Laal Singh Chaddha: Naga Chaitanya deserved a better launch vehicle for his first Bollywood film

Chay is smart and talented. Why did he accept a role that reinforces stereotypes about South Indians in Bollywood films?

ByChintan Girish Modi

Published Aug 25, 2022 | 9:30 AMUpdatedDec 31, 2022 | 3:23 PM

Naga Chaitanya with Aaamir Khan, Kiran Rao, and Laal Singh Chaddha director Advait Chandan

I had made up my mind to watch director Advait Chandan’s Hindi film Laal Singh Chaddha on the big screen despite the boycott calls circulating on social media. The reason behind this was neither Aamir Khan nor Kareena Kapoor Khan but Naga Chaitanya aka Chay Akkineni. He is smart, talented, and an actor who shines whenever he gets the right script and direction.

Since the time I heard that this star from the Telugu film industry was going to make his Bollywood debut, I was keen to go watch him. He is utterly charming as a romantic lead and an action hero, and can easily give all the Hindi film heart-throbs a run for their money.

South Indian characters used for comic relief in Bollywood

After watching the film, I began to wonder why Naga Chaitanya settled for a role that does little justice to his talent or stature, and ends up reinforcing stereotypes about South Indians in Bollywood films.

In Chandan’s official Hindi remake of Robert Zemeckis’s Hollywood film Forrest Gump (1994), Naga Chaitanya plays a character named Balaraju Bodi who hails from Bodipalayam in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. This man is gorgeous and endearing, thanks to Naga Chaitanya’s screen presence, but he seems more like a caricature than a person. He might even remind you of Chatur Ramalingam, the character played by Omi Vaidya in Rajkumar Hirani’s film 3 Idiots (2009). Bollywood needs to stop using South Indian characters for comic relief.

Impressive acting skills

Naga Chaitanya with Aamir

Naga Chaitanya has spoken about being keen to work with Aamir Khan (Twitter/Chaitanya Akkineni)

Having seen Naga Chaitanya’s most recent work in Sekhar Kammula’s film Love Story (2021) and Vikram Kumar’s film Thank You (2022) — both of which were made in Telugu — I was impressed by his acting skills. Here is a man who is not banking only on his physique and his smile. He is extremely good at his job. He can make you laugh and weep as he emotes on screen. I am surprised that Naga Chaitanya did not wait for a better launch vehicle to enter Bollywood.

In promotional interviews leading up to the theatrical release of Laal Singh Chaddha, Naga Chaitanya spoke about being keen to work with Aamir Khan, an actor that he has grown up watching. This seems like a plausible reason to sign a film but Naga Chaitanya is not a rank newcomer. He has a large body of work including Gautham Menon’s Ye Maaya Chesave (2010), Vikram Kumar’s Manam (2014), Chandoo Mondeti’s Premam (2016), Shiva Nirvana’s Majili (2019), KS Ravindra’s Venky Mama (2019) and Kalyan Krishna’s Kurasala’s Bangarraju (2022).

Laal Singh Chaddha not end of the road for Naga Chaitanya

Naga Chaitanya admitted to being roped in for Laal Singh Chaddha after three-fourths of the film had been shot. This means that he must have felt excited about the project despite the lack of screen time. It would be hard for anyone in the audience to forget army officer and aspiring entrepreneur Balaraju, and his friendship with Laal (played by Aamir Khan), once they walk out of the cinema hall but the sad part is that we see very little of Naga Chaitanya in the film. He gets killed in a war, and is mostly evoked through Laal’s memories. We see photographs of him, we meet his family, and we see a memorial erected to honour his sacrifice for the nation.

Laal Singh Chaddha has not tasted the kind of commercial success that its makers had hoped for but this is certainly not the end of the road for Naga Chaitanya when it comes to Hindi films.

While the rumour mills continue to insist that he is spending more time in Mumbai to be with his new partner after the divorce with Samantha Ruth Prabhu, he seems quite serious about work too. He has already spoken about a meeting with filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Is a film on the cards? There are no answers lurking around, so we will all have to wait and watch.