The curious case of Sudeep

Outside Kannada, he is known for strong roles. His prominence here rests largely on remakes, that too 23 of them

In a scene from the Telugu blockbuster ‘Eega’ by SS Rajamouli, a fly (the film’s hero!) is at his annoying best when the antagonist (played by Sudeep) is in the middle of a steam bath. With his hands locked inside the cabinet and no one to release him, Sudeep goes through hell as the tiny creature hovers over every part of his face.

You laugh and feel pity in equal measure thanks to Sudeep’s brilliant acting. The Kannada star reacts convincingly to an imaginary fly (nicely created by computer graphics). “His razor-sharp acting is what made me pick him,” Rajamouli had said, justifying his decision to cast a Kannada actor for a big role in a Telugu film.

In a career that spans over two decades, Eega is a landmark film for Sudeep. However, for passionate Sandalwood fans, it’s disappointing to note that Sudeep’s career-best performance has come in a non-Kannada film.

Sudeep, over the years, has been the favourite of popular directors from several industries. But the actor’s story back home is strange. For someone excelling in original stories of non-Kannada flicks, Sudeep has starred in 23 Kannada remakes. So why is it difficult to write an original story for Sudeep? Or how do we understand the actor’s obsession for remakes?

Oozing style and charisma into his roles comes easy for Sudeep, who is blessed with a powerful voice and sophisticated look. But he isn’t an actor suited for stories with harmless fun or commercial films that bank on ‘star power’. Non-conventional roles bring the best out of him and only a couple of directors like Ram Gopal Varma in ‘Rann’ and Rajamouli in ‘Eega’ have managed to successfully explore his acting prowess. 

However, courtesy of his track-record in Kannada, directors here seems to have forgotten how to make engaging original films with Sudeep. ‘The Villain’ and ‘Hebbuli’, two flicks prior to his latest Pailwaan, were original efforts that were thoroughly underwhelming.

Wanting to shed the tag of ‘iron leg of Kannada industry’ might have forced Sudeep to look for safer options. Even in remakes, Sudeep, early on, chose originals that were meaningful and not mindless. But box office success eluded him with this approach.

Veteran journalist S Shivakumar explains Sudeep’s choices in a national daily’s column. “Remakes of sensitive films like ‘Swathi Muthyam’ (Swathi Muthu) and ‘Bawarchi’ (No 73 Shanthi Nivasa) were applauded but the jingle at the box-office was muted. His hoardings were not being bathed in milk. Sudeep got tired of critical acclaim,” he observes.

Seeking box-office hits, Sudeep was seen in carbon-copy remakes of generic yet highly successful Telugu flicks and his choices are questionable. The Kannada cinema audience encourages fresh ideas. And several platforms give them easy access to catch up on popular non-Kannada films. This makes them less motivated to watch remakes, irrespective of the star involved in them.

Krishna’s ‘Pailwaan’ was a great opportunity to break the trend. However, the director fails in making a gripping sports drama. One wishes Krishna could have learnt a thing or two from Ali Abbas Zafar’s Salman Khan-starrer ‘Sultan’ than just getting ‘inspired’ by it. For instance, in a moving scene from Sultan, Salman Khan, once a famous wrestler, decides to compete in mixed martial arts. But looking at his out-shape-body in the mirror, he breaks down completely before pumping himself up to get back stronger. Most of the scenes in ‘Pailwaan’, in turn, lack life because Krishna, the popular cinematographer-turned-director, is focused on churning out a star-vehicle. The sheer lack of creativity in story-telling is blatant. Sudeep is solid as usual, especially, in the second-half but he does more to the film than what the film does for him.

It will be interesting to see what happens if the actor, who turned 45 earlier this month, collaborates with the young talents of the industry. While ‘The Villain’ was a misfire, Sudeep’s fans would also still want him to work with the biggies. Six years ago, he came close to starring in a Yogaraj Bhat film. 

If only Sudeep had turned his back on many of the uninspiring remakes, he would have had a more noteworthy career. But popular actors, after a point, tend to choose different paths for varying reasons. Sudeep has admirably hosted six editions of the reality show Big Boss. He also led Rockstars, the celebrity cricket team in the Karnataka Premier League, for four years.

For now, he has signed up ‘Dabbang 3’ in Hindi and ‘Marakkar Arabikadalinte Simham’ in Malayalam. But it is his film with Anup Bhandari that the Kannada audience will be eagerly waiting for. Anup’s talent was seen in ‘Rangi Taranga’ and the film may prove to be the long-awaited good and original Sudeep film.  


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