on the actor's trail

Telugu star Nani on completing ten years as an actor, turning producer and being the voice of a fish

The 33-year-old actor turns producer for Prasanth Varma’s multi-genre film ‘Awe!’

It is an important Friday at the box office for Telugu actor Nani: he turns producer for Prasanth Varma directorial debut Awe!

Starring Kajal Aggarwal, Nithya Menen and Regina Cassandra, Awe! is the first production by Wall Poster Cinemas, Nani’s recently founded production house. Supporting Varma’s film was a no-brainer, the 33-year-old actor said. “Awe! is very, very different,” he told Scroll.in. “I know everyone tends to say this about their film but in Awe!, right from the opening frame until the end, what you will see is something that is very original, something that we haven’t seen in Telugu cinema till date.”

All Nani will reveal about the film is that it spans different narrative elements. “This film, with its unique format and core idea, mixes several genres quite effortlessly,” he said. “What I also really like about Awe! is that it doesn’t try to dumb things down. It respects its audience and their intelligence. It is a genuinely narrated, new-age film.”

A bonsai tree, with a voice-over by actor Ravi Teja, is one of the characters in Awe!. Nani is in the film as well, but as the voice of a fish. The actor was Prasant Varma’s immediate choice. “The reason he imagined my voice as that of the fish is because of Eega,” said Nani, who played the role of a man who is reborn as a fly in SS Rajamouli’s revenge saga. “Varma is not the first director to think of my voice when it comes to these offbeat characters but I’m glad he did. I really enjoyed dubbing for a fish.”

Play
Awe! (2018).

How did he prepare for the role?

“They had all the shots of the fish when they came to me,” Nani explained. “This is not an animation film. These are actual shots of a fish moving inside the aquarium. The challenge for me was to match my dialogue to its body movement. When it suddenly moves, for example, the line needs to be said in a hurry. It was all about fitting the line such that it matches the pace of the movement of the fish and its body language. It was a lot of fun.”

For Nani, who completes a decade in the Telugu film industry, the objective behind turning producer is clear: to introduce young talent and cinema. “Generally, there’s this feeling, and rightly so, that we [the Telugu film industry and its audience] don’t get new cinema or new content,” he said. “Most of the time, we see films being made in the commercial format. I am what I am because of this industry. If there is any way I can give back to Telugu cinema, it is by introducing young talents and technicians. We cannot complain about scarcity of cameraman, actresses etc if nobody introduces them. Through this banner, I want to encourage ideas which generally a regular producer wouldn’t dare to.”

Over the coming months, Nani’s acting projects include Merlapaka Gandhi’s Krishnarjuna Yuddham, set to hit the screens in April. He plays two characters named Krishna and Arjuna in the commercial entertainer. There is also a untitled multi-starrer with Nagarjuna in the lead, apart from other projects that are still at the script stage.

Play
Krishnarjuna Yuddham (2018).

“Natural Star” is the title bestowed on Nani, a reference to the boy-next-door avatar that he has assumed in a majority of his films. Whether it is Ride (2009), Yeto Vellipoyindi Manasu (2012), Janda Pai Kapiraju (2015) or Nenu Local (2017), Nani’s characters, irrespective of their heroic journey, often have their roots in humble backgrounds.

His most recent outing, Venu Sri Ram’s Middle Class Abbayi, took this role play to its pinnacle. In Nani’s hands, the middle class man of the title is someone who is not just adept at household chores, but also at fighting corruption and crime.

The choice of such roles isn’t conscious, insists the actor. “I like to do films that I’d love to watch,” he said. “Whenever someone narrates a script to me, I don’t imagine myself in the role but imagine me watching the film. If I like the film as an audience, then I go ahead and do it. Yes, the common man element is there in my films, but I have also done other kinds of roles.”

Nani played a man with a sinister edge in Mohan Krishna Indraganti’s murder mystery Gentleman (2016), the arrogant son of a rich landlord in Pilla Zamindar (2011) and a cut-throat businessman in Nag Ashwin’s Yevvade Subramanyam (2015).

“Even in a film like Ninnu Kori, my character Uma Maheshwara Rao is a common man, but one who champions an unconventional narrative,” Nani said. “Generally, what we are used to in Telugu cinema is if a hero loves a woman, we know they will end up together. Ninnu Kori changed that. It was a film that said if things go south, moving on is alright. Love can be found again. I thought that was a relevant message for today’s times.”

Play

Nani’s professional choices are heavily informed by the movies he has grown up watching. “As a movie buff, the films that I have really liked have always been a little more than just entertaining,” he said. “Your film might become a super hit when you make people laugh and entertain them, but only when you touch their heart, when you make them teary-eyed, they will take the film home with them. These kind of films – ones that make you emotional – excite me. They are also challenging for an actor, and give me the satisfaction of being one.”

Nani’s method of getting into a role is spontaneous.

“When a director narrates a story, it generally lingers in my head,” he said. “Then, when I go to the sets, wear the costume and the shot begins – I’m not Nani anymore. Each film has its own vibe and that informs your body language and the identity of your character. When I read the scene itself, I see the scene in my head and then recreate that.”

A film that changed his career was Nag Ashwin’s Yevvade Subramanyam, a coming-of-age drama in which the actor plays Subbu, an ambitious businessman. “Up until Yevvade Subramanyam, I was doing films in Tamil and Telugu – I wanted to be there as well as here and was pretty confused,” said Nani. “After the film, I felt that I had some clarity. I wanted to just act in films I believe in – not because of the names involved or the banners.”

A few years before Yevvade Subramanyam, Nani took up one of the most interesting roles of his career in Eega. “I had just done four or five films up until then and I get a call from a director who had just made a blockbuster like Magadheera,” he recalled. “That was a shocker. When I heard Rajamouli sir narrate the film, I was blown away. I knew he was the only one who could think of something like this and deliver it.”

That the role was a small one – Nani’s character dies early on in the film – didn’t really matter. “In fact, I was thrilled,” he said. “The fly is the hero of the film. But because the audience has seen me in the first half of the film, subconsciously, for them, the fly would mean me. So, I used to joke that without working hard, I would get all the credit.”

Play
Eega.
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.