Naga Chaitanya: Social media attacks don’t bother me
Naga Chaitanya speaks about shooting in the pandemic, his upcoming films, and how he handles social media criticism
The upcoming film, Love Story, getting released in theatres is a rather important moment for Telugu cinema whose business is still reeling from the Covid-19 blows. It’s widely thought that this film's success would get the ball rolling in Tollywood again. It may not be an exaggeration to suggest that an entire industry is rooting for the success of this film. “Avunaa?” asks Naga Chaitanya. “I’m just happy that people are looking forward to the release of this film.”
Love Story is the first big film to get a theatre release after the second lockdown. Did the delay in its release affect you?
After the first lockdown, we had announced a release date, but it got postponed when a second wave of infections began. I felt sad, but I asked myself if I would let my family go to the theatres. I knew the answer was ‘no’. So, it didn’t feel right to expect others to come to the theatres. In a way, this delay has helped us promote the film better, and even devise its output better. I am looking forward to seeing how the audience receives our film.
We learned that this project got several lucrative offers from OTT platforms. Why was it so important to get a theatre release for this film?
Firstly, the film is made for the theatres. The music, emotions, and the drama in it is ideal for a big-screen experience. Also, Sunil Narang, one of the producers of Love Story, is a renowned theatre owner in Telangana, and this marks his first film as a producer. So, we wanted the audience to come and feel this film in theatres.
Are you more comfortable with seeing people throng theatres now?
I am nervous, and I don’t really know how to sum up my feelings. But I can tell you that I am glad that the film is releasing in theatres. After the first lockdown, films like Krack, Uppena and Jathi Ratnalu, did really well at the box office. It showed us that good content gets people to the theatres. We are confident about our content.
What got you signing this film?
I have done many love stories in the past, but this film has many layers, and it employs all of them to convey the complex relationship between two characters. How our childhood and our society influences our decisions is being presented effectively by Sekhar Kammula garu. As an actor, I felt it's our responsibility to narrate such stories.
What can you tell us about your character from Love Story?
I play Revanth, a youngster from Armoor, who arrives in Hyderabad with big dreams. What it takes to achieve his dreams and how he overcomes the struggles through personal discovery is the crux of the film.
Were there any physical challenges associated with playing this character?
Dancing with Sai Pallavi was physically demanding (laughs). She is a brilliant performer and an amazing dancer, and I rehearsed a lot. Besides, I am playing a zumba instructor in the film; so, dance is an integral part of my character. So, I had to put in an extra effort. Also, I have picked up the rural Telangana dialect for the part. It was really challenging to master the language and I got a lot of support from Sekhar Kammula garu.
Being a person raised in the city, playing such a character must have felt new?
Absolutely. Although I have watched many films including those of my father’s (Nagarjuna), this character was a different ball game. No matter how many books you read or how many films you watch, it is only our personal experience that can help us play such characters. Sekhar garu explained to me the ordeals of those who hail from small towns in search of ambition. I spent four-five months doing workshops and Sekhar garu helped me a lot.
Did this film get you thinking about your own early struggles as an actor?
Yes. To be honest, everyday is a struggle for all of us. If Love Story turns out to be a hit, that results in a struggle again. If not, that’s a different struggle. These struggles inspire and challenge us. I see it as a positive challenge to prove oneself.
You mentioned Sekhar Kammula several times in this conversation. Tell us about being mentored by him for this film.
I enjoyed every day that I worked with Sekhar garu. He is a friend and a family member now. As a filmmaker, he enriches the performance of every actor, and his attention to detail and dedication to the craft is brilliant. He doesn’t get distracted, and cinema and the script are his world. Right from day one to the end of the production, he exudes the same enthusiasm. His patience is a virtue too. It was amazing to work with him and I think every actor should work with him at least once in their lifetime
You are also doing Laal Singh Chaddha with Aamir Khan…
It was magical to work with Aamir Khan sir. The film is a remake of an American drama called Forrest Gump (1994). I play an emotional, beautiful character in this film. I never planned to work in a Hindi film because my heart is with Telugu cinema and the South. If I get an exciting opportunity in Hindi, I will consider taking it up. However, I think my interest, for now, lies in films here.
There’s also the upcoming film, Bangarraju, in which you are working with your father once again after Manam.
This is set to be a different experience for me. The core idea of Bangarraju is inspired by Soggade Chinni Nayana (2016), but the story is entirely different. As for the characters, well, let me just say that it’s a mix of some old and new ones. You will see me sporting a massy avatar, complete with panchakattu.
While on reunions, there are also reports that you will be working with Manam director Vikram K Kumar, for a film called Thank you.
Yes, it’s a film that traverses a number of timelines and shows the 30-year journey of a character. Save for 10 days, the shooting of this film has been completed.
It is suggested that you play a Mahesh Babu fan in the film…
That’s part of a sub-plot written in one of the timelines. We caught hold of some famous films of Mahesh garu for that timeline and conceived that part. I cannot divulge anything more.
There was a film with director Parasuram that seems to have encountered a few problems?
By the time Parasuram met me, he had already narrated the script of Sarkaru Vaari Paata to Mahesh (Babu) garu. There was some confusion on when Mahesh garu would begin shooting for the film. So, Parasuram wanted to finish that film and come to me. It was a mutual understanding, and soon after Sarkaru Vaari Paata is completed, we will begin working on our film.
There is some criticism that you have stopped pushing yourself as an actor over your last few films…
The character I portrayed in Love Story has many layers, and I think any incorrect notions of my acting ability will be changed after watching the film.
How much do social media attacks bother you?
They don’t, really. I have stopped being active on social media after the pandemic. I get film updates and news from well-wishers. I read your reviews and all your stories. Social media trolling happens, and it’s quite all right. I remain unaffected. If people are entertained by it, let them be. At the end of the day, my job also is to entertain everyone.
I am making my digital debut with a web series for Amazon Prime Video. This project will mark my third collaboration with Vikram K Kumar after Manam and Thank You.