Vijay Deverakonda: I am fighting every day to stay where I am
With Dear Comrade out this Friday across all four South languages (dubbed in Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada), the actor chats about failure of NOTA & how that has impacted his Tamil film plans
Vijay Deverakonda made his much-expected Tamil debut with the bilingual, NOTA, and attributes it to all the love that was showered on him on social media after Pelli Choopulu and Arjun Reddy. "Doing a bilingual was physically and mentally exhausting. I did shoots from 6am to 5pm and then would have to rehearse till 1am every night. I am grateful for the experience though."
He talks about the gruelling process. "I would get my Tamil lines translated to Telugu, and then learn the meaning of each word. It was important for me that once the camera started rolling, I shouldn’t think about my lines."
Despite all the effort and the hype, the film didn't get the reception Vijay expected, and that factored into his decision to not do any Tamil films for the moment. "I don’t really know about the numbers in Tamil, but in Telugu, it didn’t particularly do well. If it had done well in Tamil, it would have really compelled me to do another. Also, I am not in command of the Tamil language, and for me to function as an actor, I have to be in control of the entire process."
This was Vijay’s biggest learning when he started work on Dear Comrade. "Actors are the face of the films in our industry, and they bring people into theatres. I realise that anything good or bad about my film reflects on me. It is important that I understand and agree with everything about films I’m part of."
I ask if this decision is on account of the response to Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh. He was quoted as saying he wouldn’t even want to watch the Hindi version. "You get misquoted so much. I don't know what to do. For every five guys who write with a conscience, there are many who don’t. This clickbait journalism is tiring. I ask myself - why should I talk about something that doesn't concern me and give them a headline? But then again, I also know that I can't just shut up. I have to find a balance."
He moves on to the main question. “If I am satisfied that a product is up to the mark, then I am happy. From a commercial angle, I also feel I am responsible for the budget of the film. For the money spent, the producer, distributor and the entire chain should recover their investment. I have been an irresponsible fellow in life (laughs), but if at all I want to be responsible for something, this is it. I am confident that I can recover money for everyone because the bottom line is I am part of good cinema."
He admits though that not everything is in his hands. "Take Taxiwala, for example. We felt we were in control except in the post-production, where CG was not in our control. I wasn't happy with it but I guess I could say that about every film I have been part of and will be. Over time, I have realised that even when you aren’t entirely comfortable, you have to do your job sometimes."
He is quite excited about the dialogues in Dear Comrade. "It is an emotional film, and I believe in fighting for what we love. I have fought for money, survival, respect and now, to stay where I am. If you can support people who are close to you while doing so, there is nothing better than that. Given the nature of the film, I felt that dubbing for myself in Tamil would take the emotion out of the film, and so, a person called Vasu has dubbed for me."
Vijay has a special place in his heart for dubbed films. "I thought Rajinikanth was a Telugu actor when I saw the Telugu version of Arunachalam. I thought Suriya was one too. I think their voice actors were so good that they never spoilt the story for me and created a lovely experience. At the end of the day, cinema is a medium to tell stories. This is why I would rather prefer a dubbed Russian film than one with subtitles. I would rather that I not be forced to keep reading the subtitles, and watch the film instead."
The Tamil song, Pularaadha, from Dear Comrade, has got more than two million views so far. "I had the lyrics converted to English and read it. (laughs) Bharath, the director, is a really poetic person. If I had let him have his way, he would have made this entire film too poetic. (laughs) I am hardly one for such poetry. But this song has had such an impact on me, and I can only imagine how beautiful it will be for those who understand the lyrics."
Vijay surprises me by sharing that he loves Thirukkural, which he learned in school. "We were taught Thirukkural and Kabir's dohas. We were taught that for every situation in life, there is a Thirukkural. When I met the press here for NOTA, the first thing I did was Google a kural to use to convey my emotions. I knew it would give Tamil people a nice feeling. Wouldn't I like it if Amitabh or Aamir were to speak Telugu with me? You probably won't watch my film (smiles), but if I can get you to smile a bit, that is well worth it.”