Venkatesh, Naga Chaitanya discuss Venky Mama, multi-starrers, and bringing their real life bond to screen
Venkatesh and his nephew Naga Chaitanya open up on the responsibility on their shoulders while doing this film, and how it digs into their off-screen relationship.
Venky Mama, starring Venkatesh and Naga Chaitanya, is a rare instance in Telugu cinema where the lines between real and reel life are blurred. The film has the real life uncle-nephew duo playing the same roles in a fictional world although both the actors state the relationship portrayed on screen is as real as it gets.
“This was a huge responsibility on our shoulders, right from the beginning. Since I’m teaming up with my nephew for a full-fledged feature film for the first time, we wanted to do it right and not make it seem like we didn’t put enough effort to make this happen,” Venkatesh says. Incidentally, Naga Chaitanya was part of another such film, Manam, where he collaborated with his father (Nagarjuna) and grandfather (ANR). “Manam was such a unique script and it evolved quite organically. It wasn’t like we were consciously looking for that script, but when it came to it, we knew it was the right thing to do. On a similar note, Venky Mama too happened quite organically. My uncle, Suresh Babu has been pitching me stories for a while now and when, Venky Mama came up, we all knew that we had something interesting in hand,” Naga Chaitanya says.
Venkatesh and Naga Chaitanya had earlier teamed up in the Telugu version of Premam; however, in that film, Venkatesh merely played a cameo. That the two actors should collaborate for a full-length feature film, at some point, has been more of an inevitability for almost a decade. It was also one of the last remaining dreams of Venkatesh’s father, late D Ramanaidu, who passed away in 2015. And it all fell into place when writer Janardhana Maharshi pitched a story to Suresh Babu, a while ago, which eventually went through a lot of development before it took its current form.
“The idea which Janardhana Maharshi had pitched was nice, but a lot of work had to be done to develop it properly. Then, KS Ravindra, writer and director, came on board to write the treatment and slowly, we could see that the span and scale of the film had increased a lot compared to what it was initially. It was important that both the characters were given due importance and all of us were clear that there have to be a lot of challenging sequences for both the principal characters,” Venkatesh says, adding, “One of the new angles that Ravindra brought into the story was turning Chaitanya’s character into a military officer, which wasn’t there in the initial version. The span of the film increased a lot with such changes. It took a lot of time to get all this right, but we are all quite happy with the film. I believe that we have done a meaningful film in a responsible way, and it’ll be a good treat for the audience too who are keen on watching me and Naga Chaitanya together.”
Although the lead actors shy away from revealing too much about the film, Naga Chaitanya admits that one of the key things about the film that got him hooked is the villain in the story. “The villain in the story doesn’t have a face. The story deals with horoscope and how, it poses a lot of challenges and obstacles in the lives of a man and his nephew, and how they overcome all that. That was very unique. There’s a lot of love and sacrifice in the story, and the underlying emotion about what one does for his family is shown quite well,” the actor reveals. The idea of horoscope being portrayed as a villain is an interesting thematic element in Telugu cinema, at least in recent times, and Venkatesh says it adds a new layer to storytelling. “People have become so impatient these days. If you don’t give them a strong reason to stay glued to the screens, they get distracted quite easily. The film’s screenplay is designed in such a way that it’ll keep the audience guessing about what’s going to happen next, and there’ll be a lot of intrigue about why my character, who lives in a village near Bhimavaram, goes to Kashmir in search of his nephew. The variation between these two phases in my character’s journey was also a challenging task for me."
The prospect of collaborating with his uncle for a film might seem both interesting and fascinating but Chaitanya adds he was conscious of the fact they were working, and that meant staying true to the job. “My uncle has seen me grow up right from my childhood. He’s been a guiding force all my life, and he hasn’t changed at all, in a good way, over the years. But at the same time, I know that he approaches his work with a certain sense of discipline, and people have a lot of respect for him.
Honestly, if it were any other actor, I wouldn’t have felt that pressure, but the switch from being who we are off-screen to playing the same roles in a film was challenging. He has been acting in films for more than 30 years, and I didn’t want to goof up while acting with him. That was consciously playing on my mind. Besides, he’s so funny that sometimes, it was impossible for me to maintain my composure."
