“The emotion might be familiar but the way the story has been written and narrated will make it special for the audience,” says actor Nani, when we catch up for an interview in Hyderabad, days before the release of his new Telugu film, Hi Nanna. The film is a relationship drama in which he plays a single father who has a past and falls in love. Directed by newcomer Shouryuv, Hi Nanna features Mrunal Thakur, child actor Kiara, Jayaram, Priyadarshi Pulikonda, Angad Bedi and Shruti Haasan, and will be released in five languages on December 7.
Edited excerpts from the conversation:
Your previous film Dasara was your first one to cross the ₹100 crore mark at the box office and you shared your happiness through a poster on social media. What did that success mean to you?
I usually do not discuss box office numbers with the media or on stage while promoting my films. I was happy for Srikanth (debut director Srikanth Odela) and the team. Srikanth kept saying that he wanted the film to make it big. He is an innocent guy hailing from Godavarikhani and new to the industry. He was even hesitant to pick up calls from big stars post release since he was unsure how to talk to them.
Prior to the release, some people assumed we are making a film on the lines of Pushpa; others remarked that I was trying to do a mass film. I have done action films in the past, MCA (Middle Class Abbayi) for example, and they have become hits. Dasara’s success made me happy since the film required thrice the effort of a regular film. We filmed near the coal mines at Godavarikhani and some unit members fell ill. The success was a validation of all our efforts.
Looking back at the film objectively, do you think certain aspects could have been better?
That happens with every film when we look back after a year or two. As cinema keeps evolving, we find flaws. Ala Modalaindi was considered a new-age film when it was released. Now it might look old. Even (in the case of) some of the films for which I have received appreciation for my performance, I know I could have done much better.
Among your films, which ones do you think have aged better?
To date, people tell me they love Pilla Zamindar. Eega, Yevade Subrahmanyam, Ninnu Kori, Bhale Bhale Magadivoy, Shyam Singha Roy, and Krishnagadi Veera Prema Gaadha are other examples. I think Jersey will be loved even after 15 to 20 years. A few years down the line, people are likely to appreciate Ante Sundaraniki even more and not talk about its box office outcome.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that you chose Hi Nanna, a relationship drama, soon after an action film like Dasara. But have people advised you to choose bigger films to widen your market?
I did not want the success of Dasara to dictate what I pick up next. I liked the story of Hi Nanna and said yes. I believe in playing my age. Maybe a few years later I won’t get this kind of a story where I play a father to a six-year-old girl (his real life son is also of the same age). I can always do action films later.
I also don’t want undue box office pressure. I told my producers (Vyra Entertainments) not to oversell Hi Nanna. If this film appeals to its target audience and makes a profit, that is enough. I am not in the race to aim bigger at the cost of those involved in the business.
But Hi Nanna, releasing in five languages, is aiming for a higher reach. Isn’t it?
Henceforth, my films will be released in four or five languages. This is not for the pan-India tag. We are all consuming films in different languages. I am eager to watch Kaathal – The Core (Malayalam). Recently when I visited Kochi, at the airport a few people came up and told me in Malayalam that they have watched some of my films.
When we make an effort to dub a film in different languages, ensuring good quality dialogues, lyrics and dubbing artistes for each language, there will be a quality film for anyone who wants to watch it in their language. Whether a film gets a big or a limited release depends on its genre. But the effort is to ensure qualitative dubbing in each language for the archives.
How different is the father character you portrayed in Jersey from Hi Nanna, apart from the unconditional love towards the son/daughter?
In Jersey, my character Arjun was a failed cricketer. He was a guy with insecurities, not a hero. Hi Nanna is a different world altogether and my character, Viraj, is an achiever. He has a past, there is an issue that will be revealed in the film and we will see him as a single father who falls in love. I would love to listen to the different perspectives about the film post release.
How would you react to those who were quick to compare Hi Nanna to the Tamil films Dada and Nitham Oru Vaanam, or even Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, going by the promos?
I watched Dada to see if our film has anything similar. Dada is a beautiful film, but ours is a very different film. As for the tool of Mrunal asking the child to imagine herself in the flashback that Viraj is narrating, such a technique has been used in a few English films as well. I watched Hi Nanna recently after all the work was completed and I can confidently say that we will be witnessing something new in terms of structure in Telugu cinema.
Emotional portrayals are highlighted as one of your strengths. What is your process? Do you switch on and off or dwell in that zone for a while before going to the sets?
I read the script much ahead, so I know the scenes. I do not overthink because it can become mechanical when I enact a scene. The way we cry about something that happens today will be different from how we react a few days later, isn’t it? About 15-20 minutes before a scene, I read the scene again and deliver. I can switch on and off.
What was interesting for all of us was to see how Kiara prepares. The child cannot cry at the drop of a hat, so her mother would prepare her ahead. Kiara would look at photos of her older sister, whom she misses while travelling, and start crying. She would cry even before the director called for action. Everyone on the sets would be stressed about capturing the emotions in time. The child’s performance is very believable, not exaggerated.
Director Shouryuv stated that the two of you arrived at a synergy on day one about the pitch of the performance. Is the process different with each director?
We have to crack the character on day one so that the scenes shot on that day do not look odd in the film. Achieving a comfort level with a director might take time. As the days go by or during the next schedule, we would understand each other’s methods better.
Do script reading sessions or workshops make it easier?
A few directors, like Mohanakrishna Indraganti, believe in script reading sessions and I enjoy that process. Not all directors do that. It involves planning and getting actors’ dates in advance. I adapt to the requirements.
Is your next film, Saripoda Sanivaram directed by Vivek Athreya, a superhero story? What are the other films lined up?
It is an action film with an interesting vigilante angle, I cannot reveal more. Four other films are in the works but it will be a month or so before we finalise and announce the next one.
In this age of increased social media noise, how do you not let it influence your work?
It is impossible to block out the noise. But we have to remain focussed on what we want to do. We have to remember that the entire social media is a small percentage of the audience that actually watches our films. People can praise or criticise on these platforms but we have to look at the bigger picture and work with clarity. That is the only way forward.