The year was 1993, a film named Gentleman hit the screens, promoted as a big budget action extravaganza with more musical numbers than is the norm at that time. The film was directed by an unknown filmmaker who apprenticed the likes of S. A. Chandrasekhar (Vijay Joseph’s father) and Pavithran. The lead actor of that film is Arjun. Known as Action King and for his aggressive roles, the business in Teluguland was done on his name for the most part. But once the film hit the screens, it was the director who became the biggest star of all.
Without using the current fad of pan-India film, Shankar first introduced the same, alongside Mani Ratnam (who made Roja a few years ago). His films resonate more with universal themes like corruption of society and individuals on one side and on the other side basic emotions like love and betrayal. He had enhanced the Angry Young Man formula of the 1970s and the 1980s and upgraded it to the modern day filmmaking technique.
Rather than making it a revenge template, he added the vigilante angle. He made the problems faced by the protagonist a universal ailment than an individual’s vengeance saga. With the help of top quality writers like R. Sujatha he even comes up with practical solutions to fight corruption (though of superficial nature sometimes). For example, the end credits of superstar Rajinikanth starrer Sivaji talks about the basic idea of demonetisation to decrease corruption.
2002 saw the arrival of a shy looking young filmmaker who made a commercial film with a routine story with a star kid under the supervision of his filmmaking Guru. Later he made himself a name with. Out and out commercial subjects that are generally based on revenge elements. Though he had shown sophistication of technique and finesse in filmmaking, his plots are often criticised for borrowing elements from other films. And vulgarity was criticised in his earlier few films.
But that was not his aim. His aim is to expand the canvas of filmmaking like never before and he tested his ambitions with each film and expanded his horizons similarly. By 2017 tumbled upon us, he has delivered India’s first ever 1000 crore film. That is Rajamouli. He is the classic example of Kaizen, where an individual shows small but significant improvement with each step but in turn shows a marked improvement over a period of time. He started as a bankable commercial and went on to become a filmmaker who can make producers spend the much of amount he wants (needs) to.
We have two of the most successful directors in Indian commercial filmmaking. One is already a legend and the other is on the path of ascendancy. While Rajamouli expanded the limits of Tollywood, Shankar was the first Indian director (leave aside Bollywood) to create himself a solid market in multiple language states. He’s as much a star director in Tamil as he is in Telugu. As in Malayalam. And as in Karnataka. And as in the Northern Hindi belt.
Shankar and Rajamouli
Now, for the first time in over a couple of decades, Shankar who’s admired by Rajamouli and Rajamouli himself are going head on with each other. Not in an exact way. But in an indirect battle. Indian 2 or not, Shankar’s next film will be with Ram Charan and the film after RRR for Rajamouli will be with superstar Mahesh. Both are top of the line filmmakers in India who delivered 800 Cr. Plus grossers. Both have two of the biggest known South Indian star heroes in tow. While Mahesh’s film will be more on a grander canvas than any other with Rajamouli, the narrative scope and innovation will be higher when it comes for Shankar’s film with Ram Charan.
Leaving aside the marketing terms, box office numbers, and all the rest of the criteria like fandom, this is a momentous event in Indian Cinema. While we can surely expect Shankar-Ram Charan film will have a more social relevance in terms of subject, Rajamouli’s film with Mahesh will be more of a fantasy unless he changes his path. Even if he comes up with a socially relevant subject, he’ll concentrate more on grandeur than solution based approach of Shankar.
One critical difference between Shankar and Rajamouli is, Rajamouli has a specifically built team (he comes out as a package) with his own family and a few outsiders, Shankar has his own imagination as the sole aid. Granted, he teamed up with a few technicians repeatedly, but it’s more like interpersonal collaboration than as a package.
When Shankar was making pan-India films left right and centre in the 1990s, nobody dared to emulate him. The reason is everyone thought rightfully it’s impossible to match his scale. But Rajamouli’s success made everyone believe they too can make such films on a grand scale. Shankar is an unapproachable genius like Sachin, Lara, Rohit Sharma, or even Bradman. We just watch them and marvel at their genius. But not many could dare to dream to become like them. But Rajamouli is more like Virat Kohli. We can believe, with perseverance we too can become like him.
So, Shankar + Ram Charan Vs Rajamouli + Mahesh.
Who’s the winner?
By past evidence, and recent form, Rajamouli and Mahesh may turn out more commercially successful but Shankar - Ram Charan film will have more innovation in terms of subject and filmmaking technique. Shankar is an innovator who improved his skill set as a director with each film. Rajamouli goes more organic in his approach. Not that he didn’t improve his technique. But that he doesn’t need to depend on technique to capture the attention of the audience.
Now, the winner...
Indian Cinema will be richer in terms of filmmaking, producers will be richer monetarily, and the audience will benefit from this in an indirect way. Haha!