With a bunch of films up for release, Nani talks about moving out of the comfort zone and the perks of being an actor

Nani is enjoying a well-earned break. “I’ve been having back-to-back shooting schedules this year, ironically none of my films have released,” he smiles. His last release was Gautham Menon’s Yeto Vellipoyindi Manasu in December 2012. Nani’s film with director Krishnavamsi, Paisa, has been delayed due to several reasons and is expected to release this month, followed by D For Dopidi, which he co-produced with Krish and Raj D.K. “Jenda Pai Kapiraju and the Tamil remake of Band Baaja Baaraat, which will be dubbed in Telugu, are due for release in January and February,” he says.

The wait has tested his patience, but Nani didn’t give in to frustration. “That happens only when you’re not enjoying the film you’re working on. I’m eager to see Paisa release. Initially, the film got delayed after I suffered a ligament tear and then an injury on my nose during a stunt sequence. Then there were other reasons,” he says, talking about the character he’s invested so much into: “I am a small-time model who puts money above everything.”

Working with Krishnavamsi has been a dream come true for Nani. A few years ago, hopeful of working as an assistant director (AD), he went to Krishnavamsi’s office and saw a board that announced no assistant directors were required. “I didn’t give up. I learnt that he was in Shabdalaya Studio. I barged in and asked him who Krishnavamsi was. He smiled and introduced himself. I told him I asked him this on purpose so that he won’t forget me easily. Though I pushed my luck, he turned me away,” recalls Nani. On the sets of Paisa, Nani got an inside view of the director’s method of functioning.

Nani feels one of the perks of being an actor is to observe filmmakers up close. He worked as an AD for three films before he turned an actor in Ashta Chemma. “As an AD, you are limited to one unit. I’d dream of assisting Gautham Menon after watching Kaakha Kaakha. As an actor, I’ve worked closely with him, Rajamouli and Krishnavamsi among others,” he beams.

In his sixth year as an actor and with films like Ala Modalaindi, Bheemli Kabadi Jattu, Eega, Pilla Zamindar and YVM to his credit, he remains rooted to his humble beginnings. There’s no starry aura and he speaks with disarming candour. Commend him on his choice of films and he says, “I can take credit for choosing Ala Modalaindi, Bheemli… and Pilla Zamindar, not the others. Which actor would refuse to work with Rajamouli or Gautham Menon?”

His experience as an AD taught him a thing or two about how actors keep aspiring directors waiting, even when they aren’t keen on doing a film. “I feel bad to keep someone hanging. So if I’m not inclined to do a film, I am forthright about my decision,” he says. Nani confesses shuddering when a film is pitched as ‘oka manchi commercial cinema (a good commercial film)’. He doesn’t belittle commercial viability, but doesn’t want to be stuck in a formulaic rut. “I understand why people play safe when big budgets are involved. As an actor, I want to do something new. Since childhood, I’ve never been a morning person. I need something exciting, out of my comfort zone, to get out of bed,” he explains.

Back then as an AD, Nani took a break to write a script and become a director. At the insistence of his friend Nandini Reddy, he took up a part-time job in Worldspace as a radio jockey. “Those days, ADs were paid Rs. 2-4,000. Worldspace paid Rs. 16,000. It was good money while I wrote my script,” he says. Fate had different plans for him and Ashta Chemma happened. “I never saw myself as an actor. I neither had the looks nor the backing required to be an actor,” he says.

The actor’s only regret is not being able to watch movies at Satyam, Ameerpet, anymore. “I’d stand in the queue and buy tickets for the first show. Even now, when someone narrates a story, I can visualise it as it would unfold on the screen of Satyam,” he smiles.

What’s in store

Nani has co-produced D for Dopidi with Krish and Raj DK. The actor has also lent his voice as a narrator and did a promo video. The film releases on December 25.

Krishna Vamsi’s Paisa, an action thriller, will see Nani as a money-minded, small-time model.

In Jenda Pai Kapiraju directed by Samuthiraikani, Nani will be seen in a double role — a 27-year-old and a 35-year-old. The second role, Maya Kannan, is that of a Tamilian. “By far, this has been my most challenging film, with the roles requiring different body language and dialects. Samuthiraikani speaks Telugu with a mix of Tamil. I listened to him on the sets and spoke similarly,” he says.

Nani stars in the Tamil remake of Band Baaja Baaraat, which will be dubbed in Telugu. This is familiar territory for him, having made his mark in romantic films. “We shot extensively in Mint Street, Chennai, and look the liberty of multi-cultural weddings in a metropolitan city. There’s a lot of energy and colour,” he says.