'Bro had one tough moment, and many joyous ones'
Ahead of the release of Bro, actor Sai Dharam Tej talks about working with his uncle Pawan Kalyan, life post the bike accident, his approach to content-oriented films vis-a-vis star vehicles and more
Sai Dharam Tej (SDT) is funny, calm and has an air of studied humility as he replies to a range of questions. Even when he cracks up, the jokes come from an uncharacteristically tranquil place and land with the exact same effect on their recipient. Despite being all kinds of respectful and reserved with his replies, he is also quick to go, "But who will date a guy everyone calls Bro?" when reporters enquire about his relationship status. The actor endured a bike accident a little over a year ago, escaping death by the skin of his teeth. While his bike, choc-a-bloc with dents, is not fit for use anymore, his enthusiasm towards bikes and rides remains untainted by his recent brush with danger. "My mom handed me the bike keys after I have recovered a bit and encouraged me to live beyond my fear. I still have my grandfather's old Enfield that I cherish and continue to use to this day. Riding a bike is such a wonderful feeling. There are two wheels beneath you and a vast horizon ahead. It is a vibe like no other." says SDT.
It is hard to not address the elephant in the room while talking about Bro. The film features the up-and-coming star alongside his superstar uncle Pawan Kalyan. SDT's awe towards Pawan Kalyan is almost on par with fan love. Calling his senior counterpart Guruji affectionately, SDT continues, "This is a big opportunity for me. When I act in other films, I carry the burden of proving myself to the audience. Here, I have to prove myself to my co-star. The stakes are much different, truth be told, because I hold the man in such high regard and I want him to feel that having me on board was a worthy call. I don't think I loosened up because I was acting alongside my uncle. On the contrary, it was a challenge. But despite the pressure, the shooting proved to be a memorable experience. There must have been one tough moment, but everything else was filled with joy" Brushing aside doubts on rivalry building between his actor brothers Vaishnav Tej and Varun Tej after he got cast in Bro, SDT clarifies, "No such thing ever happened. They were very happy. I think they were at least 95% happy."
Bro's main storyline is a stark departure from Vinodaya Sitham, the Tamil film it is adapted from. For starters, the character played by SDT was originally essayed by a much older man (Thambi Ramaiah) in Vinodaya Sitham. Trivikram Srinivas, who has also provided the adapted screenplay for Pawan Kalyan's last film Bheemla Nayak, has given many a tweak to Bro. SDT notes that the character's likeness to him extends beyond the age factor. "We see Markandeya, the protagonist of Bro, neglect all his relationships in pursuit of wealth and success. His life turns upside down and he is forced to reevaluate his life decisions when he meets time himself. Giving time to loved ones, be it friends or family is something I believe in as well." Continuing to speak about Trivikram's contributions to the adapted screenplay, especially in terms of the writer's trademark everyday philosophy-laden one-liners, SDT says, "Bro is going to be very impactful. Watch out for the pre-climax scene between me and Guruji. Trivikram has done a great job of reinventing the source material while amplifying its underlying themes and takeaways."
As much as SDT is hopeful about Bro, it is the interactions with Pawan Kalyan behind the camera that he cherishes deeply. The former also realises that it may be long before he will get an opportunity to spend so much time with the senior actor, considering the latter is making steady inroads into the world of politics. When enquired about his own views on politics, considering two of his paternal uncles have gone down that path, SDT replies, "If there is anything I have learnt from my family members foraying into politics, it is that it takes a lot of learning and commitment to do anything, to be anything in politics. I am not up for the arduous mental labour one needs to put in to be a politically conscious individual. I am okay with not being a very political person, I am more of a spiritual person."
Though the actor has returned to work post his accident to honour his commitments to Virupaksha and Bro, the actor wishes to take a six-month sabbatical to focus fully on his recovery. "I had to endure a lot of pain while working, especially during dubbing. Now that Bro is up for release, I want to ensure that my lost health is recovered and regained to the best possible capacity. There is a project with Sampath Nandi garu on the cards, which I will resume working on after six months. There is also a short film I have acted in, which is directed by my best friend Naveen. It is a film on patriotism and sacrifice, told from the point of view of a soldier's wife. The short will be releasing on Independence Day," signs off SDT.