For a long time, only Hindi cinema was projected as Indian cinema and it was "very humiliating" for him as an actor from the Telugu film industry, renowned actor Chiranjeevi has said, while crediting films such as Baahubali and RRR with breaking language barriers and making them proud.
The superstar's emotional address, delivered at a pre-release event of his latest film Acharya, comes amid a pushback from South India against alleged attempts to impose Hindi as a national language.
In a video shared by Brut India, Mr Chiranjeevi is heard recounting his trip to Delhi to receive a national award for Rudraveena (1988).
While the language debate goes on, Telugu star Chiranjeevi recalled the time South Indian cinema was sidelined at an awards function... pic.twitter.com/sMALFJTldl— Brut India (@BrutIndia) May 1, 2022
"In 1988, I made a movie called Rudraveena with Naga Babu. It won the Nargis Dutt Award For Best Feature Film On National Integration. We went to Delhi to receive the award," he said in Telugu.
He added that the awards ceremony was in the evening and there was high tea before that.
"We were having tea in the hall. The walls around us were decorated with posters showcasing the grandeur of Indian cinema. There were some brief notes. There were photos of Prithiviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra and so on. They showed their pictures, they described them beautifully. They praised various directors and heroines."
"And we thought they would also talk about South Indian cinema in such great detail. But they just showed a still image of MGR (M G Ramachandran) and Jayalalithaa dancing. They described it as South Indian cinema. And Prem Nazir, who played a hero in a record number of films in the history of Indian cinema, they showed his picture and that was it," Mr Chiranjeevi said, his eyes welling up.
The actor then went on to list the big names from South Indian cinema that did not find a mention at all - Dr Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan, N T Rama Rao, A Nageswara Rao and Sivaji Ganesan.
"They were demigods to us. And there were no pictures of them. For me, it was humiliating. I felt very sad. They projected only Hindi cinema as Indian cinema. And they dismissed other industries as regional language cinema. They didn't even bother to acknowledge its contribution," he said.
Mr Chiranjeevi went on to say that films such as Baahubali 1, Baahubali 2 and RRR have made Telugu cinema proud.
S S Rajamouli, director of the films standing beside him, the renowned actor said, "After so many years, today I feel so proud, I can thump my chest. Our industry proved that we are no longer a regional cinema.Telugu cinema has removed these barriers and become part of Indian cinema. Everyone is amazed at our success. We have overcome the discrimination. Thanks to Baahubali, Baahubali 2 and RRR," he said.
Mr Chiranjeevi's emotional speech came days after a heated exchange between Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn and Kannada actor Sudeep Sanjeev.
While Mr Sudeep pointed out that Hindi is not our national language, Mr Devgn questioned why movies in south Indian languages are dubbed in Hindi.
The exchange sparked a debate on social media, with politicians joining in too. Mr Devgn, a section of Karnataka leaders alleged, had "blabbered as a BJP mouthpiece".
The pushback to Hindi is not restricted to cinema though. Last month, following Home Minister Amit Shah's pitch to propagate Hindi, several south leaders had warned that any attempt to impose Hindi would backfire.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin, his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan and Telangana minister K T Rama Rao were among the leaders who spoke out against Mr Shah's remarks and stressed that unity in diversity is India's strength.