“If we both had to collaborate, it had to be special and dramatic, nothing normal and cliched,” actor Rana Daggubati says about sharing the screen with his uncle, actor Venkatesh, for the first time. In the web series Rana Naidu, an adaptation of the American television series Ray Donovan, Rana plays a Mumbai-based fixer named Rana Naidu who bails film personalities out of trouble; Venkatesh plays his father, Naga Naidu, who spells trouble for the family. The series, directed by Karan Anshuman and Suparn Verma, was filmed in Hindi and will stream in Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam on Netflix from March 10.
Talking about the drama in Rana Naidu, Venkatesh says, “We do not share a typical father-son relationship in this story wherein I, as a father character, sing songs, raise a child, he gets into trouble and then I have to protect him.” The unpredictable, sometimes volatile character of Naga Naidu will be unlike Venkatesh’s amiable characters in Telugu family dramas. “The younger generation that might have seen me only in dramas such as Drushyam or the comedies F2 and F3 will be surprised at the character’s bold moves.”
Although Venkatesh is eager to gauge the audience reaction to him and Rana coming to blows, he says it took some prodding and convincing to get him on board for the series: “I am glad Rana and Netflix convinced me.”
In the last decade, here are some of the collaborations by Venkatesh — Seethamma Vaakitlo Sirimalle Chettu with Mahesh Babu; Masala with Ram Pothineni; Gopala Gopala with Pawan Kalyan; F2 and F3 with Varun Tej; and Venky Mama with Naga Chaitanya.
The actor is also a part of Salman Khan’s Hindi film Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan.
Among Rana’s notable collaborations are the Baahubali films with Prabhas and Bheemla Nayak with Pawan Kalyan.
“The timing was perfect,” Rana reflects. “No one knew what we were doing during the pandemic. I liked the story idea and agreed to the project. My dad (producer Suresh Babu) and Venky visited the sets one morning, and my dad told me, ‘Hey, there are a lot of bad people (characters) here’. I told him that this story is about rough and bad characters.”
When asked to play Naga Naidu, Venkatesh sounded the people around him about the story and his character and observed the excitement among the younger lot. He decided to take a leap of faith. “If I do not take risks, I would not be challenging myself as an actor.”
The trailer shows Rana and Venkatesh at each other’s throats, in contrast to the warm camaraderie they share in real life. Switching to beast mode was easy, says Venkatesh. “Since I was doing something different, I wanted to jump in and see how it looks.”
The actors concede that it was easy speaking the rough lines in Hindi. When they began dubbing in Telugu, it was too close to home and made them uncomfortable. “I asked the directors to tone down some stuff,” adds Venkatesh.
In his career spanning 37 years, Venkatesh has been predominantly associated with feel-good family dramas. Director Sudha Kongara’s Guru, a remake of the Tamil film Irudhi Suttru, had him enact a tough-as-nails boxing coach, a process that he had described as “refreshing”, since Sudha nudged him to go beyond his comfort zone. Rana Naidu, says Venkatesh, made him push the boundaries further.
Rana says he was enthused while watching Venkatesh on sets. “I always wanted him to do something wacky; it was fun to see him playing a mean guy.”
Ray Donovan spanned seven seasons and a film. Karan Anshuman and Suparn Verma adapt the story to the Indian context. The actors state that the familial bonds and the crime explored here have a different energy from the original. There is also the Hyderabad-Mumbai connection for Rana and Venkatesh characters. “Karan has a way of making the story darker than in the original,” says Rana, and adds that new seasons will roll out after gauging the reaction to the first one. The series also stars Surveen Chawla, Suchitra Pillai, Rajni Basumatary and Gaurav Chopra.
For both the actors, the web series experience was a new one. Rana admits that it took him a few days to orient himself to long-form content and keep track of the continuity that was required to drive a character through multiple episodes. “There was an abundance of learning for me. Our film-oriented minds envision the story and characters for two to three hours. The range of emotions you get to portray over several episodes is amazing. Rana Naidu is a complex character. For the first 15 days on the sets, I was blank. One night, I was told I will be filming three scenes with an actor and those are from the first, ninth and 10th episodes. I had 54 pages (of the script) with me and I marked the portions where I cross paths with that character, to make it easier.”
Venkatesh says he went with the flow and things fell in place. He requested the makers to let him off recording the dialogues in sync sound as he was not at ease emoting and speaking his lines in Hindi simultaneously. “I worked on my expressions. Naga is unbelievable. For example there is a scene where his wife opens the door and when you see him looking at her, you do not know what he is thinking and if you can trust him. There are many facets to this guy, from being humble to messy. Some portions might even make you root for this bad guy.”
Will the uncle and nephew be open to more collaborations? “Maybe next time we will do a mainstream action drama,” says Venkatesh. Rana chips in, “Or we can keep working on multiple seasons of Rana Naidu.”
(Rana Naidu streams on Netflix on March 10)