Vennela Kishore: I have no goals, I am happy with good food and cinema

Actor Vennela Kishore discusses the Telugu espionage comedy-drama ‘Chaari 111’, reflects on his career and says he is a reluctant protagonist

February 28, 2024 03:14 pm | Updated 03:14 pm IST

Vennela Kishore as a spy in the Telugu film ‘Chaari 111’

Vennela Kishore as a spy in the Telugu film ‘Chaari 111’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Vennela Kishore asks if he can take a rain check when requested for an interview. He is playing the lead in Chaari 111, a Telugu comedy espionage drama releasing in theatres on March 1. The reluctance does not come from a space of acting pricey but from a resolve of not wanting to “brag about a film”. “I am hesitant to go to town and say we have done a fantastic job. That is for the audience to decide,” he says, when he relents for this interview a day later.

In his 19-year-old career, since his debut in director Deva Katta’s film Vennela, Kishore mostly steered clear of playing the protagonist. “There were a couple of films in which I played the lead, for instance, Athadu Aame o Scooter… But I was not comfortable as a protagonist.” He acknowledges that of late, comedians are being offered lead roles but says he is happy not taking on the onus. “I have no goals; I am happy with good food, working in and watching good films. On days that I get to work with Brahmanandam garu or Sathya, I am the happiest.”

Then what made him take on Chaari 111? TG Keerthi Kumar, who had debuted as a director with the Sumanth-starrer Malli Modalaindi, approached Vennela Kishore with a script that, in its barebones, was a no-nonsense action espionage drama. But imagine a comedian in place of a serious spy. It triggers a series of events. “At first, I refused to accept the film and told the director that I could play the (supporting) part he had assigned to Sathya,” Kishore recalls. As a fanboy of Kishore, Keerthi Kumar asserted that he would shelve the project. “These discussions went on for two months. His wife, Aditi, the producer of the film, convinced me. She has a knack for presenting things in such a manner that it is tough to say no.” 

He reveals that initially, the film was planned to be a direct digital release. “If I accept a lead role, I will need to schedule time for promotions, which is tough since I have several films lined up as a comedian. Since a digital release would require minimal promotions, I agreed.” Things took a turn when digital platforms realigned their business models, warranting most Telugu films to explore a theatrical release.

Spy universe

Vennela Kishore and Samyuktha Viswanathan in director Keerthi Kumar’s ‘Chaari 111’

Vennela Kishore and Samyuktha Viswanathan in director Keerthi Kumar’s ‘Chaari 111’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In Chaari 111, Kishore is a spy for an agency named Rudranetra (as a nod to the Chiranjeevi film), headed by Murali Sharma. There are larger plans to develop it into a spy universe, after gauging the reception. “Imagine Adivi Sesh making a brief, serious appearance in my film or me doing a fun cameo as Chaari in his film. There are interesting possibilities,” says Kishore.

Talking of Sesh, it was in his films Kshanam and Goodacharithat Kishore played negative roles. While the unexpected turns worked for those films, Kishore later refrained from playing negative roles. “I do not mean to brag but when people see a comedy actor on screen, they laugh even in the first scene. For my death scene in Goodachari, we filmed a close-up with the camera slowly zooming in on my face. The assistant directors watching the scene through the monitor were laughing, so we removed it. In Manmadhudu 2, I had to make an entry between an emotionally charged scene involving Rakul Preet Singh and her family members and Nagarjuna sir, since I was supposed to arrive late after parking the car. I thought it would be counterproductive. When the scene was being filmed, (director) Rahul Ravindran and everyone felt it would not work, and I stayed out.”

In Chaari 111, Kishore did not have to do heavy action scenes. The film is a nod to Johnny English and the Pink Panther series. “I get caught in tricky situations and the heroine (Samyuktha Viswanathan) saves me.” 

Digital detox
Point out that he might be the only actor who has temporarily deactivated his X (formerly Twitter) account even though there is a film to promote and Kishore says it has been a while. “I was spending seven to eight hours on social media per day. It got to a point where I would scroll in between reading a script. I also wanted to stay away from fan wars on Twitter. People used to tag me since I work with several stars. Now my social media time is down to an hour or two on Instagram; I haven’t yet got addicted to reels. On a couple of occasions I forgot my phone at home and went to work, which never happened earlier. I am focussing better on work.” 

Kishore reckons that he is going through the best phase in his career for the last six years with diverse comic roles coming his way, from films such as Sita Ramam and Sarkaaru Vaari Paata to the recent Guntur Kaaram. In 2022, he had 22 releases and around 16 in 2023. “Earlier, I would shoot Monday to Saturday and reserve Sundays for dubbing. Now I shoot seven days a week and dub late evenings and night. I am thankful for the work but I am aware of the possibility of burnout.”

Unlike lead actors who offer bulk dates for a film, comedians juggle multiple films in a month. Kishore requests for detailed scenes and dialogues in advance. “I get on a call with the director or meet an assistant director to get a clear idea of what I am supposed to do and how I can improvise.”

Kishore points out that if comedy works in a film, most of the credit should go to the writer. “We can improvise only if the source material is good. We need to recognise and patronise writers better.” Kishore adds that his contemporaries like Sathya, on the other hand, are remarkable in developing humorous situations out of next to nothing. “Sathya is phenomenally talented.”

Friends, movies and books

Vennela Kishore

Vennela Kishore | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A software engineer working in the US, Kishore stepped into acting for Deva Katta’s Vennela, which was filmed in the country. There was no turning back. To date, he keeps track of the developments in the entertainment sector by watching movies or series each day. He makes sure he is reading during the waiting time on sets. His recent reads include Don’t Believe Everything You Think by Joseph Nguyen and The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku. “Meditation and yoga also help me stay calm,” he says. Every month, comedy actors of Telugu cinema get together for a meetup and this, says Kishore, gives them the scope to unwind and discuss life beyond work. He also cherishes the occasional time he spends with his buddies — Adivi Sesh, Rahul Ravindran and director Sujeeth.

What he does not manage to do is step out into the real world and observe people. “Brahmanandam garu used to tell me how important it is to observe people. I try to do what I can but it is not enough.”

Days before the release of Chaari 111, Kishore says he has no pre-release jitters. “I feel detached once my work is done. I am not sure if that is good or bad, but it helps me be at peace.” 

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