Chiranjeevi was the first person in Tollywood industry to cancel shootings in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.
"I read about this virus and how it was spreading very fast in other countries. I realised that gatherings of people should be avoided. I discussed the issue with my director Siva, and he agreed, so I called off the shooting of Acharya. That same evening, the government announced that multiplexes and theatres should be closed," said the actor.
The megastar said he had advised other filmmakers to cancel their schedules, "but some important combination scenes were to be shot, so they didn’t shut down immediately. After two days, all shootings were called off."
A compassionate move
Chiranjeevi then turned his attention to the daily wage employees who depend solely on the film industry. "I discussed with a few people from the industry and they were ready to help. When I announced the ‘Corona Crisis Charity’, many actors, producers and others responded immediately and donated. Since we couldn’t go out, we took the help of people in the software industry to track the workers through their Aadhaar cards."
Rice, oil and dal were bought, and packaged to last a family of four for 10 days. About 25 volunteers deliver the supplies to the doorsteps of beneficiaries.
If the lockdown is extended, the actor plans to ask industrialists to donate to the cause. According to him, the industry employs between 10,000 and 12,000 people. "Each day we serve nearly 600 people and I am confident everyone will get the help they need," he said.
Suffering huge losses
The Telugu film industry, along with others, is suffering huge losses. "We can’t estimate the losses right now. But I feel that it will run into hundreds of crores. I don’t know when the theatres will reopen, and when we can start shooting again. But I am confident that the cinema industry will bounce back once normality is restored," said the actor.
Looking ahead, he said, "After the lockdown, we will discuss how to go forward. We have to talk to the financers too and request them to reduce the interest and help the producers. Not just the film industry, but all other industries are incurring losses," he pointed out. "We have to stand united and overcome this situation once everything gets back to normal."
Enjoys being on Twitter
Referring to his recent entry into social media, Chiranjeevi said, "Actually, I wanted to join in January, but then someone advised me to join on Ugadi day. It was a good suggestion, as it is an auspicious day. I feel this is the perfect time for me to get into social media. I can create some awareness on this crisis through my messages and videos." He dismissed the trolls he has attracted, saying his concentration at the moment was on more positive things.
Praises PM Modi
Chiranjeevi is very happy that his song on the Coronavirus won a mention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Explaining the sequence of events, he said music director Kotihad called him, asking him to film an awareness-creating song.
"He told me to shoot it on mobile phones. I called a few actors to participate in the song, but they didn’t want to do so as they were in quarantine. Then I called Nagarjuna, and he responded immediately. But I didn’t expect that Prime Minister Modi would tweet about this song I am very happy that he liked it. It’s a great gesture from him."
Chiranjeevi has also acted in another awareness video that involved superstars from other film industries like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajinikanth, Mammootty, Mohan Lal, Ranbir Kapoor and others. Did they take inspiration from your Telugu song?, we asked. "I don’t know. But Amitabh Bachchan called me and told me that he liked our Telugu song. He said they were planning something similar, and asked me to act in it. I felt it was a great privilege and and sent my video." Chiranjeevi hopes to create more such videos in the coming days to spread awareness about COVID-19.
Talking about his upcoming film Acharya, Chiranjeevi dismissed reports that Mahesh Babu had been roped in for a part in it. "I don’t know where this news comes from. Right from the start, my director Koratala Siva wanted to cast Ram Charan in the film. We never thought of Mahesh Babu. We spoke to Rajamouli and requested him to release Charan for a month for our film shoot and he agreed."
He clarified though that he likes Mahesh and the feeling is mutual. "If an opportunity comes for both of us to act together it’s going to be a fantastic one," he said. On the subject of the film, he said it isn’t a Naxal-based story, rather, it’s about a former Naxalite and the good he does to society. "Me and Charan don’t play father and son in the film," he says. "It’s more like a guru-sishya role."
On Trisha’s exit
Trisha had been signed on opposite Chiranjeevi in Acharya, but a short while ago, the actress tweeted that she was exiting the project because of some creative differences. Chiranjeevi denied this, saying his daughter Sushmita had even sent Trisha her outfits for the film.
"I don’t know why she said that. I asked all my team members if anyone had said anything to upset her. Later, I got to know that she is doing Mani Ratnam film and he needs longer schedules from her, so she couldn’t accommodate our Telugu film," he said.
After Trisha’s exit, Kajal Agarwal was roped in. But the Coronavirus has halted the schedule.
Bond with the Allu Aravind family
The megastar was irked by questions regarding his reported rivalry with the Allu Aravind family. "Where did you get this news? We are all one family, and that includes the Allu Aravind family too. I regularly visit his house and they too come to mine. In January we celebrated Sankranti festival together. Whenever he needs advice, he comes to me, and I do the same with him. Today (April 8) I wanted to tweet about Allu Arjun’s birthday, so I called him and asked him to send me an old photo since I couldn’t locate the photos I had with me. He sent one immediately," said the actor.
He added that earlier too, the media had created differences between him and his brothers. "Whenever Pawan Kalyan returns from his Andhra tour, my wife Surekha and my mother make the dishes he likes and send them over to his house. Nagababu also regularly talks to us," he insisted.
Planning an autobiography
Chiranjeevi is using the quarantine time for many things. "I’m busy with social media and also watching many movies. Also, I am taking this time to write about some incidents in my life. I want to come up with an autobiography in both audio and written form," he said.
Chiranjeevi recently moved into his extensively renovated house His mother and sisters are currently with him in the house. On his self-isolation regime, the actor said he is meticulously following social distancing norms. His staff, including drivers, who report for duty every day, have been asked not to come. Others, like his cook, who have been staying on the premises of his home, continue to go about their duties while taking due precautions.