Telugu actor Nani concedes that he misses the claps, the laughter and the spontaneous reactions among his fans as they watch his film in a darkened cinema hall, but he’s pragmatic enough to realise that every actor has to make peace with the “new reality”.
His latest Telugu-language film ‘Tuck Jagadish’ — which premiered on Amazon Prime Video on September 10 — skipped the traditional theatrical route opting for a web premiere, and it’s his second consecutive film in his career to release on an OTT platform.
But the self-made actor is intent on looking at the bright side. The global pandemic has forced filmmakers and actors to release their film directly on an OTT platform as cinemas in several states in India are still not fully functional with many shying away from heading out to the cinemas.
“Everyone who watches Telugu films can enjoy this film on Amazon Prime Video as it reaches over 240 countries. Even those who don’t understand Telugu can enjoy this film with subtitles ... But watching a film on the big screen is a different feeling altogether,” said Nani.
In the rural entertainer ‘Tuck Jagadish’, he plays the titular role of a young man who takes on an evil village goon and becomes the voice to the voiceless. It’s a family entertainer which explores the themes of good vs evil and heroes vs villains.
“It’s a perfect film which can be viewed and enjoyed with your whole family,” said Nani over a zoom video call.
Nani, who began his career as an assistant director, has hits including ‘Jersey’ (which is now being re-made into Hindi starring Shahid Kapoor) and ‘Ninnu Kori’ under his belt.
Excerpts from our conversation with Nani on his new film directed by Shiva Nirvana, the status of Telugu cinema, and being a darling of the masses follow:
What should we expect from your latest film ‘Tuck Jagadish’?
Firstly, I am very happy that it’s releasing during the festival of Ganesh Chathurthi. It’s a very special festival for us. It’s a family entertainer which makes for perfect viewing for all age groups. It’s a good combination of drama, emotions, action and comedy. But I have butterflies in my stomach.
I am surprised to hear that you still feel anxious about before your film’s release … You have been in the Telugu industry for quite some time now, shouldn’t you be more confident?
Initially, when I used to feel nervous before my film’s release I used to think that it would go away with time and experience. But I have realised that feeling nervous has increased with each of my film’s releases. This feeling of nervousness reminds me of the phase where I used to wait for my birthday with great anticipation. I was unable to sleep and that’s the same feeling I get before 15-20 days of a movie’s release. As the release day nears, the feeling of trepidation gets worse. I am the most zoned-out person in the world during the last few days. Even if somebody calls my name, I don’t hear them. Today is one of the worst days as there’s one more day to ‘Tuck Jagadish’s release.
You are not zoned out, I promise. As an actor, how have you made peace with today’s reality of premiering films on an Over-The-Top platform due to the pandemic?
I had a similar release last year on Amazon Prime. The good part is that ‘Tuck Jagadish’ can be enjoyed by all movie lovers and my fans because there are sub-titles. But honestly, releasing a film in the cinemas is a different feeling altogether. Hearing the whistles and the claps is something I miss. But I can’t ask for more in a situation like this.
Tell me more about your character in ‘Tuck Jagadish’ and what does that title signify?
The title is a quirky one because my character Jagadish has the habit of tucking in his shirt before he gets down to doing anything and that has earned him the nickname ‘Tuck Jagadish’. Initially, the word tuck wasn’t a part of the film’s title. But director Shiva ad I came up with the name because we found it more eye-catching and knew that it would grab attention.
You are considered to be one of the most accessible superstars of Telugu cinema. Do you think that’s the secret behind your long-enduring appeal?
A: Yes, that is definitely the biggest factor behind my success. I consider being perceived as accessible as a blessing. In any Telugu household, there’s at least one person with the nickname Nani… People will feel at home when it comes to me. Also, I was an assistant editor before I became an actor. I know what it was to shoot in public spaces and I knew how the public used to behave with the stars back then and the way they used to be looked at. I see the difference in the way they receive and look at me. They don’t look at me like I am someone unapproachable. There are instances where they used to take my hand and drag me to their house to say something about my film or what I should be doing. And, that shows that they believe that I am one of their own. I consider that feeling one of my biggest blessings. It was all so unexpected initially. At first, when I began acting I thought I will be the star of two films, maximum. I didn’t think that I would act in more films. But I never looked back after each film.
You seem surprised by your success …
In the beginning, when everyone was saying good things about me I used to doubt their good words. Remember, I set out to be a director and started my journey by being an Assistant Director. When acting happened, I thought I will just try it out and then get back to the direction as planned. But one thing led to the other as an actor.
So, are you the Assistant Director-turned-actor who will never throw a tantrum because you have been inside the ring handling fragile actor egos?
I was the last first assistant director which means that I was at the bottom of the food chain. As the last AD, I get picked up first in the morning and get dropped last. Anything that goes wrong while shooting, you will be blamed. I have seen every aspect of filmmaking and I understand each person’s challenges on the sets. I am not your star kind of actor. I am still like the extra AD.
Even your hit films like ‘Jersey’ saw you play the underdog with great success …
Yes, playing an underdog has always worked for me.
Malayalam cinema is experiencing an upward swing, thanks to OTTs like Amazon Prime. What’s your take on the kind of Telugu movies that are being made?
There were always great films being made in Malayalam, but thanks to OTT platforms it’s got greater visibility and access. We have all gotten to the concept of subtitles. The way we look at films is changing. Now, content is king and even if you make a great film, you don’t have to dub it in all languages or make a Pan-India film to be successful. Just make a great film in your original language with subtitles and you will find an audience. The game is changing. In Telugu cinema, there’s now a bunch of filmmakers who are doing great films. In three or four years, Telugu cinema will be riding a different wave.
Don’t Miss It!
‘Tuck Jagdish’ is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.