His smile reminds you of a certain boy next door. His conversations echo strange familiarity, perhaps that of a long lost friend who had just got back in touch. His personality appeals to all age groups, with an infectious charisma that speaks volumes of his making into a man that he had eventually become.
Nani, the boy who entered the Telugu Film Industry with sheer love for cinema, slowly grew into a fine starry actor with a mission to entertain his audience. From technician to a viable commercial hero, Nani’s travel with Tollywood is nothing short of a fairy tale. Often called as Mr Dependable by the film makers, he is one of the top league actors in the industry today.
Nani holds a great connect with the film goers, who tend to quickly identify him to be one of their very own. A romantic young man chasing his love, he is right on spot. Innocent lover who relives one more time as an angry housefly to avenge, people welcome him with open hearts on the silver screen. Off late, he is also one fine angry mean material.
Celebrating his success and life with numerous big and small projects, Nani speaks to Deepa Balasubramanian, flickering some fond personal memories and reliving his childhood with Andhra back in the day.
You had quite a journey. Starting from playing the roles of a boy next door to romance and later to action and message oriented films. How was the ride as such?
To think of it now, I was not very sure about what was ahead while shooting for Ashta Chamma. I was trying out something that came my way. Three films down the line and then came the realization that this was what I really wanted to do. Now, I’m adept at delivering more challenging roles. But then, there was only one simple plan. I didn’t want to be the best, but definitely not too bad. Now I want to delve into more characters. I see a huge difference from where I had started.
You are currently a hot favourite. A dependable actor who can carry off any project for film makers. How does it feel to carry this responsibility on your shoulders?
(Smiles) Thankfully this never really affected me. Acting is more of a passion to me than a strain or a burden. I have these normal boy next door looks. Due to that, the affix is much more homely. Often, when it comes to me, people feel they are talking to somebody they really know. I’m also quite comfortable with myself as I’m not from this industry. While working as an assistant director, I have seen people coming to watch actors perform in shootings. Closely observed how crowds look at actors.
There was this one incident during a shoot when this nice old lady took me aside from the sets by my arm and asked me as to why there was so much gap in my films. I was amazed at the comfort levels she shared. That makes a huge difference. I feel very happy when everyday folks say such warm things to me.
Stress usually comes when I have to think beyond. I don’t. I just go with the flow and enjoy.
You are also the most admired hero among women. Is it too much of an ordeal to bear all this attention?
Am I? (Laughs). It feels good but I never gave it a lot of thought.
Share some of your favourite childhood memories with us
Parents are from Krishna District. We used to spend most of our summer vacations at our grandparents’. My grandfather used to get transferred often and we spent a decent time during the summers at Ramachandrapuram, Samalkota and Nandigama. It was a perfect vacation when it comes to villages and towns in Andhra – people, mangoes, food prepared by grandma. She is the best cook ever. I have this nostalgic connect with the people of Andhra.
People call Vizag the city of destiny. And this is so true in your case. You found your soul mate here. Tell us something about your wife, Anjana.
Anjana is very fun loving. Does not take anything seriously. She laughs a lot, and I love that part about her. She is the one source who gives a lot of positive energy to me.
You kept saying that you had a sort of inner revelation while shooting for Yevade Subramanyam. Can you tell us your innermost experience while climbing the Himalayas?
Even before we began filming, everyone around said that when we would come back things will look different. I did not believe that at first. Imagine this – mighty hills, 40 days, no communication, no cell phone access, no network signals, no electricity. We did not have the basic everyday needs as per today’s standards. Everything ran on solar powers. On the other hand, I’m so used to my phone, my car etc. We depend on these material things. Most of us can’t do without phones. We are hooked to the TV and still bored at the end of the day.
An escapade to the Himalayas and we did not have anything to do but only people to talk to. Previously, I used to think that people during the olden days were unlucky. After this trip, I realized that I was so wrong. We are the ones actually losing out on real life musings. We had so much fun there, cut away from the rest of the world. We practically became children, playing games like Anthakshari. We were like a family. We came back, things were back to normal. The routine conundrum began. One things is for sure, I use my cell phone a lot lesser now!
How has cinema influenced you while growing up? Any particular films or actors who left that amazing impact on your mind?
I was always a shy kid. Till I started out as an actor, there were not many instances where I paid attention to girls. When people say I look good, I always credit that praise to the character played on screen. I used to see big stars and their families and never thought it was possible for me. So I joined as an assistant director.
Gladiator, the Hollywood flick, left a significant impression on me. Especially that whole Roman setting and the intense character Maximus played by Russell Crowe. I would be lucky if I get to do something like that. Back home, Big B’s Agneepath also had a great influence on me.
I’m a hard core fan of Mani Ratnam Sir. Used to watch all his films and had all the DVDs. I would constantly explain folks why a particular scene was shot in that style.
What is your take on the changing face of commercial cinema in Telugu? Has the audience evolved or has the film making changed patterns?
Let us take an example of a growing restaurant business. To become successful and appeal to the food lovers, the place needs time to grow. Same goes with films. Film makers need to give public time to ingest any new pattern. When someone makes a gripping film that connects with people and has great content, it surely takes off. This is irrespective of the budget or the cast. In the name of experimentation, do not make bad films. That idea is never viable as your audience is well aware of what makes for entertaining and meaningful content.
What is your take on few big ticket films failing to make an impact on Box Office despite big stars? Keeping the mass elements and content as common parameters, why is there a sudden shift in the acceptance levels from the public?
People love to see a good formula film. That’s always been there. The problem here is that quantity is overstepping on entertainment. Too many mass masala projects with same storyline and same pattern have stopped working with the crowd.
You now stand on a fine balance between mid-budgets and the big tickets. How is it to endure this pushing responsibility?
I love to pick what interests in terms of my role and the film, irrespective of the budgets. I don’t really bother about other Nitty gritties. The character and the story has to appeal to me.
I have watched films with the masses. I know the pulse and aspirations of a common film goer.
What is your take on life as such? What does success mean to you?
I take life as it comes and keep working. I love to be a part of the ride always. Every detail of a film shoot. I love the smell of the DTS mixing and the studio equipment.
Close friends in the industry
Naresh Allari, Sarva and Rana. We catch up a lot.
Places you love
Love travelling all over the world. Himalayas was something else!!
Watching movies, listening to music, especially those composed by Maestro Ilayaraja
Message to the upcoming young heroes
Keep working hard. It’s a tough place.