Akhil Akkineni says ‘Hello’: How Nagarjuna, Vikram Kumar changed the actor's approach to cinema
In an exclusive interview to Firstpost, Akhil Akkineni talks about being a part of Telugu films, the hard work put into his upcoming film Hello, working with his dad Nagarjuna and director Vikram Kumar.
Is your destiny predetermined or can one change its course? Do people grow up wanting to achieve a goal even before they knew what they are getting into or do events push them in the direction they were destined to walk upon?
In Akhil Akkineni’s case, it was perhaps a bit of both. Back in 1995, when he made his first onscreen appearance in Sisindri, a Telugu film inspired from Baby’s Day Out, there was no turning back. The actor’s name stuck onto the collective memory of Telugu movie goers and the question about his acting debut when he comes of age became inevitable.
“I guess I was around 14 or 15. I had set my eyes on wanting to be an actor. My parents (Nagarjuna and Amala) never forced me to do anything and I’ve always been an independent child who was encouraged to make his own decisions. By the time I completed my 12th standard, I told my parents that I want to be an actor,” Akhil recalls. Throughout his teen years, with his frequent appearances on the cricket field, one got the impression that perhaps he would go on to play the game at a professional level; however, that was never meant to be.
He was destined to do something else and join the ranks of his brother Naga Chaitanya, and the previous generations in the film industry.
His big launch — Akhil
After making a brief cameo in Vikram Kumar’s Manam, which was also ANR’s last film before he passed away, Akhil made his full-fledged acting debut in VV Vinayak’s Akhil in 2015. The hype surrounding his debut was immense and the film too was quite ambitious, to say the least, considering that it featured Akhil on a wild goose chase, leading him to African jungles, to save the world.
The film was critically panned and it failed to click at the box-office too. And then came a long spell of confusion about what he should do next and if there was a way to re-launch his career in a big way.
Ask Akhil about his state of mind after his big launch in 2015, the actor broods over his memories for a minute and says, “I am looking at it in a very positive light. I guess it happened for my own good. It cleared my mind and gave me a clear picture of what people are expecting from me. I was thinking something different. My approach to cinema has changed a lot after Akhil. I’ve moved to a better mind space. I’m clear as a person and what should be doing next, especially after acting in Hello.”
All about Hello
Hello is the result of Nagarjuna Akkineni’s resolution to re-launch his younger son’s career and this time, he didn’t want to take a chance. And once again it was Vikram Kumar, the director of Manam, who took over the reins to give Akhil’s career a big push. Not surprisingly, the film too is about ‘destiny’ and finding one’s soulmate against all odds.
Akhil confesses that his entire approach to cinema has changed after working closely with Vikram Kumar and Nagarjuna for this project.
“Given how big my launch was with my first film (Akhil), we were thinking a lot about commercial aspects. It was all about getting those big numbers at the box-office. But now, I’ve erased all that from my mind. Now, all I want to do is to be part of good films. Once you are able to do that, numbers will flow. I’m very clear in my mind that ‘Film comes first’. I’m not longer thinking that every film of mine has to cross Rs 50 crores or Rs 100 crores. We have done a lot of work for Hello. We have re-shot quite a bit and made every scene the way it was supposed to be done,” Akhil explains.
Searching for one’s soulmate isn’t exactly a new concept in Telugu cinema and ever since the trailer of Hello landed online, it has drawn comparisons with a 2001 romantic drama Manasantha Nuvve. However, Akhil begs to differ and says, “It feels like the concept has been done before, but I think the reason we did Hello was that we saw a fresh of breath air in terms of love story. It’s very emotional film and more importantly, it’s a new-age film. The graph of the love story might feel familiar, but the way it has been shot will be different.”
Action in (and Akhil's training for) Hello
Going by the trailer, it’s evident that the team has put in a lot of effort to make the action sequences slick and they even brought on board action choreographer Bob Brown, who has worked on several Hollywood films like xXx : Return of Xander Cage, Percy Jackson, Iron Man, Transformers : Revenge Of The Fallen to name a few. And Akhil couldn’t be more excited about what he and his team has pulled off in the film.
