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Exclusive! Ashok Galla: The OTT premiere of Hero felt like a second release, I was flooded with messages

The Hero actor looks back at his launch vehicle Hero, the OTT space, finding his identity amidst many stalwarts in his family and how wishes to take his career forward

Exclusive! Ashok Galla: The OTT premiere of Hero felt like a second release, I was flooded with messages
Ashok Galla

Last Updated: 07.43 PM, Apr 05, 2022


Ashok Galla, the birthday boy who turns 30 today, is just back from a trip to Tirupathi, having shaved his head completely without any worry about maintaining a look for his film. "I'm free from neck and shoulder pains," he says on a jovial note, while he spends his third birthday in the industry as an actor (the other two were on the sets of Hero). He is a third-generation actor in his family which has a key place in the history and evolution of Telugu cinema. He's the grandson of actor Krishna, nephew to actors Mahesh Babu, (late) Ramesh Babu while his father Jaydev Galla is a politician and grandfather Ramachandra Naidu, a prominent industrialist. 

A lot was riding on him when he made his acting debut with Sriram Adittya's Hero earlier this year and he lived up to the expectations, letting his work do the talking. Hero was a perfect commercial package tailormade to showcase Ashok's strengths as an actor - be it humour, action or the song-dance routine. While turning another leaf in his life, the actor, in a chat with, recounts his formative years, the experiences that brought out the actor in him, life after the release of Hero and handling the criticism, limelight of showbiz.

On spending a major part of your life away from the limelight back home

I went to Singapore to boarding school in my seventh grade and acting classes were very much a part of my education. They (school) make us do Beijing operas, Shakespeare and something very different from our roots here. When I was taking acting classes in Singapore, I was getting appreciated by my peers and teachers. My confidence grew over the years and by the time, I was in 10th grade, I knew that I wanted to make a career out of it. I took it up very seriously till the 12th. 

The main intention behind growing away from home in a boarding school was to deviate me from films - at least that was what my paternal grandfather and dad were thinking. I had acted before briefly in Nani (Mahesh Babu's film) and another film with my maternal grandfather, Krishna garu, Pandanti Samsaram when I was 7. I was 11 when I did Nani and was 13 by the time it had released. It was on the sets of Nani that I discovered my liking for cinema. I enjoyed being on sets and was playfully thinking that I could make a living by doing films. 


Finding his identity and carving his niche in a family full of stalwarts

I think that's still happening, if you know what I mean. It took a while for me to make my debut but I don't regret any of the time it took to be here. I was always aware that there was something that people will expect from me and that I should respect the field I've chosen. I came here with a passion and not merely to have some fun. I always kept my mind focused on doing it. I got a filmmaking degree from college too. I took time to ready myself for the dance, fight routine. I felt they were my weaknesses and I didn't want them to weigh me down or for it to show up on the screen. A few years went by for everything to fall in place and here I am.

Ashok Galla
Ashok Galla

Discovering the joys of commercial cinema in contrast to the acting school experience

Even though I did Chinese operas or Shakespearan plays, I can't deny my love for commercial cinema. I just love it. Be it Chiranjeevi, Balakrishna or Mahesh Babu, I relish watching them in ultra mass roles, wearing good costumes, doing crazy steps, being part of a lavish set and doing cool action pieces. It's because of my love for mainstream cinema that I was doubly excited for Hero. When Sriram told me that he was adding a cowboy segment in the film, I almost fell out of my chair and told him 'bring it on'. The excitement helps you stay in that zone while you shoot for the film.

Choosing Hero for his debut

Hero was one of the simplest, easiest decisions I've made. I and Sriram connected well as an actor and a director and turned out to be good friends. We were supposed to work on another script but later felt it might not have been the best choice for a debut. Hero, as a story idea, was something he wanted to make for a long time. He pitched it to me overnight while we were having dinner and we realised this was the film we had to make. 

Hero was finalised that one night and before I knew it, the ball got rolling - the film office was set up, he completed the script and the project went on floors. I thought it was a perfect new-age film - we could have either made it as a serious, intense action entertainer or could have also gone the DJ Tillu way. We took a progressive script and gave it an outlook that's similar to a mainstream fare. One rarely picks such treatment for a story like this. That was the joy of doing this film. 

