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‘I’m not apprehensive about new people’: Actor Nani

‘I’m not apprehensive about new people’: Actor Nani

Express News Service

Sitting down with journalists at what can be called as the fag end of Hi Nanna’s long promotional drive, Nani has gotten the interview game down pat. Answering questions with both contemplative replies and fast comebacks, the actor cut a witty, entertaining presence. Nani is also meeting journalists seven months after the release of Dasara, a rustic action entertainer that saw him depart from his repertoire of urban, boy-next-door roles. Dasara also had him dip his toes in the pan-India game.

When enquired about joining the 100-crore club with Dasara, Nani brushes away the tag and goes, “Do you know Woody Allen? There is a dialogue in one of his films, ‘I would never join a club that would allow a person like me to be a member’.That is how I feel about this tag, this so-called 100 crore club. It is not the numbers that drive me, though that number does indicate the patronage of a wide audience, which is what I extremely grateful for.” Nani is also quick to dismiss a narrative that posits that Hi Nanna marks a return to his comfort zone. “I do not have a comfort zone. When I did comedies, people branded comedies as my ‘comfort zone’. Then came films like Jersey and Ante…, which were also labelled as a Nani thing. Maybe my thing is not have a comfort zone as much as it has been to shirk away from one,” quips Nani. 

Nani’s checkered filmography saw him transition from crowd-pleasing films like MCA (2017) and Nenu Local (2017) to author-backed, critically acclaimed works like Jersey (2019) and Ante Sundaraniki (2022). The actor has also mentioned in a previous interview that featuring in the latter kind of film, which may not hold an instant appeal to the mass, require him to step out and extensively promote a film. Does he believe that an MCA and a Nenu Local can be made today when people’s tastes have changed massively, not to mention the transformation of his star value? “If we can make a Nenu Local today, with the latest filmmaking techniques and upgraded sensibilities, I am pretty sure it would be just as successful as what we made six years ago. And as far as my stardom is concerned, a film like that will work today. That said, my brand is also built today by the likes of an Ante Sundaraniki and a Jersey. If I make a commercial entertainer like Nenu Local, there will be a section of people dissatisfied with my work,” says Nani. 

Unlike a rural entertainer like Dasara, where the makers and marketers don’t necessarily sweat about the film appealing to urban audiences, apprehensions of this kind invariably pop up when the tables turn. With Hi Nanna coming off as a story so comfortable in its privileged, first-world milieu, have any concerns of inaccessibility come to the fore? “It is high time we agree that not every film is for everyone. In the Telugu industry, more often than not, we priortise making films that appeal to everyone. But except a Rajamouli, no filmmaker can make something that will cater to everyone. Films that seek to please everybody tread the path of compromise,” asserts Nani.

Pointing to the reporters, the actor continues, “If I call three of you over to my place for dinner. I can find out what each one of you like and cook three different dishes to every single guest’s liking. Now, I can assume that my job is done because I have prepared one favourite dish of each guest. But, the three of you would not have had an entirely satisfactory meal. It makes more sense for me to take that risk, narrow down and make one film that will appeal to one demographic completely than make something that attempts to placate all. Make no mistake, Hi Nanna will appeal to everyone at some level but for one specific set of audiences, Hi Nanna will be their favourite film of the year.” It is this confidence that also radiates when Nani talks about Hi Nanna releasing a week after Animal. “I loved Animal, period. Hi Nanna will do well, Animal’s success notwithstanding. It is a sweet, lighthearted film. I won’t say it is as emotional as Jersey but it will leave a lump in the audience’s throats here and there. After a year of movies serving all kinds of entertainment, Hi Nanna is the sweet plate of dessert to end it all,” says Nani. 

While Hi Nanna marks Nani’s first collaboration with actor Mrunal Thakur, director Shoryuv, and music composer Hesham Abdul Wahab, it is, remarkably, his third film with cinematographer Sanu John Varghese. Sanu has previously been associated with Nani in Jersey (2019) and Shyam Singha Roy (2021). Speaking about the seasoned cameraman, Nani says, “Sanu is easily my favorite DOP. A quality I admire in any technician, or any actor for that matter, is their ability to be a team player. I am not a fan of people showboating on a set. We have all come together to work on a project, our skills and smarts must be dedicated to the project and nothing else. Sanu embodies these values. He truly believes he is in service of something larger than himself when he comes to work. If you play Jersey and Shyam Singha Roy side by side, you will never believe it is the handiwork of the same cinematography. That is Sanu’s versatility and craft at play. And Hi Nanna is our third film together. Sanu worked in Malayalam films, Tamil films and then Nani’s films. He cannot say he has worked in Telugu films, all those Telugu films are only my films (laughs).”

Talking about his penchant for working with debutant directors, Nani says, “I am really not apprehensive about working with someone because they are new. A first timer (Srikanth Odela ; Dasara) got me a blockbuster. Even Nag Ashwin was a newcomer when he pitched Yevade Subramanyam (2015) to me. He came to my office in sweatpants, scratching his beard. Narrated his story with sheer abandon. ‘Lets go to Himalayas’, he said. At that time, I was coming off from a slate of box office duds (Aaha Kalyanam (2014) ; Janda Pai Kapiraju (2015)). In retrospect, I signed up these films with the express intention of landing a hit. Nagi’s freshness and courage guided me back to honest storytelling and paved the path for success.” 

Nani dismisses queries on his upcoming film Saripodha Sanivaram on a sarcastic note, and responds to speculations on working in Venu Yeldandi’s next project with Dil Raju. “I would love to work with Venu garu anytime, and Raju garu has even told me once that Venu garu wants to work with me, but as of now, there is nothing on the cards.” The actor expresses his confidence about the film’s prospects in the box office, even in the face of cyclone Michaung. Nani, who enjoys a niche but enduring fan following in Tamil Nadu remarks, “It is unfortunate but not unprecedented. Floods did not stop Jagadeeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari (1990) from becoming a superhit. Let us see what is in store for Hi Nanna. All good things, I hope.” 

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