From RRR to Kalki 2898 AD: Why do multistarrers matter?

When established stars team up with a big-budget producer, the outcome is spectacular. While multistarrer films aren't new, their appeal is, undoubtedly, lasting.

BySrivathsan Nadadhur

Published Jul 02, 2024 | 12:03 PM Updated Jul 02, 2024 | 12:18 PM

A collage of stills from 'Kalki 2898 AD', 'Mahanati', 'RRR', 'Jailer', 'Pushpa: The Rise', and 'Vikram'. (Supplied)

Thanks to the rise of OTTs, the lockdown era was instrumental in forging a rare sense of oneness among viewers—as they overcame the ‘one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles’ to appreciate cinema beyond barriers. It was as if the variety of cinema on offer skyrocketed overnight with a sudden cultural change. Within a few months—Fahadh Faasil wasn’t just a Malayalam star, Prithviraj Sukumaran bridged a crucial gap across industries, Vijay Sethupathi’s scope went much beyond South Indian cinema—and so did the reach of an Allu Arjun or a Ravi Teja, Yash in Hindi-speaking circles.

In an industry driven by demand and supply, it inevitably heralded a new era of talent exchange, and the unified dream of ‘Indian cinema’ became a reality. Beyond a good script and a capable storyteller, collaborations became the need of the hour to ensure that a film became a ‘national’ or a ‘global’ event. Fahadh Faasil and Kannada actor Daali Dhananjaya were game to work in Pushpa: The Rise (2021). Yash’s growing popularity facilitated the presence of Sanjay Dutt and Raveena Tandon in the Kannada film, KGF: Chapter 2 (2022). SS Rajamouli roped in Alia Bhatt and Ajay Devgn for the Telugu film, RRR (2022), while Nagarjuna played a key role in Brahmastra (2022).

From heroes to renowned directors, here’s a list of cameo appearances in ‘Kalki 2898 AD’

Multistarrers, the gamechanger 

The results are for everyone to see. None of the above-mentioned films are referred to by their language alone and the reach of all actors played a crucial role in widening a project’s scope in multiple markets. Is this a foolproof formula for success?

Not certainly, but you’re giving yourself more chances to be relevant. All said and done, stars are an essential commodity to keep the film business alive and kicking. Their imprint on a film offers immense opportunity for storytellers to trigger a change on a massive scale. When multiple stars come together for a project, it’s like gobbling up four chocolates for the price of one.

Team 'Kalki 2898 AD'. (X)

Team ‘Kalki 2898 AD’. (X)

The latest box office sensation Kalki 2898 AD—featuring a host of stars Prabhas, Kamal Haasan, Amitabh Bachchan, and Deepika Padukone—is a fine example of the impact a film can make, when big names put their egos aside, succumb to the vision of a director and look at the larger picture.

“There’s no doubt that we could dream big only because of the license that Prabhas’s stardom gave us. We could envision a budget close to ₹700 crore, make it feasible, rope in multiple stars, and still not compromise on the product,” Kalki 2898 AD’s producer C Aswini Dutt shares.

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The more, the merrier

The icing on the cake in Kalki 2898 AD were appearances from the likes of Disha Patani, Saswata Chatterjee, Anna Ben, Pasupathy, Dulquer Salmaan, and Shobhana. Despite minimal promotional events, the star-studded lineup, backed by two trailers did the unthinkable, making a nation stand up and take notice.

godfather film

Chiranjeevi and Salman Khan in ‘Godfather’. (KonidelaPro/Twitter)

Two years ago, Salman Khan, while promoting Godfather (2022), Chiranjeevi’s Telugu film, where he had a brief cameo (he didn’t charge the team for it), said, “People want to go to Hollywood, I want to go South. The thing is once you start working together, just imagine the numbers we will all have.” A year after Godfather, Telugu stars Venkatesh Daggubati and Ram Charan made headlines with their appearances in Salman Khan’s Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan (2023). Though Godfather and Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan weren’t money spinners, they showcased the stars’ readiness to think beyond their cocoons. The success of Kalki 2898 AD emphasises the same.

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The star value

For RRR, SS Rajamouli said that he cast actors in his film, after asking his team to come up with the first choices while imagining the characters and not worrying about the industries they belonged to. This shift allows storytellers to forget boundaries and do what’s right for a film. Justifying his decision to cast Alia Bhatt as a Visakhapatnam girl in RRR, the director stated he wanted a face that could best represent vulnerability and innocence on screen. Aren’t there other Telugu actresses to do the needful? Certainly, yes. But, as a Telugu screenwriter, Vasanth rightly points out, “Who doesn’t want to have an actor who suits the role and brings crowds too?”

Rajinikanth in 'Jailer'. (X)

Rajinikanth in ‘Jailer’. (X)

Another supreme example of multi-industry collaborations working wonders for a film is the Nelson Dilipkumar-directed Jailer (2023). While Rajinikanth is already a towering figure in Indian cinema who can pull crowds across all languages, look at the value addition that actors like Sunil, Mohanlal, Shiva Rajkumar, and Jackie Shroff brought to the action drama.

“The surprise element that the cameos gave to audiences of different regions was unmatched. Bringing Mohanlal or Shiva Rajkumar on board provides additional motivation for a viewer to buy a ticket. The appearances were crafted effectively to ensure a high. Many years before, Rajinikanth did a similar cameo in Pedarayudu (1995) and the impact he made on the film was immense,” Vasanth adds.

