for Best Actor, the first one in 69 years of Telugu cinema. With Pushpa 2 being among the most-awaited pan-Indian films, Arjun is the toast of India this 2023.

The Rise
As he celebrates his 20th year in Tollywood, it’s easy to understand what worked for him. Whether you’re vibing with his slick dance moves or getting hit in the feels by his acting chops, Bunny (for his family and fans) is the real deal. Born into the illustrious Allu family, the scion of cinematic royalty, Allu Arjun inherited not just a revered surname, but also an unparalleled legacy. Kicking off his journey with Gangotri Arjun quickly flipped
the script, going from a fresh face to an actor who was ready to take risks. In his very second film, he chose to play the underdog – a hero who doesn’t (well, almost) doesn’t get the girl. A college romance where he remains the forlorn lover! Not many actors would gamble with a role like at the beginning of their career. Yet. Arya was a game-changer, the OG flick that shot him to stardom. Think romance, action, and swag – this
one had it all. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Bunny’s moves in Arya, you’re missing out on a major cinematic vibe.

The Rule
Fast forward to Desamuduru, where Bunny didn’t just act; he danced straight into our hearts. That film snagged him a Filmfare Award. And oh, Vedam, Race Gurram and Sarrainodu. Now, let’s talk game-changer 2.0 – Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo. This one wasn’t just a movie; it was a cinematic revolution. The swag, the style, the feels – Arjun owned it all. He is that constant vibe that Gen Z connects with. So, as we scroll
through our screens, Bunny remains the undisputed king, the dude who defines Tollywood cool. Arjun is not just a star, but the emoji of Tollywood, and we’re here for it.

Arjun invited WOW! on a cool November afternoon to his ivory and black-themed office in MLA Colony, Jubilee Hills, for an interview as part of the magazine’s 21st anniversary. You can recognize the house from afar as you see his fans milling around to catch a glimpse of their favorite star. On some good days, they do get a ‘hi’ back from him, a far-away selfie too, if the actor is in his element.

The AA Office Tour
The ground floor of his duplex office – a white marvel with sleek black accents – sets the AA (his logo, short for his name) tone right away – of elegance and sophistication. A cabinet adorned with a collection of prestigious awards – including the National Film Award, CineMAA, Filmfare, and IIFA, catches your
attention. Adjacent to it is a black magazine stand featuring magazines with the actor on their covers. A transparent shelf exhibits a range of national brands he has endorsed, such as Red Bus, Zomato, and KFC, while award-winning photographs grace the walls. However, one photograph that stops you in your tracks is that of director Raghavender Rao with the affectionate words “My first director” underneath. It speaks
about his attitude of gratitude.

The Vibe
As you walk up the stairs, his logo – two white AAs, one A resembling a star and its arm protruding into the second, on a white oval background – grabs your attention. His chamber, also in the same theme has a wall that proclaims: There is only person I compete with: ME. A photograph of Steve Jobs adorns the wall alongside a table with his family photographs. A table with healthy eats – salads, diet beverages and cold compressed juices sits next to his table. Soon after, Arjun arrives in a simple white T-shirt with graffiti and black trousers; sporting his trademark Pushpa beard, exuding a chilled-out vibe. He has another meeting
in 20 minutes, but as he sips a French press coffee, he is all ears for the questions we field.

You are the first Telugu actor to win the National Award. What’s your take on it?
I love mainstream movies and I enjoy being a commercial film actor. But National Awards for the longest time
have evaded some great performers simply because they were mainstream. I have always strived to bring dignity to commercial cinema performances and an award for Pushpa: The Rise vindicated my conviction. This is just the start.

Did the pressure of a pan-Indian release of Pushpa: The Rise bother you?
I keep it simple. I want to make/be in the best possible Telugu movies with Indian sensibilities. Once the ‘best possible Telugu cinema’ clauses are ticked off, we can think of making it a pan-India, pan-universe, pan-global release, or whatever new names are being given to it.

Your dominance started with the Malayali audience owning you up as Mallu Arjun. Your place got cemented with the Butta Bomma song going viral and now Pushpa. Your fan base levelled up after celebs like
David Warner and Virat Kohli imitated your moves. Amidst such fanfare, 24×7, what keeps you grounded?
Every week, at least thrice, I sit in the darkness. It connects me with the real me, the raw me. That internal connection switches the real Arjun – not the star, not the dancer – but the regular human in me.

Although you hail from the illustrious Allu family and have grown up under the spotlight, hasn’t the public
mania towards stars tripled in the last few years, with the penetration of social media? How do you handle that?
It’s part of the evolution of a star. After having worked towards this kind of success, reach and adulation, you can’t undo that. I started as a seed and have evolved into a tree. I cannot and should not crave to become the seed again. Onwards and upwards.

Talking of fan mania, your seven-year-old daughter Arha is already a social media star. She’s adorable and the netizens love her reels, dances or hanging out videos with you. Does she realize she is as popular as you?
She doesn’t make a big deal out of it. Arha is a happy and talented child and we just let her be. Most of her videos are when she’s being herself, doing cute stuff and we just happen to capture it and share it with our family of fans. It is not planned, executed or strategized.

What do you think of the airport looks or the paparazzi stationed at the airport/gate culture? Aren’t the
lines between personal and professional lives blending in dangerously?
After a certain point of success in movies, there is nothing personal or professional. The moment I step out of my bedroom, everything is public.

And how do you tackle the complete dissolution of privacy?
Through acceptance! I appreciate the past, yet I’m not confined by it and am open to embracing the current moment. I find joy in observing the latest changes and trends of the present day.

Wow, nice philosophy. Who’s your role model? Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs? (photograph hung on his wall)
Sadhguru. Osho. So many spiritual teachers are my role models. One can learn about new ways of thinking
through everyone we meet or interact with. For example, my calisthenics coach may have a unique take on life, regarding the control of the mind. Maybe my make-up artist has a different perspective of the world. Everyone’s an influence on my life.

You’ve formally stepped into Bollywood with Pushpa. Isn’t Hollywood on the cards, especially with Priyanka and percent too. Alia Bhatt doing so many international projects?
The crossover has started happening and in less than ten years, everyone including me will have an audience on the other end of the globe. The shift is palpable.

With the Pushpa release date set for August 14 and shooting going on at a hectic pace, what are the
extra efforts you are putting in?
I put in the same effort for every character, and Pushpa gets my 200 Whether it was Simhadri, Arya or Pushpa, I give it my heart and soul, blood and toil.  

These days everything you say, do or post is discussed and dissected. Do you ever get to post anything just like that without
having to seek approval from your social or branding team?
Haha, I do that all the time. But then I suffer from bad spelling. The social team is irked that the post with typos is going viral. I don’t care much. I am flawsome!

QUICK TAKE
• THREE HASHTAGS THAT DEFINE ME: #Taggedeley #BlAAck #AA
• YOUR FAVORITE BIRYANI: Ulavacharu biryani
• YOU TACKLE A BAD DAY WITH: Music. Currently Mia – Time Traveller, Honey Singh – Kalaastar
and Pavizha Mazha are on my loop
• THREE APPS THAT YOU USE THE MOST (BESIDES WHATSAPP): Instagram, Google and Spotify
• THREE CELEBS WHOSE INSTA FEEDS YOU LOVE: Osho, Kendell Jenner and Rashmika Mandanna

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