The autobiographical connection between him and his character in Hero

Not only for me but I felt a lot of issues in the film are universal - say hair loss, imagine how an acting aspirant would freak out while discussing it. Many industry strugglers will relate to Jagapathi Babu's journey in the film. Every character was close to reality - be it Naresh (garu) or Archana Ananth, the emotions within a family seemed very true to life. The combination of a hyperactive mother and an overly practical father worked out well. All those interactions and relationships in the film were very genuine (at least to me).

Whether he was conscious of the several references to his family in Hero and if any effort was made to do the balancing act

I never tried to overthink the references to Krishna and Mahesh Babu in the film, I would say the direction department handled it entirely and did the balancing act. But at the same time, the movie could take it also - Hero is almost a celebration of movies. One can even consider it a tribute to Telugu cinema. The entire dialogue in the climax discusses the influence movies have on our lives. 

We could afford to take references from anywhere and everywhere and in fact, filled the film with references from every notable star who's made a mark in Telugu cinema, my family and beyond too. We thought we had the right space to go berserk and gave it our everything. That it entertained people and brought a smile on their faces is what matters to me, at the end of the day.

Handling criticism

I didn't take criticism personally. If somebody doesn't like a film, there's not much you can do about it and I took it in my stride. While listening to some feedback, I wondered if they watched the same film we made. Some comments felt like they had something else in their mind while writing the review. I accept fair criticism always but some of the responses were very vague and lacked basis. That's when I wanted to ask them, 'did you watch the same version of the film?' At the same place, I am okay with someone telling me that the logic went for a toss in places (in Hero). It's the call we took, given the way we approached the film.

Padmavathi Galla, the producer beyond being a mum

When she's talking about the film or is on set, she is always a producer first, in an extreme sense. Let me tell you a small story. My father was busy with the parliament session one day and he had only a night to spend at home and had to go to Guntur the next day. He asked me to spend the time with him and skip the gym routine for the day. It was a day of shoot and after thinking twice about it, I was fine about giving my gym time a pass and told dad I was coming home. 

Exactly two minutes after that, mom calls me to say, 'Your dad will always stay here..go to the gym first.' I was like, 'okay producer mam, I am going to the gym!' She means business when it comes to film production but once work is over, she'll come by and ask, 'How are you doing Ashok?'

Responses to Hero post the film's OTT release

The OTT premiere felt like a second release. I got more messages, and appreciation posts, I thought there was more 'hungama' after the OTT release. That's also because we were so occupied with non-stop promotions over a couple of weeks in January (during theatrical release) and we didn't get any time to process the reception for the film. I am also very much open to doing web shows if the right opportunity comes my way, it will probably give me greater creative satisfaction. I haven't got any offers till now though. 

If politics interested him at any point?

Politics is something that never interested me. I wouldn't want to step into it any time. The main reason - is I don't follow it enough to understand it, to reach the heights one wants to. I think I would make for an extremely bad politician and won't survive in the field. Most importantly, I don't like it and don't want to be placed in that zone. It's not my cup of tea.

Ashok Galla
Ashok Galla

Turning 30 - what does the number mean to him?

I am glad that by the time I've officially turned 30, I've become an actor - that is my only relief right now. With birthdays, I've stopped caring about numbers a long time back. The reason behind it is that I initially didn't want to go to the US for college but my dad had pushed me into it. I knew it'll take a while for me to finish college, and get ready for films. I planned to take up a course in Chennai and be ready for a debut when I am 22-23. From thinking I'll take up acting at 22 to finally debuting at 30, a lot of time had passed. Training for films took a lot of time out of my life. 

Passions beyond films

I always liked football but I had to step back because I didn't want to injure myself and make my life difficult later in films - be it training for fights or weightlifting. I had to choose what was more important and stopped playing football as a hobby. In my free time, I try to watch movies, play video games, anything that keeps me safe and doesn't interfere with my career.

If he's getting used to the limelight

It wasn't something I looked forward to but you can't prepare for it. I thought I was ready for it but until it happened, I realised I wasn't. You think you're prepared but you're not. It's one of those things. Until it happens to you, you never know what to make of it. As long as I can stay focused and keep my mind clear, I think I can manage it.

On the road ahead...

Now that I've done an out-and-out commercial film, I want to do something story/character-driven and has more depth. Even during my acting classes, I felt intensity and subtle acting were my strengths. Ironically, I got to do something in a full-on commercial zone, trying comedy in my very first film. I want to do films at a faster pace going forward, I can't afford to take two years for every film. We have two-three interesting scripts and are pondering over which one to choose. You may expect an announcement in June. The dilemma is between choosing an experienced director and newcomers. I hope to release my second film this year itself.

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