Cinema Suneil Shetty breaks free from fluff to live the part of Narasimha, a farmer from AP, in ‘Red Alert – The War Within'. The film that won him international awards releases today. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo

S uneil Shetty returns to the marquee with the hard-hitting Red Alert – The War Within, directed by Ananth Mahadevan. The film is based on a true story of a farmer, Narasimha, hailing from Andhra Pradesh. Narasimha, who is in need of money to fund his child's education, finds himself caught among Naxalites. His own battle becomes submerged in the larger war of the Maoists.

Unlike other films, there has been no attempt to fictionalise the true story, says the actor. “I read with avid interest the newspaper report my director Ananth Narayan Mahadevan brought to me. The story read like a film script and my director had already decided not to deviate from the true story. I agreed because a film based on a serious issue like this needed to be authentic and not ‘fictionalised'. The only liberty taken was to dramatise the account,” he explains.

Having given his nod for the film, Suneil spent the next few weeks researching for his role. “Since I hail from Mangalore and grew up amidst the farming community, I could relate to the plight of Narasimha. Every time I meet a working class man, even my own servants at home, I understand how much the Rs. 1500 that Narasimha keeps harping on, means to him,” he says.

He is all praise for the film's writer Aruna Raje for her research material of naxals and cops: “It fortified me with enough meat for the role,” he says.

At one point in his career, Suneil Shetty found himself lacking a solid identity. He had even remarked, “My friends say that I have become like aloo, taken for granted, to blend in any role. That's when I decided something needs to be done.”

In recent times, he has been selective. He reflects that this film offered him scope to essay a serious role, after J.P. Dutta's Border. With Border, Shetty shedded his image of a ‘wooden' actor. “ Border is the only film in recent memory that traversed this multi-dimensional path. I remember how my death scene left a deep impact on audiences. The treatment of the dilemma of Narasimha in Red Alert is a step further in the direction of nuances and characterisation. I would rate my Red Alert character to be the best I have essayed so far,” he says, the glint of pride evident.

The film has been an eye opener on the Naxal issue, he states. The actor hasn't read Arundhati Roy's controversial essay ‘Gandhians with Guns' but is clued into her views. “Arundhati has taken the issue by its horns but not painted a black and white picture, just like Red Alert.”

In the film, he is pitted against seasoned actors like Seema Biswas, Naseeruddin Shah and Makrand Deshpande. Suneil admits he was nervous, “The ensemble that Ananth has put together has three national award winning actors, enough to shake up any lead character. But the NSD tag that ‘threatened' me was soon replaced by confidence and instinct.”

The icing on the cake were the international awards, the first such experience for this actor. “I couldn't believe it when my name was announced as the Best Actor in New York at the South Asian International Film Festival. Then it slowly sunk in... the meaning of an international award by an international jury. It was elation at first, then the responsibility crept in... of adhering to standards and weeding out bad scripts from my life.”

His bag is full with projects like No Problem, Anees Bazmee's latest film, a Sanjay Dutt production and another with Ananth Mahadevan. His home production, Popcorn Entertainment, is producing Loot, a racy caper with Govinda, Mimoh and Suneil, and Mumbai Chakachak with Rahul Bose and Ayesha Dharker.

Away from movies, this Shetty is recognised for his business ventures. Dismissing talks that he wanted to an IPL team owner, he says, “I love the game but I have my hand in enough pies to take on such a huge assembly.”

Arundhati has not painted a black and white picture, just like ‘Red Alert'