When was the last time that Bollywood superstar Salman Khan agreed to be a part of a film without hearing a word about the movie’s script or his role? Now before the snarky voice in us ridicules him about doing just that for his career’s spectacular misfires, here’s what we learned from Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi who convinced the Bollywood superstar to dip his feet into South India with ‘Godfather’. The Telugu re-make of the Malayalam blockbuster led by Mohanlal and directed by Prithviraj is out in UAE cinemas now.
“Salman bhai is a fantastic human being and a lovely person. And when this suggestion to request him to play the character of Masoom Bhai cropped up, it just took one phone call. Without even listening to any details about the story or the character, he gave a nod,” said Chiranjeevi in an e-mail interview with Gulf News. Apparently, the goodwill that Khan had for this matinee idol played a huge catalyst in Khan making his career’s first South Indian debut.
“From the time the idea was discussed, he was onboard within 20 minutes. Such is his love for me and Charan [Ram Charan, Chiranjeevi’s son] . I am very grateful to him for showing so much affection. While shooting we had great fun too,” said Chiranjeevi.
The gamble where Khan flew in blind paid off. ‘Godfather’ – not to be confused with the iconic Hollywood gangster epic – has raked in millions at the box-office worldwide. Reports claim the movie has swiftly entered the revered Rs1billion club since its release last Friday. 'Godfather' is a political thriller that kicks off when a patriarch of a well-connected family dies suddenly and a vacuum is left behind by the patriarch. The power games form the spine of this film.
The impressive collection of 'Godfather' shouldn’t ideally come as a surprise since Chiranjeevi – who has acted in over 150 films and has a burgeoning trophy cabinet filled with Best Actor statuettes at home --- is one of the biggest stars of South India.
Just like how Mohanlal, Rajinikanth, and Kamal Haasan are idolised in Malayalam and Tamil film industries for their collective swag and acting heft, Chiranjeevi is one of Telugu cinema’s most long-enduring public figures. Excerpts from our interview with Chiranjeevi as we talk about spearheading re-makes, his bond with his dearest ‘Lalettan’ – the original hero of ‘Lucifer’ – and working with Nayanthara …
What about ‘Godfather’ appealed to you and did you watch the Malayalam original ‘Lucifer’?
‘Lucifer’ is an intense political family drama which was superbly portrayed by my friend Lalettan [Mohanlal] and excellently directed by actor Prithviraj. So I have been wanting to do a different project myself. When Ram Charan [his son] first saw this film and told me about it, he strongly felt I should be taking this up for the Telugu audiences. Initially I did not have that idea but when Ram Charan told me, I began thinking about it from the Telugu audience’ perspective.
What were your observations about Lucifer and were you worried about messing up an original work?
If you see, even in the past I have done few remakes (like how I remade Tamil films ‘Ramana’ as Tagore and ‘Kathi’’ as Khaidi No 150’) and each one of them was hugely successful in the original version too and yet when we adapted them in Telugu, we had to make few changes to suit the preferences, nativity, and sensibilities of Telugu audiences and to suit my image how our audiences would like me to depict those characters. It was the same with ‘Lucifer’.
Salman Khan plays a vital role in this film. What was your equation with him like and what was your take away from working with him?
Salman bhai [bro in Hindi] is a fantastic human being and a lovely person. And when this suggestion to request him to play the character of Masoom Bhai cropped up, it just took one phone call. Without even listening to any details about the story or the character, he gave a nod. From the time the idea was discussed, he was onboard within 20 minutes. Such is his love for me and Charan. I am very grateful to him for showing so much affection. While shooting we had great fun.
This a significant release in your 150-film-old career. How do you keep yourself motivated?
My motivation comes from the love and affection of the audiences. Their appreciation and applause is where I -- or any artist for that matter -- draw energy and motivation from. Entertaining your audiences and spreading happiness is a great motivator.
Audience tastes are constantly change since the rise of OTT platforms. How are you hoping to keep up with evolving tastes as an actor and artist?
The pandemic certainly has impacted the audience tastes because of amount of content from across the world they were able to access. At the same time, all the film makers have also become aware of the kind of content that is being appreciated and consumed by the audiences. So naturally these things help film fraternity as a whole to evolve and tell better stories and embrace newer techniques of story-telling.
What were the most challenging part about remaking an original film that was well received in Malayalam? Was there a need to remake an original work?
Remaking films is not a new practice. Successful Films were always remade into other languages with their regional artists and infusing regional tastes and sensibilities. This helps good content to reach wider audiences. At the same time, remakes also bring fresh perspectives and fresh flavours.
There’s a school of thought who believe that remakes are those who are creatively bankcrupt. Your thoughts?
I would say that’s incorrect statement without having a good understanding of the craft. In fact remaking a successful film is even more challenging than making a straight novel film. Because the audience would have already seen the original material, so to still engage them and win their appreciation becomes an even bigger challenge. And it’s a good thing when film makers are challenged to do better.
Tell us more about your role and how difficult is it to play a larger than life, magnetic hero.
For the first time in my career, in ‘Godfather’, I do not have a heroine. I do not have any songs or dances. So it is a completely different film for me personally. And it is a fantastic role which required me to emote through my eyes more than dialogues.
What is your creative process like as an actor … Are you a method or a spontaneous actor?
Each artist has a different process when they act. It is more about their personality and whichever process works for them is the best. I do not think I am a method actor, but I try to imbibe the character traits and perform spontaneously.
What do you want the audience to take away from this film and how was it working with Nayanthara – the lady superstar of South?
Nayanthara is a fabulous artist and she has lent a lot of dignity and finesse to the character of Satya Priya. Our scenes together worked big time and they were very emotional scenes. Working with her was an absolute joy. I am very glad that audiences are liking the film so well and it energises us to strive harder to give newer content all the time.
South Indian films are doing extremely well at the box-office, while Bollywood is not doing so well. Since you have acted in both industries, what are your thoughts on this development?
While it is true that South Indian films are drawing audiences in large numbers, it is also true that not every South Indian film is a success. Likewise not every Bollywood film is a flop. There have been several hits in Bollywood in recent times. We must know that it is always the function of good content to bring in viewers and not about which region the film is coming from. We must move beyond the regional tags. And we must acknowledge that from now on there is only Indian Cinema now and not Bollywood, Tollywood or Mollywood.
Who is your biggest critic and why?
I would say my biggest critic is my wife Surekha and I truly respect her opinions.
Don’t Miss It!
‘Godfather’ is out in UAE cinemas now