It is no different for Venkatesh, who says he has always been protective about his nephew. “It’s natural, isn’t it? He’s my sister’s son! We all want him to do well in his life, and settle down well, and make good progress in his career and life, and be happy. I believe that you are a happier person when you want to see good things happen to others. One of the spiritual gurus whom I follow closely once said, ‘If you are going through some problems, whether it’s anger, relationships, financial issues, etc, you should deal with all those emotions in your room. But once you open the door and come into this beautiful universe, you just have to spread kindness, positivity, and beautiful things around you.’ This advice made a lot of difference to my life, and I really try to implement that on a daily basis. It’s a disease to spread such negative emotions in this world. I’m not going to do that. You should always wish happiness for everyone. Then the universe will help you automatically. This emotion is no different when it comes to my own nephew."
The film has Chaitanya play an army officer. One of the key segments in the film was shot in Kashmir, where both Venkatesh and Chaitanya had to shoot action sequences in knee-deep snow. “I have so many beautiful memories from the shoot in Kashmir. Interacting with the locals and army officers in Kashmir, and getting to know more about their lives there, was inspiring. We have to thank all the departments and the government for helping us to shoot in Kashmir, and for making it all so comfortable and hassle-free for us. Also, there’s a strong reason why the story shifts to Kashmir, and it’s not used a gimmick. I’m very eager to see how the audience reacts to my role as an army officer. Whenever I’ve tried to do action, the response was quite limited. But if my role in Venky Mama clicks then I believe that it’ll open new opportunities for me, and directors too will start seeing me from a new perspective,” Chaitanya adds.
In the past few years, Venkatesh has been part of several successful multi-starrers, including Seethamma Vaakitlo Sirimalle Chettu, Gopala Gopala, and F2 to name a few. With Venky Mama, it might seem like Venkatesh has found the trick to make these sort of films work. But he says that it is not that simple or easy. “One of the key things is to have well defined and contrasting roles when you are working with another star. In all these multi-starrers that I have done in recent years, I’ve been fortunate to have worked with actors who are equally eager to do what’s right for the script. It’s important that you give your co-stars their space and create an environment where they feel comfortable. If you don’t do this early into the shoot, then things can go haywire, and it would seem like one actor is trying to dominate another one. Moreover, it all boils down to how strong the foundation of the story is, and how genuine the emotion between the characters is. If the audience finds it convincing then everything else will fall into place."
So why exactly did it take so long for Venkatesh and Suresh Babu to find a story to work with Chaitanya? In a recent interview, Suresh said, “I started producing films in 1982 and over the years, I’ve been very cautious about my decisions. Someone told me that I haven’t learnt to take failures even after all these years. I’ve tried to change my approach, but somehow the fear that I might go wrong or make a bad film keeps haunting me.”
Finding the right script is another big mystery in showbiz. Venkatesh says one needs to accept this fact. “I’ve never been in a rush to act in as many films as I can. Right from the beginning, I’ve always seen this as a business, and that means that we have to recover whatever money we are investing. I’m not attracted to the glamour or stardom part of this job. On numerous occasions, we shelved prospective films because the budget was going overboard. Sometimes, you might get really excited after reading the synopsis but once the full screenplay is written, it might not seem fascinating anymore. You don’t know why you like or reject some scripts. But when everything falls in place, nothing can stop it. You just have to accept that this is how things are in this industry."
For Chaitanya too, Venky Mama turned out to be a big learning curve, considering he was working with his uncles, Venkatesh and Suresh Babu, for the first time, “People keep saying that Suresh Babu takes a lot of time before he approves a script, but he does it for a reason. He’s so hands-on with everything, and he invests a lot of time on quality control, be it the script or what we shoot. The thing is all of us are at a stage in our career where we don’t want to disappoint the audience. Every aspect of a film is being scrutinised and criticised, if we don’t pay attention to it, these days. That’s why it’s so important to get it right, even if it takes time."
Venky Mama, starring Venkatesh, Naga Chaitanya, Raashi Khanna, and Payal Rajput, is slated for release on 13 December.
All images from YouTube.
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