Admittedly, he trained for nearly 65 days and shot for 30 days to get these stunts right.
“The action is very slick, and it won’t feel like the old-school style of action choreography that we see in most Telugu films. You wouldn’t have seen anything like this in Telugu cinema so far. We shot some of the action scenes in blistering heat and you have to deal with cramps in such conditions. And when you shoot in places like the slum in Krishna Nagar, it’s really tough and dangerous. The team came two and a half months before the shoot for the prep work and we trained for a long time. We didn’t learn anything on the sets because we rehearsed a lot before the shoot,” he confesses, adding, “I had a lot of fun performing the stunts. I love sports a lot and in a way, action also feels like a sport. However, dancing is very different because you need a lot of grace to pull off a good move.”
Considering that he’s starting his career all over again, it makes you wonder if he’s feeling the heat and also, if the stakes seem bigger this time. The more he talks about the film, it’s evident that the team has ensured that they have tied all the loose ends.
Akhil says, “As a person, I like working under pressure, and I’m glad that the expectations have gone up and trailer has been received really well. I live for those highs and I’m really enjoying this feeling. We can never tell if a film will do well or not, there’s nothing like a sure-shot hit. With Hello, I have done my best and we have put in a lot of time and energy correcting it. The biggest regret would be watching a film and thinking that it could have been better. Given the time and resources, I think we have made the best possible film we could have done.”
How Vikram Kumar and Nagarjuna influced Akhil
At the audio launch of the film held recently in Vizag, Akhil thanked the film’s director Vikram Kumar with a startling confession.
“Vikram, I’ll always be grateful to you for accepting to work with me. You deserved a much better actor than me. I was really low on confidence and confused about my career, but you changed me a lot,” Akhil said.
Explaining how his camaraderie with Vikram Kumar helped him open up, the actor says, “It was a pleasure working with him. He’s a warm-hearted and an emotional guy. And for an actor it’s exciting to see the level of emotion that he creates in every scene. His writing is so heart-felt. I opened up as an actor, and I opened emotionally after working with him. He pulled out a lot from me that I didn’t know I had and I hope people also sense that when they watch it. The whole film has one feel-good emotion and all that comes from Vikram. He got married while we were working on the project and he’s madly in love with his wife. You can feel there’s love in the air in Hello. All that’s is because of him.”
The actor credits his parents for making him feel so confident about himself, even when he was really low.
“They have always guided me whether it’s professionally or personally. The best thing about my dad (Nagarjuna) is that he’s very clear in his mind about what he thinks is right. We had a lot of disagreements about the film while making it, but it was always about how do we make it even better. He’s very open-minded if you ideas are going to help the film. He doesn’t have any ego in that sense," says Akhil.
The best advice that he got from his father has also helped him understand the process of filmmaking better. Akhil says that Nagarjuna monitored the film like his baby. “He mentored me throughout the film because he wanted me to get a grip on every aspect of the production and not leave anyone answerable for the film, except me. There was a lot of advice and how to go about it. But the best advice was - “Finish the film 45 days prior to the deadline”, because that’ll give you enough breathing space to correct whatever you think might make the film better. If I didn’t have that space, then I would have gotten busy with promotions and release.”
Promotions for Hello and live performances
This week, Akhil will be touring in New Jersey, San Jose, and Dallas as part of the film’s promotions in the US. That’s not all. He’s also going to perform live on stage. “We are testing waters in the US and see how much we can push the film. I’ve a strong feeling that it’ll do well in the US because Vikram’s sensibilities will certainly appeal to the audiences in the US. Besides, it’s a huge market which we can no longer ignore. And I didn’t want to bore anyone with my speeches, which is why I’m going to sing and dance,” he laughs.
With Hello gearing up for release on December 22, all eyes are on the actor to see if he deliver a hit this time around, and both Nagarjuna and Akhil are confident that the film will hit the bull’s eye this time.
“The best moment of 2017 for me was when my dad gave me a huge hug after watching the film’s climax. We worked really hard on this film and his hug made the whole thing worth the effort. He’s not biased at all. He’s a very honest. If he says something, he really means it,” Akhil signs off.
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