I am not Bangarraju in real life: Nagarjuna
Deccan Chronicle.| Sashidhar Adivi
Nagarjuna reflects on journey in cinema, his son Naga Chaitanya, Bollywood, and his latest success, Bangarraju
Nagarjuna has been an important part of Tollywood for over 35 years now, with one of the most diverse filmographies, ranging from intense dramas to family entertainers. His latest film, Bangarraju, that released on Sankranti, is a super success and the actor is glad that the audiences have lapped up the rustic drama making the festival complete for him.
"What’s Sankranti without films?" starts off Nagarjuna with a chuckle.
"The success of Bangarraju means the world to me, and I stand vindicated as audiences continue to pour their love into the film."
Given his standing in the film industry, one might easily imagine that Nag isn’t one to chase box office numbers or that success and failures don’t matter to him. However, he refutes the notion. "When I started the project in August 2020, I promised myself that I’d release the film for Sankranti. I went about it like a bull, threw myself around and slogged to reach the target," he says, adding that the film’scontent was nicely packaged for the release time.
"Then again, there’s no specific formula because how you package every film is different. The protagonist character should naturally flow with the content and the audience should empathise and travel with the character, and that’s exactly what happened with Bangarraju."
Nostalgic moments with Chay
Bangarraju is the second time Nagarjuna and his older son Naga Chaitanya shared screen, their first time being in Manam (2014). Nag tells us that he always feels great watching his son on the sets. "I’d be happy sitting back and watching my son perform," he smiles, adding that he does get nostalgic while working with Chay. "I can almost feel the same vibes like how my father (ANR) felt when I worked with him as a son."
He, however, shares a subtle difference between the conversations between his dad and him and Chay and him. "My father was almost like a friend, and though there was never a fear factor there was only respect. I employed the same approach while raising Chay, but we are more like friends," he shares.
But Chay had gone on record saying he was quite nervous to share screen with his father. According to Nag, that may have been because the role was very new to him. "It’s a very flamboyant role and Chay hadn’t something like that earlier; perhaps that’s what made him nervous with me," says the actor, smiling.
Content gets universal appeal
While Chay is slowly establishing himself in Tollywood, he’ll make his Bollywood debut with Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chaddha. So, is Bollywood the next step for wider footfalls, we ask Nag. "Definitely," agrees Nag. "However, the regional markets are also growing simultaneously and especially Telugu films are becoming a hit in the north. So, the universal plotline and how films are being made are blurring the lines between regional and national cinema."
But we remind him that while the Telugu film industry has been churning out films for years, it’s only recently that Tollywood films are getting their due with films like Baahubali, KFG and Pushpa.
"With actors getting wider appeal, filmmakers would naturally leverage those footfalls. And that’s what’s happening. Again, the content coming in is different, and I reinstate that Telugu filmmaking is evolving," he explains.
Too old for a sports drama
Interestingly, Nag will, for the first time, also bankroll a web series Loser 2, a sports drama. He asserts he felt emotional while listening to the narration.
"I’m a sports buff; sports always fascinate me. I believe sports motivate and bring out the best in a person. Moreover, the film’s director Abhilash Reddy also comes from our film school, so it’s always enchanting to back young and exciting talent," he explains.
But does it feel strange that he never starred in a sports drama through his career? "In my younger days, there were hardly any sports films and filmmakers never tried it either though the trend of making sports drama in India took off with Lagaan (2001). It slowly rubbed in on the south and now we’ve several films being made in that genre. But now I believe I’m too old to even attempt it," he says, laughing.
I am what I am
With over 35 years in the industry, Nag has seen all kinds of transformations — filmmaking, technology and how actors evolved. And in hindsight, Nag says he’s glad he had evolved with age. But has he been bothered by any misconception about what people think of him?
"I’m what I’m," he replies, adding that he’s had nothing to hide. "Most people know actors only on screen, and everything is cooked up from the screen personality. Just because I beat up goons in my movies doesn’t mean that I’m like in real life; my romancing four actresses doesn’t define my personality. I am not Bangarraju in real life. However, that’s unfortunately the misconception of image that’s set with an actor’s successful work."
For someone who’s been in an industry as creative as the films’ for as long, Nag acknowledges that as actors need to keep reinventing themselves. "The challenge lies in picking up the right character that suits me while believing that the audience will like it. If we can strike this balance, half the job is done," he says. "But I also believe that experience makes you versatile.
A couple of years ago, Nagarjuna was actually thinking of slowing down a bit in terms of signing films, even considering how long he can enjoy the work. He wanted to sit back and enjoy life. However, as the pandemic hit us, the Wild Dog actor was one of the first superstars in the south to commence work after the first and second waves hit the country.
Talking about how his day starts early, he tells us that, especially when not shooting, an ideal day starts with him hitting the gym for 45 minutes, after which he takes two espresso shots.
"I’ve been following this routine for several years; most of my important decisions are taken in the morning when I’m fresh. Before I the day is over, I’m in bed again, going to sleep," he shares with a smile.