From Rajinikanth sparking a major political controversy in Uttar Pradesh to Prabhas delivering the most controversial film of his career, these South celebrities dominated national headlines in 2023.
As the year 2023 draws to a close, here's a recap of the top 10 celebrities who made national headlines for good and bad reasons.
Superstar Rajinikanth continued to rock the global box office even this year. The 73-year-old superstar had hit a rough patch in his career as his last two films (Darbar and Annaatthe) failed both commercially and critically, once again bringing the proverbial question back to the fore — has Rajinikanth's stardom lost its charm? And the answer to this decade-old question, once again, is a resounding no. Rajinikanth's Jailer exceeded the expectations and created a new box office benchmark in the Tamil film industry. In Jailer, Rajinikanth plays a retired cop, who goes on a mission to avenge those who wronged his family. This very familiar story of revenge headlined by Rajinikanth was enough to shatter the box office records of the previous blockbusters. Written and directed by Nelson, the film earned more than Rs 600 crore.
In 2023, Rajinikanth just didn't deliver a successful comeback on the big screen, he also made his presence felt in national politics. After publically ending his long-nurtured political ambitions in 2021, he steered clear of politics for a long time. His recent Himalayan voyage, which he also resumed after a long hiatus, sparked a political storm. As part of his spiritual tour, he joined Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to watch his film Jailer. However, everyone lost their mind when he touched the feet of Yogi Adityanath. Now, he already has at least two more films in the pipeline, including Vettaiyan and Thalaivar 171. There is also Lal Salaam, in which he has played an extended cameo, set to hit the screens in January next year.
Filmmaker SS Rajamouli once again elevated the stature of Indian cinema globally with his film RRR. The 2022 film, starring Telugu superstars Jr NTR and Ram Charan, became his second consecutive film to cross more than Rs 1000 crore in worldwide ticket sales. After the massive commercial and critical success, when he was just getting ready to move on to his next project, something unexpected happened. RRR made its streaming debut on Netflix and found a new lease of life. Thanks to the efforts of a handful of dedicated fans, RRR became a global sensation and Naatu Naatu song captured the imagination of people around the world. And all the hype, fan following and unconditional love towards the film culminated with a historic Oscar win in 2023. RRR became the first Indian production to bag an Oscar in the best original song category . Composer MM Keeravani and lyricist Chandrabose were honoured with the coveted trophies at the 95th Academy Awards.
Is Thalapathy Vijay the next Superstar of Tamil cinema? — remained one of the highly debated topics even in 2023. As usual, the question polarised the fans of Tamil cinema. While one side declared him as the numero uno box office magnet of Tamil cinema, the other side vehemently maintained - there is only one Superstar and that's Rajinikanth. The intensity of the debate intensified to a degree that Rajinikanth and Vijay were forced to address this controversy during their respective film events.
"There is only one Puratchi Kalaignar and Captain (Vijayakanth), only one Ulaganayagan (Kamal Haasan), only one Superstar (Rajinikanth), and in the same way, there is only one Thala (Ajith Kumar)," Vijay said at the success meet of Leo. However, he also described himself as the heir apparent to Rajinikanth in Tamil cinema .
Vijay's confidence in his stardom was solidified by the massive success of Leo, which outearned Rajinikanth's Jailer globally. The film raked in more than Rs 620 crore, almost doubling the lifetime collections of Vijay's previous blockbusters.
Vijay continued to remain in the news throughout the year, thanks to the unprecedented pre-release hype created by Leo. The film dominated the new cycle in the lead-up to its release and remained the subject of several controversies even after its release. At the Leo success meet, Vijay also dropped major hints about his impending political debut. He's following in the footsteps of Rajinikanth, alright.
Kannada superstar Yash became a household name following the blockbuster success of his film KGF: Chapter 2 in 2022. And the one question that kept his fans up all night throughout 2023 is when will Yash announce his next film? #Yash19 became a top trend across social media, but Yash remained unfazed as he took his own sweet time to zero in on his next project and announce it on his own timeline without succumbing to popular pressure. Yash remained in the news by mainly staying away from the spotlight.
Yash finally surprised his fans by announcing the project, which has been titled Toxic . What's surprising about the project you may ask? Instead of seeking to work with one of the hot-shot male directors in India with proficiency in making mass films, he opted for critically acclaimed female director Geetu Mohandas. Unlike Prashanth Neel or SS Rajamouli, Geetu is not known for mainstream blockbusters. She has so far made humble but highbrow films aimed at satisfying film festival crowds. Yash unconventional choice at the height of his career shows his willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of his stardom, instead of surrendering to it. However, fans will have to wait till 2025 to watch it on the big screen.