The need to be ‘one’

A facet that warrants attention while discussing the need for more multistarrers is the relationship among actors within the same industry. There’s no doubt that Telugu cinema is one step ahead of other industries for the same reason. Be it Mahanati (2018) or the Baahubali franchise (part 1: 2015; part 2: 2017) or RRR or Kalki 2898 AD, the entire fraternity rallied behind the teams as a show of support and emphasised the need to be ‘one’ to chase greener pastures. Sometimes, it’s good to look within.

The biggest names in Telugu cinema stood by team Baahubali, came together, and celebrated its success at the time of the release as if it were their own. Samantha and Vijay Deverakonda’s presence (in a special appearance) gave a wider commercial appeal to Mahanati. Another production house—Geetha Arts—organised a special event to felicitate team Mahanati after its success.

Keerthy Suresh with Mahanati director Nag Ashwin

Keerthy Suresh with ‘Mahanati’ director Nag Ashwin. (X)

Rana Daggubati, much like Baahubali, went out of the way to promote Kalki 2898 AD too. The presence of Mrunal Thakur, Vijay Deverakonda, Faria Abdullah, Malvika Nair, directors SS Rajamouli, Ram Gopal Varma, and Anudeep Reddy in the film paints a pretty picture of the companionship within the industry, where everyone’s ready to do their bit to contribute to a film’s appeal.

In cases like Vikram (2022) and Master (2021), too (both Lokesh Kanagaraj directorials), comprising multiple Tamil stars, it was a win-win situation for all the parties involved. The leading faces—Kamal Haasan and Vijay—got hits under their belt as lead stars, Vijay Sethupathi earned his due as a performer, and Suriya’s special appearance as Rolex (in Vikram) created waves.

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Collective success 

Several popular faces in Malayalam—Tovino Thomas, Asif Ali, Kunjacko Boban, Vineeth Srinivasan, Aparna Balamurali—starred in an event film like 2018, which collected over ₹100 crore, went on to taste commercial success in Telugu and made noise in Hindi, too. Prithviraj, riding high after the success of his solo hit, Aadujeevitham (2024), was a huge asset to Guruvayoor Ambalanadayil, where he co-starred Basil Joseph.

Prithviraj Sukumaran in 'Aadujeevitham'. (X)

Prithviraj Sukumaran in ‘Aadujeevitham’. (X)

In Varshangalkku Shesham (primarily starring Pranav Mohanlal and Dhyan Sreenivasan), Nivin Pauly’s sparkling cameo turned out to be a major highlight. “We (the Malayalam industry) stand by one another because we look at a film’s success collectively. Every milestone opens new doors and we can’t push ourselves further if we don’t celebrate each other’s victories,” Prithviraj Sukumar shared in an interview, justifying the unity among the Malayalam stars.

Sounding a note of caution about the show ‘brotherhood’, Vasanth says, “This unity within an industry is often dependent on the producer and the director. Ashwini Dutt’s legacy commands that respect—both for Mahanati and Kalki 2898 AD. One can’t deny the fact that stars rallied together to support Baahubali because it was SS Rajamouli and the producer was Shobu Yarlagadda.” (K Raghavendra Rao’s son-in-law)

One needs to acknowledge that Mohan Babu’s ‘connections’ over the years have been quite crucial in roping in a deluge of stars for his son Vishnu Manchu’s upcoming magnum opus, Kannappa. Besides Prabhas, the film’s lineup comprises stars across industries—Akshay Kumar, Sarathkumar, Kajal Aggarwal, and Mohanlal—in special cameos.

As a marked departure from projects where the presence of male stars gave it a ‘multistarrer’ label, the runaway success of the 2024 heist comedy, Crew (among the top 5 grossers in Hindi this year)—headlined by three leading actresses Tabu, Kareena Kapoor, Kriti Sanon—proves that there’s a void waiting to be tapped in the market with women-led films.

Did Prabhas slash his fee for ‘Kalki 2898 AD’ to ₹80 crore but choose to take a share in the profits?

Multistarrers, here to stay

A major ‘event’ film 2024 can look forward to is Suriya’s Kanguva, marking Bobby Deol’s entry into Tamil cinema, besides Disha Patani. All arrangements are in place to release the fantasy saga in over 10 languages, this October. Vettaiyan, the Rajinikanth starrer directed by TJ Gnanavel, has the superstar reuniting with Amitabh Bachchan, after three decades.

Rajinikanth and Amitabh Bachchan on Vettaiyan sets

Rajinikanth and Amitabh Bachchan. (X)

From Fahadh Faasil to Rana Daggubati to Manju Warrier, Vettaiyan also boasts a host of crowd-pullers. Ajay Devgn, Arjun Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, and Akshay Kumar look set to pack a punch with the cop saga, Singham Again (2024). Jr NTR, who’s joining hands with Saif Ali Khan and Janhvi Kapoor for Devara: Part 1 (2024), is gearing up to make his Hindi debut alongside Hrithik Roshan in War 2 in 2025.

While stars may find excuses to say no to ‘multistarrers’ and blame it on fan wars and insecurities, there’s every reason to rise above them and give film buffs an additional impetus to hit theatres. As how the avid film buff, screenwriter Raja Satish mentions, “As a viewer, I’m more excited to watch multi-hero films, it puts more worth to my ticket.”

(Edited by S Subhakeerthana)

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