Tollywood, like Bollywood, loves sequels. Saturday's political release in Tirupati could well have been titled 'Pawan Kalyan Returns'.
Some of his ardent admirers, assembled in thousands at the Indira Maidan in Andhra's temple town, though chose to christen the latest offering as 'Chief Minister Pawan Kalyan'.
Wishful thinking but not surprising considering Pawan Kalyan, who is actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi's younger brother, was back with his first major political production after a gap of over two years. The last time the charismatic star addressed public meetings of this nature was during the campaign for the general elections, flanked by Narendra Modi and Chandrababu Naidu, when the three were in 'yeh dosti hum nahi chodenge' mode.
But a lot of water has flown in the Godavari since 2014. Now Modi and Naidu are no longer part of Pawan Kalyan's multi-starrer production as heroes. It was 'Deewar' time, with angst and vitriol the flavour of Pawan Kalyan's punch dialogues.
The 'Power Star', the moniker Pawan Kalyan goes by, was keen to demonstrate that he was a fully charged battery pack. For the crowds, it was full paisa vasool political entertainment.
The theme was no different from what is parroted by other political parties--the denial of special category status to Andhra Pradesh. But the twist in the tale was the manner in which Pawan targeted Modi. Surprising, given the bonhomie between the two in the past. Pawan targeted the PM for not having kept his promise to the residuary state and Naidu's Telugu Desam for not exerting enough pressure.
The BJP representatives from Andhra were lampooned for behaving no different from the Congress MPs, only replacing "Please Madam, Please Madam" with "Please Sir, Please Sir.'' Union civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju was ridiculed as was Venkaiah Naidu for having promised not five, but ten years of special category status, only to renege on his word. In more than an hour of pinch-hitting, Pawan Kalyan played to the gallery, delivering his lines in a style that is uniquely his--referred to as 'Pawanisms'.
"I am not going to step back even if there is a knife on my neck."
"I can earn money in no time, sitting at home and leading a comfortable life."
"I am not lusting after political power."
Delivered at times with a chuckle and at other times, in a high pitch, Pawan played like a Rahul Dravid-Virender Sehwag rolled into one style. "When I show a bit of appreciation for Chandrababu Naidu, they call me a TDP stooge. I am not a stooge of Naidu or Modi. I am a stooge of the people," he said.
Pawan also announced his political schedule--a three-phase agitation, starting with Kakinada on September 9, the place where BJP had passed a resolution favouring bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh in 1998. Totally filmy, his critics carped, referring to his decision to hit the streets as well.
Like it was on March 14, 2014, when Pawan Kalyan launched his party in Hyderabad, this too was a single actor performance on stage. The problem with Pawan is that though he comes across as a person with his heart in the right place, he is a bit like Rahul Gandhi, a paratrooper who does not exhibit staying power.
"Now onwards, I will ride the two horses, politics and movies simultaneously. Politics for the youth and movies for some money," he said. That is the problem. Pawan is still in call sheet mode, not realising politics is a 24-hour vocation, not a 8-hour slot booking.
Which is why questions will be asked about where he was all these days. Barring one press conference last year he addressed when land was being pooled in Amaravati for construction of the new Andhra capital and a visit to the area to meet the aggrieved farmers, Pawan has behaved more like a freelancer in politics rather than a full-time professional. Then one meeting with Chandrababu Naidu and Pawan went mum.
When there were protests by environmentalists over the manner in which a multi-crop land was being converted into a concrete jungle, he stayed out of it. When there were protests by the YSR Congress and Congress over Special status, he chose not to lend support. It did not matter to Pawan that questions were raised over the ₹3500 crore spent on Godavari and Krishna Pushkar. Or the demands for an audit into the construction expenditure at Amaravati.
"Now onwards, I will ride the two horses, politics and movies simultaneously."
The timing of this outburst also was a bit strange because Pawan had gone to Tirupati to console the family of Vinod Royal, a 24-year-fan who had been stabbed by two fans of Junior NTR, another very popular Telugu actor, in Kolar last Sunday. Perhaps enthused by the crowds he saw when he visited the family, Pawan Kalyan decided to go ballistic.
What would however, worry the TDP and the BJP is Pawan's immense appeal and drawing power. Though he has no organisation to channelise his appeal and convert them into votes, he could damage established political parties in some constituencies. His fans association does not understand the world of politics and the fact that Pawan is seen as a loner, does not help matters.
At the end of the power-packed performance, people were left wondering about the credit roll. The question on who exactly is directing Pawan Kalyan remains. Or where he is positioning himself in the complex multi-party political theatre of Andhra Pradesh. He did not attack Chandrababu Naidu by name, leaving everyone very perplexed. And if he indeed chooses full-time politics by the elections of 2019, who will have the distribution rights to his incredible popularity among the youth of Andhra.