Chiranjeevi: I don’t want Rajini and Kamal to get hurt in politics
Megastar, who is playing the freedom fighter Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy in this week’s release, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, recently met the press in Chennai
Telugu Superstar Chiranjeevi made his comeback to cinema, after a nine-year-long stint in politics, with Khaidi No. 150. While the whole of South India expected him to do a political entertainer like Tagore, he took everyone by surprise with his decision to remake Vijay's Kaththi. The next surprise followed in a few months when it was announced that that his next, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, would be a historical war film.
Most actors his age typically settle for films that aren’t a drain on their energy levels but the star seems to have gone the extra mile for the film, by learning sword fighting and honing his horse riding skills. He concedes it was quite demanding, but explains that his passion to tell the story of the warrior kept him going. “Whenever I was asked about my dream role, I always used to say Bhagat Singh without a second thought. But that was before I came to know about Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy. Even though many had revolted against the British during the nineteenth century, he was the one to wage a war against them. I was completely taken with his bravery," he says. And this was 12 years back.
"Each time I saw Sivaji sir's Veerapandiya Kattabomman or Krishna garu's Alluri Seetarama Raju, I used to long for such opportunities to play real-life characters. I even felt a bit jealous on seeing Ram Charan play a warrior in his second film, Magadheera. The budget was the biggest constraint of producing Sye Raa, and I was hesitant to ask a producer to risk such a huge amount. But my son Ram Charan sensed my passion and offered to produce it under his own banner," he explains.
He calls Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy the Kattabomman of Andhra Pradhesh and feels sad that there isn’t proper documentation of Narasimha Reddy’s life. "These freedom fighters are our real heroes, but most of their stories are untold. It's sad that we hardly have any evidence within the reach of the public. I felt it was my responsibility to tell his story to the nation."
Chiranjeevi says that the story of Narasimha Reddy has all the elements an audience would seek in a commercial film. "Apart from being a patriotic film with extended war sequences, the story naturally has elements like betrayal, love triangle and family sentiment." He also adds that the script demanded pan-Indian actors and that it wasn't a forced addition. "For instance, Vijay Sethupathi plays Raja Pandi, a Tamil king, who joins forces with Narasimha Reddy. This is a part of history. Every single character in the film has a well-defined character arc. More than star power, I feel emotions are an integral factor for a film to be successful. I strongly believe the audience will be emotionally invested in our film until the last frame."
He says the success of Baahubali — The Beginning gave them the confidence to produce Sye Raa. "The box office numbers of that film encouraged us to go ahead with Sye Raa, as our film also costs around 300 crores. We even spent 75 crores for a single action sequence in Georgia involving 2,000 junior artistes."
Chiranjeevi hardly looks his age, and you can’t but ask him about it. He replies, "I am a peaceful man and I don't allow stress to take over my mind. I guess that reflects on my looks. Also, it helps that my wife and my kids act as shock absorbers and shields. They guard me against everything."
He says his political responsibilities kept him busy during his nine-year break from filmmaking and he hardly got to watch films. "But I managed to watch big ones — like Shankar's films, and critically-acclaimed ones like Vijay Sethupathi's Seethakathi." The main lesson he learned from politics is that ‘kind-hearted and sensitive people do not belong in politics'. "Sensitive people like Kamal, Rajini, and me can deliver our best in cinema, but in politics, the scene is different," he says and proceeds to call politics a “thankless job.”
“People will sully the reputation of good, honest people for no reason. When I was Tirupati's MLA, a lady abused me in front of the camera, even when I was trying my best to sort out issues over there. When the press left, she came to me asking for a photograph and said she was my die-hard fan. This is just a sample of people in politics."
He shares grief over the how “politics is being ruled by money these days. When MGR sir and NTR sir were Chief Ministers, the scenario was different. The good image they had among people was enough for them to win elections and rule a state. But now, money has become everything, and there's no guarantee that a star can get elected now, even if they are extremely honest. Rajini and Kamal are treated like kings by the people already; I don't want them to get hurt in politics.”