'Liger' is forgotten, time for Vijay Deverakonda to move on

The film's failure affected Deverakonda profoundly, as he severed all relations with director Puri Jagannadh

Vijay Deverakonda (photo: Getty Images)
Vijay Deverakonda (photo: Getty Images)

Subhash K Jha

Liger was an embarrassment for all, the perpetrators and the spectators alike.

A very close friend of the director Puri Jagannadh told me, "When he showed me the film, I was aghast. Where is the climax? Where is the fight between Vijay and Mike Tyson? Puri told me Tyson didn't want to fight. So they scrapped the climax. Everyone associated with the film knew it was going to be a disaster. Karan Johar, who was a co-producer, said he couldn't connect with the film's sensibility when he first saw it."

The film's failure affected Deverakonda profoundly. He overnight severed all relations with Jagannadh and withdrew into a shell.

It's now time for Vijay Deverakonda to move on.

When I saw Deverakonda in the Telugu film Arjun Reddy, I knew I was looking at a very special actor. Vijay was fresh, original and angry. He was a rebel. I don’t know about the cause. But there was definitely a lot of applause, and brickbats too. A noisy section of the audience found Arjun Reddy misogynistic and toxic, which he was!

“But isn’t cinema supposed to show us the mirror of social reality, and doesn’t the mirror also show us the ugly side of life? As an actor who likes challenges, I’d like to explore the dark side of human behaviour,” Deverakonda argued angrily.

Arjun Reddy exhausted Vijay. He had to be constantly probing into the darkest areas of his consciousness, digging out feelings and tapping into emotions he had never touched within himself. Unlike Arjun, Vijay is not demonstrative about his feelings. In fact, he has kept it all locked up within himself all his life. That's why Arjun Reddy was very hard for Vijay. The character was constantly deep-diving into grey and dark areas of his subconscious. If not for the movie, Vijay would have never gone there.

Arjun Reddy was shades darker than anything we had seen in Indian cinema. It shook not only Telugu cinema; it also made Bollywood a little insecure about the future of screen heroism.

Deverakonda admits Arjun was a scumbag who treated his loved ones with scant respect. "And he needed to be slapped hard. Arjun was not a role model; who said he was? I didn't! We knew we were doing something never done before, at least not in Telugu cinema. We were sure we'd make some kind of an impact. It went much further than we expected."

After Arjun Reddy, Vijay politely refused to do the Hindi remake. He had been there, done that. Vijay wanted to explore other characters, and play people who are less socially unacceptable than even Arjun Reddy.

When I saw Deverakonda in Dear Comrade, I thought he was still very angry, this time about the sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

"Almost all my female friends have at one time or the other been pinched, groped or at least touched inappropriately. This makes me very, very angry. Why can't we create a healthy, friendly, comfortable work atmosphere for women and, yes, men too?" Deverakonda asks.

Here was an actor who wasn't in this for the money and fame alone. Deverakonda wanted to make a difference. His fan following was swelling in waves, as though in high tide. Women swooned over him. Men wanted to dress like him. And the kids loved him the most. Deverakonda’s fans are affectionately called ‘rowdies’. He loves them and gifts them with tokens of his appreciation.

I remember for one birthday, Deverakonda was on the streets distributing free ice cream to underprivileged kids.

Whatever he did, made news.

Through the superstardom that hit him with meteoric celerity, Deverakonda remained unchanged; at least he was and he still remains the same with me. Unlike some actors who change every Friday, this guy is rock-solid in his allegiances and beliefs.

In 2018, when he had three releases, I asked Deverakonda if that was not one too many. He told me it was okay to not have releases when they were not worth it.

Clearly, this was a success story that could not be contained in the Telugu film industry alone. It was time for Deverakonda to fly.

And what better pilot than Karan Johar? Johar saw Deverakonda in Dear Comrade. He bought the Hindi rights to the film and planned to launch Deverakonda as the biggest star since Shah Rukh Khan.

But Deverakonda preferred something original in Hindi.

That’s how Liger was born.

It is dead and gone. Now, it's time to move on.

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