With a number of films in Tamil and Telugu, Nani says this is his best moment as an actor
Actor Nani feels at home in Chennai, especially after the blockbuster Naan Ee. The success of the film has brought him closer to his Tamil audiences. His next big Tamil film, expected to release in December, is the Tamil-Telugu remake of Yash Raj Film’s Band Baaja Baarat. He also teams up with feted director Samudirakani for his bilingual Jenda Pai Kapiraju (Nimirnthu Nil in Tamil with actor Jayam Ravi). Next up is the Telugu remake of the yet-to-be-released Tamil comedy Pannaiyarum Padminiyum, a story about a landlord and his vintage Padmini car.
“I have never felt like an outsider in Tamil films. During my college days in Hyderabad, I watched all the films of Mani Ratnam and Kamal Hassan in their Telugu version. With a number of films being dubbed and remade, the industry now works as one collective unit. The trend has improved the quality of films being made,” he says.
Mani Ratnam and Gautham Vasudev Menon inspired Nani to enter films. “I have watched every one of Mani Sir’s film over 40 times. Just pick any scene from any of his films, and I can even hum the background score,” he laughs.
After working as an assistant director in Telugu films, Nani made a name as an actor in Telugu films Ada Modalaindi, Pilla Zamindar, Bheemili Kabaddi Jattu (remake of Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu), Gautham’s Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu (remake of Neethane En Ponvasantham), S.S. Rajamouli’s award-winning Eega (Naan Ee), dubbed in several languages. His first original Tamil film was Veppam. “Eega was an out-of-the-box idea. When Rajamouli sir narrated the story to me, I felt like a kid listening to my grandmother’s fairytale. You forget the logic. The impact has been overwhelming,” he recalls.
Speaking about the remake of Band Baaja…, he says it’s a role that falls in his comfort zone. “It has lots of energy and I easily connect with such roles.” The film is directed by Gopal, who worked with director Vishnu Vardhan.
Nani says working in Tamil films is a big advantage as he gets to experiment with scripts, genres and roles. “The audience here is so discerning and welcoming. That’s why commercial films happily coexist with offbeat ones such as Pizza, Soodhu Kavvum, and Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom. I like to juggle contrasting roles. While doing a romcom like Ala Modalaindi, I also chose to work on an intense role in Bheemili... I played a spoilt brat in the laugh riot Pilla Zamindar, and, at the same time, acted in the emotion-packed Yeto…it is challenging but worth it.”
Nani says he is still a student of acting. “When I see some of my older films, I feel I could have done a better job. Right from director Mohan Krishna Indraganti (who directed my first film) to Samudirakani, every one has made me a better actor.”
The actor says his role in Jenda Pai… is career-defining. “I play a double role for the first time. The style, look…everything portrays me in a different light. It is hard-hitting, but also entertaining. The story is universal; anyone can connect with it,” he says.
In Jenda.., his co-actor is Amala Paul. “She plays a vital role. When you share screen with actors such as Amala, Nithya Menen and Samantha, you want to match up; you react better. I don’t believe a film runs just because of the hero or heroine; it is important to have a story. Every element has to click to make a film memorable. When everyone contributes and does a great job, the film reaches many people.”