Nagarjuna is one of the few stars in tinsel town who prefers to stay grounded. His candor is refreshing. He just had one of the biggest hits of the season ‘Soggade Chinni Nayana’ – Probably that has added to the air of contentment around him.At 56, Nag could give stars half his age a run for their money and he does! The superstar talks about his recent festive release, sons Naga Chaitanya and Akhil, early days in showbiz and the undying popularity.Always an actor who has belonged to his own league, Nagarjuna famously made a conscious decision to do novel films only and nothing else sometime before ‘Rajanna’ happened.
In an industry where heroes make sensational statements for the sake of it, without much forethought, Nag is one rare star who meant it every bit. From ‘Manam’ to ‘Soggade Chinni Nayana’ (SCN) and ‘Oopiri’, it has been the story of an actor in his mid-50s keen on exploring the unexplored. Film after film, he has been learning and becoming more intuitive. In fact, he triggered the design of the character of Ramu in SCN when he took inspiration from a contestant on Meelo Evaru Koteeswarudu, the game show he hosts.Even before the film’s release, he was confident that he would add more theatres in the second week. And boy, it has turned out to be the case.
“The two contrasting characters of Bangarraju and Ramu are entertaining the audience,” says Nag, who has charmed his way in the dhoti-clad role in the family drama. But which of the two characters does he want his sons to emulate? “Akhil behaves like Ramu in his mother’s presence, but he is like Bangarraju outside. Chai is Bangarraju inside, but he pretends to be like Ramu,” he says in a light-hearted manner. “Leave aside what they are, I want them to be like Ramu in my presence, and I don’t care about what they are like in my absence,” he guffaws.
Nag has become conspicuously open about his personal feelings, of late. As a proud father, he sometimes talks about his emotions quite openly. “I am very happy to see my children praising me. All the compliments I get from other people are one thing, their compliments are quite another.” Not just that, he is ever more jaunty and uninhibited in public. He has been repeating the lines of Bangarraju with all excitement, treating his fans to off-screen magic as well!
Looking back, how does he take stock of the things, the way his career has shaped up? Brutally honest in his assessment, Nag says that he was made to act “like a fool” in film after film until ‘Geethanjali’ happened. “By the time I entered films, Chiranjeevi and Balakrishna were big stars. They had their own style, and I had to emulate them since that was the trend. I was clueless because that was not working for me. I got the feeling that I was holding back while I was acting. My body language is different,” he looks back to his pre-‘Geethanjali’ days. “Things were so bad that in ‘Akhari Poratam’, I was made to play Sridevi’s second fiddle. It was high time I understood my strength and brought in my own style. I’ve realised that it’s wise to allow people to see who I really am,” he analyses. It was Nag’s persistence to do a film with Mani Rathnam (after he watched ‘Mouna Ragam’, he tried to contact the filmmaker) that did wonders for him. Rest, as they say, is history.
Even as his ever-green glamour is going great guns, Akhil’s debut floundered. Did he feel disappointed? “Disappointed is an understatement. I could not recover from the shock for one whole week,” he says. Nag has all the experience and he gives his son the right instructions. “Akhil is not in a hurry now. He is now more experienced after the debacle of his debut film. I told him he has to choose films that suit his sensibilities.”
Experience teaches him that nobody can really tell what clinches the deal for a film. “One can’t explain why a film works or fails. ‘Chandralekha’ was a remake of a hit film and Krishna Vamsi was in full form. Despite all that, it flopped. I don’t understand why it flopped even to this day. It gets very good ratings when it is telecast on television,” he ponders.With his onscreen romantic charm intact, he could recreate the ‘Hello Brother’ chemistry with Ramya Krishnan. “SCN could not have happened without her,” he says, gleefully adding that “all that ‘Hello Brother’ romance has been lapped up by the audience.”
So how do you explain the best looking actor of Tollywood ditching his hot dude image and play a quadriplegic? The king of romance is at the forefront of pushing the envelope and his role in Vamsi Paidipally’s forthcoming multi-starrer ‘Oopiri’ (co-starring Karthi) is yet another example. Nag, for the first time, will be seen as a quadriplegic patient – a paralyzed man confined to a wheel chair.
“My character is totally paralysed in ‘Oopiri’. I can’t move any body part. Even the neck is only half mortar. It was very depressing to play the role. One assistant director was assigned the work of observing only me. He would alert the director even if my finger moved a little
It was very difficult for the actor to do the role because he is used to tapping his hands and feet constantly! Even as this author-backed role (the Telugu-Tamil bilingual is inspired by the French drama ‘The Intouchables’) will be hugely awaited, he is all set to essay the role of Baba Haathi Ramji in K Raghavendra Rao’s next.
Treading a distinct path, Nag is fast proving to be a producer with a brave imagination, an actor who has become more instinctive, a father with a vision for his children, and, finally, a TV superstar of no match in the Telugu States. Well, that makes him a complete package today on both small and silver screen. Keep it coming, Nag! We can’t have enough of you.