Major, a biopic on late Indian Army Maj Sandeep Unnikrishnan who laid his life saving hostages while fighting terrorists during the 26 November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, is slated for an early 2022 pan-India release. Tollywood actor Adivi Sesh plays Maj Unnikrishnan’s role.
Excerpts from an interview:
You’ve come up the hard way in Tollywood, which also has ‘camps’. Comments?
Every person has their own story. As a newcomer, I’ve received immense support from Tollywood’s big stars. My first antagonist role was in the Pawan Kalyan 2011-film Panjaa. Now, superstar Mahesh is producing Major. My Telugu release after Major is being produced by Nani, who’s a big star and a friend. So, as I see it, irrespective of family background or camps existing or not, many actors have come to support my dreams. I think it depends on how genuine you are and a whole lot of luck. No doubt I’ve been lucky.
Who do you consider friends in Tollywood?
I believe two people in the movie business can be great friends but never work together and vice versa.
Much of my work has been because of mutual respect. Friendship is very different. Sujith, the director of the 2019-film Saaho, is a dear friend. Vennela Kishore is a dear friend, Rahul Ravinderan, who won a National Award for his film Chi La Sow (2018), is a dear friend. The four of us are sort of a group. We’re making films in our own way, having come up through hard work.
Actors seem to be ‘one happy group while shooting together but after the shoot, it’s ‘each to his own’.
That’s the reality of the movie business. Best friends today become strangers tomorrow. But how can you maintain a relationship when you aren’t in a 9-to-5 job in the same office for years? If today you spend 14 hours together in Jaipur, and the next day you spend 12 hours with someone else in Russia, it becomes tough to maintain relationships. That’s the nature of our work.
There’s a lot of politics in Tollywood. How do you stay away from it?
I think Telugu films, unlike Hindi, are generally calmer, with less controversy. I believe we honestly have the best audience in the country. I don’t say all’s perfect, and plenty of problems need fixing. However, fundamentally, there’s a positivity that Telugu audiences have towards actors — they immediately take them into their hearts. The Hindi industry, especially in recent years, has had a lot of bad blood. To me it means one has to work all the harder to earn the love of the Hindi audiences. So I guess, it’s better to remain genuine.
But the Telugu industry seems to be fighting for one-upmanship given the MAA elections.
I honestly feel it was media-generated. Behind-the-scenes wasn’t anything like that on TV.
Would the Andhra Government’s talks on controlling ticket prices hurt the film industry?
I think much of it has to do with extremely big films and it depends on who benefits from it. The fact is that audiences get to watch bigger films for cheaper.
On the other hand, it definitely creates a loss and huge financial burden for filmmakers. Things are already expensive, especially in the COVID-ravaged ecosystem. So, we makers need to be tighter with our budgets and approach a subject more innovatively. And this financial balancing-act has become a talking point in every Telugu film being shot.
What if filmmakers need a large budget?
I think it helps that Telugu films are expanding into Hindi, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. Newer audiences are discovering these films, so the burden will ease out.
That means there’s a Baahubali to match up to because SS Rajamouli has set the bar high
Indeed, it’s an extraordinary bar that’ll take years to clear — a master work from a master filmmaker.
Do you think launching films (south or otherwise) in Mumbai helps them get a global coverage?
I think it depends on the film’s intent. Major is a story intended for an all-India audience. We’re talking about a man who was born in Kerala, brought up in Bengaluru, fought in Kashmir, a Training Officer in Haryana and martyred in Mumbai. Major is not a film made with a sense of loitering into the Hindi markets. It has an emotional reason to go there.
Telugu films are now being shot in Hindi and not dubbed. Your take?
All of us owe our gratitude to Baahubali and Rajamouli sir. I wouldn’t have dared take Major into Hindi if Baahubali hadn’t happened, and I believe it’s so with many south-Indian films. Baahubali made us realise that the highest-grossing film of all times can be a Telugu-dubbed film. It means sensibilities are more similar than we thought and are good enough for the world, let alone across India. That’s when I decided Major should be pan-India. Every line of every scene in Major is conceived differently for Hindi and Telugu. We shot every scene separately in Hindi and separately in Telugu. Each language, and scene, has its own nativity, its own nuances.
What are your expectations on this film’s ROI (return on investment)?
It’s been clear from Day 1 that financially, Major is very safe. The film’s an anticipated project, especially in South India. Whatever we make from Hindi will be a bonus.
How does it feel that while south-Indian cinema halls have 100% occupancy, Maharashtra still has only 50%?
I believe state governments deciding 50% occupancy are being responsible and are doing so for the public. Even so, I think people will watch films in theatres irrespective of 50% occupancy, as was seen in the case of Sooryavanshi. Their success was despite the rule.