“Let me tell you a secret,” actor J D Chakravarthy reiterates through the conversation when we speak in the context of his recent Telugu web series Dayaa, which has fetched him and the team an overwhelming response. Streaming on Disney+ Hotstar, the series directed by Pavan Sadineni features the actor as a freezer van driver who gets caught in a murky web of crime and politics.
The ‘secrets’ are brief revelations the actor keeps sharing about the series, his past films and approach to work. Before we get to it, he asserts that he had believed all along that Dayaa would score big and feels vindicated with all the appreciation. “We actors have a boon. You can call it intuition. When we step into a set and give the first shot, we know if things are working. People call me an arrogant actor because, if I sense something is not right, I will not hesitate to tell the director or producer. With Dayaa, I knew from day one that we were on to something big.”
The dodging game
Now for the first secret. Chakri reveals that he dodged the offer when Disney+ Hotstar approached him. He was filming for their web series Taaza Khabar but he was not keen when he learnt that Shalini from the programming team was calling from Hyderabad for a Telugu series. “I did the usual thing most actors do — say that I was not free for the next two months.” Shalini called him again after two months and Chakri stated that he was away till December. “I thought she bought my lie. Then she politely told me that they were planning to begin Dayaa from January. I had no more excuses.”
The script of Dayaa was sent to Chakri but he was asked not to read it since the director, Pavan Sadineni, wanted to give him a narration. “I had no idea about Pavan and his work. We spoke for about 10 minutes on the phone and I was struck by his clarity.”
This is only one part of the story. Much later Chakri learnt that Pavan had not been keen on casting him for Dayaa. “He did not want to deal with the baggage that came with my earlier films with Ram Gopal Varma. In fact, he thought he would give me a bad narration so that I would decline it. But even before he narrated, I told him I want to do this series.”
Nevertheless, Pavan gave a narration. Chakri lets out another secret. Those who have watched Dayaa would be aware that the season leaves plenty of unanswered questions and is structured like a trailer to what is to follow the next season. Chakri shares that Pavan had narrated more of the story from season two than one. “For example, in the fifth episode there is a shot in which I stare at my wrist watch and bring it to my ear to check if it is working. This has something to do with what will happen in season two. Pavan came to me with a clear plan for seasons two, three and four.”
Chakri believes that the director, not only the content, is the king. He explains with an example. “Can you imagine Gulzaar saab directing Namak Halaal or Prakash Mehra directing Angoor? It is never about just the story and the script; it has to do with how a director envisions it.”
Dayaa credits the Bangladeshi series Taqdeer for its broad storyline — of an ambulance driver getting caught in a sticky situation of crime — and has had only one season so far. “Pavan rewrote the plot, crediting Taqdeer for its basic storyline that he borrowed,” adds Chakri.
The ‘Satya’ reference
Ask him if it is a coincidence to do a hat tip to RGV’s Satya, in its 25th year, though a reference to the character name in Dayaa and Chakri says with a laugh, “It would be a lie if I say we had planned it for the 25th year of Satya. In several of my films, my characters have been named Satya, Chakri or Chandu. In fact, Pavan knows my films very well. If I mention a scene from a film he would say, ‘you were wearing a black t-shirt and blue jeans’. The usage of the name Satya here and it being the 25th year of the film is incidental. There is still a mystery as to who Dayaa or Satya is. He could be from the underworld, or a cop or a doctor.”
Both Taaza Khabar and Dayaa, says Chakri, were filmed at a stretch; that allowed him to sink his teeth into the long-form content and characters. The first scene he filmed for Dayaa was from the climax of season one. “The waves reaching up to my feet and washing them was the first shot, followed by the shot of me staring into oblivion.”
Chakri rates Dayaa among his best projects, on par with films such as Shiva and Satya. Now he discloses another lesser-known fact — that Satya had no buyers at the time of release and that the makers did not have even ₹6000 to pay to the Mahalakshmi theatre to keep it running beyond a certain number of shows. “Today Satya is regarded as a cult film. It wasn’t one at the time of its release.”
Since Dayaa has put him back in the reckoning, it is imperative to ask if Telugu cinema has approached him with acting offers in recent years. “There have been offers but I did not find them interesting enough. It sounds like a cliche to say I chose to wait, but that is what I did. Had Dayaa not worked, it could have been disastrous for my career.”
The actor has a few Tamil projects in hand, including one with Arulnithi Tamilarasu, season two of Taaza Khabar and Dayaa, and he also plans to direct a film towards the end of the year. “Pavan is also cooking up something else apart from Dayaa. It all looks good at the moment,” says Chakri, signing off.