Kamal Haasan didn't have any releases this year. Apart from a minor voice cameo in Leo, he steered clear of the big screen. However, we never felt his absence from pop culture, thanks to the most popular Tamil reality TV show Bigg Boss Tamil. Kamal has been the face of the show since its inception in 2017. And he has been using this platform to amplify his political messaging in not-so-subtle ways. However, in the seventh season of the show, Kamal courted several controversies by making statements that seemed far removed from the changing realities of today.
The biggest controversy surrounding Kamal's anchoring of Bigg Boss Tamil season 7 was the comments he made in connection with a story of sexual harassment experienced by one of the contestants. Actor Vichithra during one of the episodes shared the ordeal she faced on the sets of a Telugu film in the 90s. She said that she was emotionally and even physically attacked during the course of filming when she rejected the advances of a leading star. Kamal appreciated her for sharing her story in a "dignified" way and not naming people who tormented her and forced her to give up on her career in movies. Kamal's comments caused a massive outrage as many deemed it was detrimental to the progress made by global movements like the #MeToo campaign that encouraged women to speak out, and name and shame men who threatened their safety in the workplace.
Allu Arjun added a new feather to his highly successful acting career by becoming the first Telugu actor to bag the National Award for Best Actor. His role in Pushpa: The Rise didn't just make him a national sensation and spread his popularity in every nook and cranny of the country but also helped him one of the coveted film awards. In Pushpa, Allu Arjun plays the titular role of a low-ranking smuggler who quickly rises through the ranks of a crime syndicate on the strength of his sheer audacity to take on rivals above his pay grade. Written and directed by Sukumar, the follow-up film titled Pushpa 2: The Rule is due in cinemas next year.
The year 2023 was a mixed bag for Telugu superstar Prabhas' career. His highly-anticipated film Adipurush faced a massive backlash and also snowballed into a major political controversy following its release in June this year. Written and directed by Om Raut, Adipurush was the big-screen adaptation of the Indian epic Ramayana. The wave of anticipation turned against the film following the release of the first teaser. Many were shocked by the subpar special effects, sparking a nationwide outrage. And the backlash only grew more powerful following the film's release. There was a massive public outcry against Adipurush for being an unworthy adaptation of Ramayana.
However, Prabhas found some comfort in the popularity of his upcoming film Project K, which has been officially titled Kalki 2898 AD. The mega-budget science-fiction made headlines for all the right reasons including for its stellar star cast, including Kamal Haasan, Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone. It also became the first Indian film to feature at San Diego Comic-Con, where filmmakers unveiled the film's official title and teaser.
Prabhas is also all set to end the year on a very strong note as his latest film Salaar is set to take a massive opening at the global box office.
Rashmika Mandanna faced a startling surprise when a deepfake video featuring her circulated on the internet. In this video, her face was seamlessly superimposed on British-Indian influencer Zara Patel, creating an incredibly realistic appearance. The video's authenticity raised significant concerns nationwide, leading to discussions about the potential misuse of such technology and its risks, particularly for unsuspecting individuals, especially young girls. Many emphasized the alarming possibility of deepfakes being employed for blackmail purposes, emphasizing the critical need for widespread awareness of this issue. In response to the incident, the Central government acted swiftly, issuing an advisory to social media platforms, outlining the legal provisions addressing deepfakes and the potential penalties for their creation and circulation.
In 2023, Trisha continued to cement her position in the southern film industry with blockbusters like Ponniyin Selvan 2 and Leo. She even scored a big hit with her solo film The Road. These back-to-back commercial hits kept her in the spotlight throughout the year. However, she made national headlines when she lashed out at Mansoor Ali Khan, who made some distasteful comments about her during a press conference. Under the guise of a joke, Mansoor Ali Khan rued that he didn't get to act in a rape scene with Trisha in Leo. And Trisha's issued a strong statement, vowing that she would never share screen space with him in her life ever again. The who's who of the Indian film fraternity expressed solidarity with Trisha, sparking significant media scrutiny and discussions on the fine line between light-hearted comedy and vulgarity.
ALSO READ: Mansoor Ali Khan, The Ignorant — Opinion
The Oscar-winning composer, AR Rahman, took the spotlight in 2023, not just for his musical achievements but for a broader range of reasons. Departing from his earlier reserved demeanour, Rahman has become more outspoken, addressing social and political issues and showcasing a talent for witty social media interactions. Earlier this year, he responded cleverly to a sly remark from actor Kasthuri about his wife's language proficiency, turning it into a viral moment with the Tamil phrase "Kadhalukku Mariyadhai," meaning "respect for love."
Rahman also made headlines for the wrong reasons when his Chennai music concert, Marakkuma Nenjam, turned into a chaotic and traumatic event for fans. Organizational mismanagement led to overcrowding, stampede-like situations, and reports of misconduct towards female attendees. Many valid ticket holders were denied entry, escalating the situation. The incident garnered national attention and held Rahman accountable for fan safety. In response, Rahman pledged to transform Chennai into an "arts capital" and lead efforts to enhance infrastructure for smoother musical event experiences.