Ravi Teja is Disco Raja: Comic, Manic, Superstar
Imagine a cross between Johnny Lever, Govinda and Akshay Kumar. Throw in a bit of manic energy. And voila! You get Ravi Teja!
Here’s how he manages to be a crazy on-screen character who’s great at comedy, and is somehow also a mainstream superstar hero. Ravi Shankar Raju Bhupatiraju started off by playing 'bit' roles as villainous characters in Karthavyam, Criminal and Ninne Pelladatha between 1990-96.
Here's his story arc in these films: Ravi Teja enters the scene. Ravi Teja teases heroine. Hero bashes up Ravi Teja. End Scene.
He got his first non-bit-role break in Sindhooram (1997), and went on to deliver a couple of hits. And then all of a sudden, he became the Idiot!
Idiot (2002) was where Ravi Teja, as we know him today, was born. Literally every dialogue and every scene of his was both idiotic and unexpected. In fact, the dialogues were so outlandish that no one other than Puri Jagannadh could have written and directed them. And no one other than Ravi Teja would have been able to carry them off the way he did.
Chanti is here.
Who the hell is he?
I am. I'm here.
In any other situation with any other actor, the guy asking 'who the hell is he?' would be holding the insult. But simply because it's Ravi Teja, it manages to crack you up. Also, the character falls in love with the heroine, because she donated blood while he was admitted at the hospital. And that's how the movie begins.
Your takeaway from the movie isn't the weirdness. It's Ravi Teja.
He created a trend that other heroes in Telugu cinema have tried to copy. And which has trickled into Bollywood through remakes like Wanted, Kick and Rowdy Rathore.
There's a fascinating subculture of Telugu films dubbed in Hindi, that's flourishing in parts of Maharashtra and UP, and has become viral on television screens north of the Vindhyas. It started before Netflix, Hotstar and other OTT platforms took over. Today, it has taken over OTT as well.
And at the forefront of these dubbed films is Ravi Teja and his films.
Kick was re-made in Hindi, as Kick. Veera was dubbed into The Great Veera. Raja the Great was dubbed with the same name, Touch Chesu Chudu was dubbed into Power Unlimited 2. And then came Vikramarkudu, that was remade into Rowdy Rathore.
Vikramaarkudu was directed by S S Rajamouli (of Baahubali fame), and the remake (Rowdy Rathore) was an almost scene-by-scene copy by Prabhu Deva. The remake is landmark because it turned into one of the biggest grossers of Hindi cinema, making over Rs 200 crores worldwide.
In real life, both these personalities - the joker and the melodramatist - belong to Ravi Teja. Truth truly is stranger than fiction!
Ravi Teja's body language is, to put it bluntly, reckless. Even when playing the hero, there's no effort to tuck in the elbows or puff out the chest. His swagger isn't made up for the scene, it's just the way he walks into the set. He chews up words while delivering monologues, and occasionally slurs even in the dubbing. His 'look' in every film is the same; short mustache, hair that falls to the eyebrows, two day old stubble and cat eyes. There's nothing remotely appealing about any of this.
And that is exactly why Ravi Teja works.
Ravi Teja is undeniably the Mass Maharaja of Telugu cinema (and the dubbed derivatives consumed in Maharashtra and Hindi hinterlands). And he wears this cheesy title well.