(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is being republished to mark Akkineni Nagarjuna’s birth anniversary.)
Actor Akkineni Nagarjuna, aged 58, is in no mood to retire. In this exclusive interview to The Quint, he tells us he’s not in the rat race for super-stardom and firmly believes he won’t go out of fashion even if he stops acting. He also spoke about his forthcoming release Soggade Chinni Nayana, in which he features in a double-role and how hosting the television show, Meelo Evaru Koteeswarudu (Telugu version of Kaun Banega Crorepati), has been a life-altering experience.
Q: In 2015, you didn’t have a single release. Isn’t it essential for a star like you to have at least one release a year?
Nagarjuna: It doesn’t matter if I have a release or not in a year, people will still love me. Even if I decide to stop acting, say today, I’m sure I won’t go out of fashion. I don’t think it’s necessary that I have a release each year.
What’s really important is that I do good films and if it takes time to do one, I wouldn’t want to rush. After Manam (2014), which was extremely well received, I wanted to do another fantastic film so I waited for a good project. Moreover, I’m not after stardom anymore. I just want to concentrate on doing good projects, even if it means waiting for two years for a release.
Q: Since you mentioned retirement, when do you consider taking it?
Nagarjuna: Definitely not in the near future. I don’t see the need to stop acting, but maybe I’ll consider doing different kind of roles. Most people think I should retire because both my sons are into full-time acting now but if you ask them they will feel otherwise.
Q: Didn’t you start working on your forthcoming release Soggade Chinni Nayana in the beginning of last year, yet the film is only releasing this year?
Nagarjuna: Though we started in the beginning of 2015, we had to stall the shoot after Shruti Haasan walked out. We waited for three months until Tamannaah was roped in as her replacement and then we resumed the shoot. By September, we completed shooting and the next few months were spent on making the necessary changes in the final product.
I always do that with my projects. Once the film is complete, we sit and figure out where changes can be incorporated. When we were working on the post, we realized this will be an awesome festival film, meant to be released during Sankranti festival, so I paid advance to the theatres, blocked screens and announced the release date long back.
Q: Let’s talk about this week’s release Soggade Chinni Nayana. In one of the roles, you play a ghost. Does that make the film the quintessential horror comedy which has now become the order of the day in southern cinema?
Nagarjuna: This is not a horror film. This is a fun film with a character that passes away in the beginning and returns as a soul to set things right in the family. My ghost character is full of fun, a flirt, and there’s no reason to be scared of him. It’s the kind of film that doesn’t require you to think much. With this project, I’ve done a film against the village backdrop after a long time. Away from the regular urban stories, this one will serve as a whiff of fresh air for the audience.
Q: You are playing dual roles – that of a father and son – but both these characters look the same age-wise. Did you think you can get away given your extremely good looks even at 56?
Nagarjuna: I take that as a compliment (laughs). But the intent was not that. The father passes away even before the son is born and he returns to help his son. Technically, both belong to the same age group, because the day after the father dies, the son is born. The roles, however, are poles apart even though they look the same.
Q: Your film is releasing alongside three other big releases. Isn’t it an unhealthy trend to have so many biggies release together?
Nagarjuna: It’s very unhealthy and what worries me the most is that all of us have to share our success. But it’s the call of the respective film’s producer. If they think by releasing their film with other biggies they can rake in the moolah, I respect their decision. I had announced my film’s release date long back and hence, I wasn’t going out drop out of the race.
Q: You’re currently hosting the third season of Meelo Evaru Koteeswarudu (Telugu version of Kaun Banega Crorepati). You’re a hit on television, too.
Nagarjuna: This show gave me an opportunity to touch people’s hearts, which I seldom got to do as an actor. Three seasons down, it has been a life-altering experience.
I was moved by stories of so many people on the show. So much so that, the son’s character in Soggade Chinni Nayana is actually modelled after a participant I met on the show. It has made be a people’s person and has made me a better listener. Sometimes all you need to do is listen, because people like to be heard.
Last year, your younger son Akhil was launched with much fanfare. Any regrets that his film tanked?
Nagarjuna: You can only hope for a film to do well. You can’t predict its fate. What’s life without success and failure? All of us took the failure in our stride and have moved on and so has Akhil, who is now busy reading scripts for his next project.
(Karthik Kumar is an independent film critic and journalist. He actively follows and writes on popular South Indian cinema and covers independent films too.)