Sumanth on playing his grandfather ANR in NTR biopic and how Malli Raava revitalised his career
Sumanth opens up on how Malli Raava revitalised his career, the lesser known aspects of his grandfather and legendary actor, ANR, and what keeps him pre-occupied these days.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Sumanth has had quite a chequered acting career spanning 19 years. Best known for his work in films like Godavari, Satyam, Golconda High School, and Malli Raava, he has mostly been attached to romantic dramas, although films like Gowri gave him an action star image at one point of time. And then, there were the lean years, where along with the audience, by his own admission, even he was clueless about what he was doing. It wasn’t until Malli Raava released in late 2017 that he seemed to have figured out what would suit him as an actor, and to his own surprise, the success of that film, directed by Gowtam Tinnanuri, changed the course of his career in more ways he could have ever imagined. “Now, I know what I want to and don’t want to do. Sometimes, even though you are ready to try different things, you don’t get the right scripts. But I’m in a good space now,” says Sumanth, who recently appeared in Subrahmanyapuram and Idam Jagath.
Right now, he’s in the limelight thanks to NTR’s biopic, where he’s playing perhaps the most challenging role of his career as he steps into the shoes of his late grandfather and iconic actor, Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR). The film is going to release in two parts as NTR’s Kathanayakudu and NTR’s Mahanayakudu, and it narrates the journey of NT Rama Rao from being an actor in Telugu films to becoming the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in the ‘80s. The film, directed by Krish, stars Balakrishna, apart from a slew of other actors including Vidya Balan, Rana Daggubati, Kalyanram, Rakul Preet and Nithya Menen.
Talking about the film, Sumanth says, “I was thrilled when Krish called me to pitch me this project and this was a long time ago even before other actors came onboard. It’s a big responsibility on my shoulders to portray ANR in a responsible manner. A lot of people tell me that I resemble my grandfather and I have his body language too. It’s a substantial role and I’m discovering quite a few things about my grandfather through this film.” Apparently, the actor didn’t know the intricate details about ANR’s equation with Savitri, and the relationship which NT Rama Rao shared with Chandrababu Naidu in the latter’s initial days of his political career. “There’s an interesting scene in the film where NTR comes to meet ANR at the latter’s residence in Hyderabad to discuss something really important. When I connect the dots, I realised that I was in the other room when that incident occurred back in the late ‘70s. I was a kid back then and I didn’t know what was happening,” he smiles. The actor is all praise for Balakrishna and says, “He knows each and every aspect about his father’s life and he doesn’t even have to try to get into the character. Interestingly, he knows so much more about my grandfather too and during the shoot, he would tell me about how ANR’s body language and dialogue delivery style.”
His upbringing, under the shadow of ANR, taught him a lot of things and the most important lesson of them all was to be attached and detached at the same time with everything in his life. “I really like acting and this is the only thing I know how to do, but it doesn’t engulf my life and consume me. This is something I learnt from my grandfather. He would always be attached and detached at the same time, Fortunately, I’ve gone through some really bad times at the work front over the years, and I know that I can withstand all that. Right now, I’m quite self-aware of my career and I’m very realistic about budgets for my films among other things.“
Sumanth has fond memories about his childhood, where he witnessed the immense love and respect that people had for ANR, and also reveals that his off-screen persona was quite different from who he was on screen. “His life was pretty much an open book. There is no mystery about him or his philosophy in life. As an artiste, his mannerisms were, perhaps, too theatrical, but the real him is the actor you see in films like Seetaramayya Gari Manavaralu. He would never bring his work home and another important aspect that I absorbed from him was to never let stress engulf your life. I remember, as a kid, I would see hordes of people coming to meet him every single day. Most of them were tourists who would come all the way to Hyderabad after paying a visit to Tirumala. And my grandfather would make it a point to meet each one of them in person. It used to be an ordeal for me to get out of the house to catch my school bus (laughs),” Sumanth reveals.
ANR was well-known for his grit and practical approach to life itself, and at times, he would surprise his own family with his dedication towards his work. For instance, even after he was diagnosed with cancer, he continued to shoot for his last film, Manam, and on top of that, he refused to let anyone else to dub for his character. “He was a very happy man all his life and there wasn’t any major drama in his life. Maybe that’s why, like my uncle Nagarjuna keeps saying, a biopic on his (ANR) life wouldn’t be so exciting. I think the only two incidents that caused him pain was when my grandmother (Annapurna) and my mother (Sathyavathi) passed away. He was the kind of man who even took his cancer in stride and was quite open about it. Even till the last day of his life, he did what he always loved doing — act in movies. We were all sad when he passed away, but at the same time, there’s also an immense respect and admiration for him that he lived life the way he wanted to.”
Beyond the world of films, Sumanth reveals that he loves travelling to different place to attend major sporting events. After going to Russia for FIFA World Cup, he’s now planning to go to London for Cricket World Cup in 2019. But right now, his major obsession is something entirely different. “I can’t remember the last time I saw a film on Netflix or Amazon. For the past five years, I’ve been obsessed with podcasts. That’s the only thing I keep listening to all the time. The only TV show that I’ve followed closely is Game Of Thrones because my close friends warned me that they would ditch me if I don’t watch it (laughs),” Sumanth signs off.
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