Nagarjuna on Manmadhudu 2, working with young directors like Rahul Ravindran, and avoiding serious films
Following the release of Manmadhudu 2, Nagarjuna opens up about the making of the film and his struggle to find stories that would suit his age.
For over a decade or so, there’s hardly been a conversation with Nagarjuna where he isn’t asked about his age and how he seems to be reversing the natural progression. That he’s going to turn 60 later this month takes a lot of time to process, although he claims that he’s only turning 30. “Except for couple of my school friends, every one I hang out with outside the film industry is 35-40 years old. I’m only turning 30 later this month,” he quips, adding, “You’ll have to excuse me today. I’ve just got my wisdom tooth removed and my face has swollen.” That, however, doesn’t change anything. Nagarjuna is as wise and charming as ever.
In his latest film, Manmadhudu 2, Telugu remake of a 2006 French film, Prete-moi ta main (I do), it’s Nagarjuna's charming persona that has captured everyone's attention once again. Directed by Rahul Ravindran, the film follows the journey of a middle-aged man, who wants to remain as a bachelor, and how he deals with his family which is desperate to see him get married. Ask him what got him interested in the original film in the first place, Nagarjuna says, “I wasn’t exactly looking for a romantic comedy because I felt that it won’t suit me at this stage of my career. But when I saw the French film, I thought it was a tailor-made film for me. It was extremely funny. The story is more about how even a middle-aged person can be bullied or influenced by his family into doing things. Sam, my character in the film, finds himself in a complicated situation because he loves his mother a lot and can’t say no to her. But he’s also leading a double life which his family doesn’t know about. And then, the story takes a dramatic turn when a new girl enters his life. This film is not a sequel to Manmadhudu which I did back in 2002. While Manmadhudu was more about romance between the two lead characters, here we have primarily focused on Sam’s relationship with his mother, three sisters, and Avantika (Rakul).”
The film is set in Portugal and it focuses on a fourth generation Telugu family, whose ancestors were sent to Europe to work as labourers. “It was a conscious decision to set the story in a place like Portugal which doesn’t have a big Telugu diaspora. There’s a backstory in the film which justifies the setting, and if you see immigrant families in any country, they retain some traits from their native country. For instance, because Sam’s family has been living in Portugal for so many decades, they speak pure Telugu along with a smattering of Portuguese. I think this is the purest form of Telugu I’ve spoken in my films since Annamayya,” Nagarjuna laughs, adding, “Moreover, it’s quite easy to shoot in Portugal. We did an extensive pre-production and all the locations were locked by the time we went to shoot. I’ve to also give credit to Rahul and cinematographer Sukumar for their clarity and conviction, which helped us to shoot the film so quickly.”
The actor is all praise for director Rahul Ravindran and says that the film needed a director who would understand the sensibilities of an immigrant family. “I really liked Rahul’s directorial debut film Chi La Sow. The way he depicted the relationships within a family, and how he handled the comedy part of the film, was beautiful. And more importantly, he knows how to extract performances from the actors. We needed all that for Manmadhudu 2. Initially, he was hesitant to direct a remake because he didn’t want to get stuck to that tag of a ‘remake director’, but once he saw the original French film, he was happy to come onboard. He wrote nearly 6-7 drafts before we finalised what suited the film. It was fantastic working with Lakshmi, Jhansi, Rakul, Rao Ramesh, and Vennela Kishore. Rakul is a wonderful actress and I’m so happy that she’s doing well in Hindi as well. I have never seen someone lead a lifestyle as healthy as Rakul does, and I keep telling everyone to learn from her. I’ve so many fond memories with Rakul and others in the crew. Manmadhudu 2 is quite an entertaining film and right now, I’ve butterflies in my stomach. I hope people too like the work we have done.”
Rahul Ravindran is one of the many young directors with whom Nagarjuna has worked over the course of his career, and Nagarjuna confesses that his conscious attempt to work with young filmmakers has been a defining factor in his career. “Most of the directors I’ve worked with were either making their debut or it was their second film. I love the energy and freshness they bring to the table. And I strongly believe that's what made me a star. I’ve failed many times, but I’ve also learnt from my mistakes. I like working closely with youngsters, especially if I’m producing those films. For instance, after reading the fourth draft of Manmadhudu 2, I remember telling Rahul that I was not able to connect or laugh during a scene, but I left it to him to figure out how to make it better. The process is pretty much the same when I work with other young directors too. It’s just a technique that I like and it makes them work harder to get a better output,” Nagarjuna reveals.
In the recent past, Nagarjuna has made it clear that his goal, with every film, is to entertain the audience. And at times, that’s what pushed him to remake international films because he wasn’t getting scripts which would suit his age or sensibilities. “With so many youngsters today doing edgy roles and experimenting with their films, the range of characters that are pitched to me keeps dwindling. The only option is to keep working harder and look for stories that would suit me. I’m not an idiot to attempt a college-goer’s role just because so many people say that I look young (laughs). I’m always looking for interesting scripts, but I don’t want to do a serious film. If someone has to cry after watching my film, then it better be tears of joy,” he says. Admittedly, he doesn’t like watching melodramatic or serious films even on streaming sites. “I like films which are fun or at least the characters have to be inspiring. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was one such film which I really liked because it got me hooked. You might say how did I end up doing a film like Shiva or an Annamayya if I don’t like serious films, but the characters in both those films, I felt, were very inspiring.”
Apart from Manmadhudu 2, the actor has also been in news as the host of Bigg Boss Season 3 in Telugu, and Nagarjuna admits that it’s been a new learning experience. “When I hosted Meelo Evaru Koteeswarudu, it was more of a formal set up where I was just interacting with the guests. But Bigg Boss has been quite an amazing experience, so far. I was quite surprised to see how people were changing so much week after week. It’s helping me to judge people better. I remember saying that I’m not a big fan of the show because I can’t imagine how someone can stay in a house for so long like that. Forget about 15 people, if I stay in my own house for two or three days in a row, I’ll start feeling uncomfortable. And there’s no way I’m sharing my bed and bathroom with anyone, apart from my wife,” Nagarjuna quips.
Manmadhudu 2, starring Nagarjuna and Rakul Preet, released on 9 August.
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