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Exclusive! Chiranjeevi on Waltair Veerayya: I wish I could do a Drishyam or a Vikram too

As Waltair Veerayya re-imagines him in an energetic, entertaining avatar with a hint of 90s nostalgia, Chiranjeevi says commercial reception is more important to him than artistic satisfaction

Exclusive! Chiranjeevi on Waltair Veerayya: I wish I could do a Drishyam or a Vikram too
Chiranjeevi
  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 01.15 AM, Jan 12, 2023

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It was a good bright morning for Chiranjeevi as he set out to promote his next release Waltair Veerayya. He was a proud dad waking up to the news of his son’s film RRR winning a Golden Globe Award (for Naatu Naatu- Best Original Song). After four and a half decades in cinema spanning 150 films, the idea of retirement or slowing down doesn’t strike him. On a lighter note, he says he still has it in him to give a good fight to his son and nephews in cinema and stay relevant.

In an interview with OTTplay.com, the 68-year-old star discusses the idea of ageing gracefully, keeping the hunger in him alive and tells why he respects his Waltair Veerayya director Bobby Kolli as a professional more than a fan.

Commercial cinema and personal satisfaction as a performer

Most of my histrionic talents get a good showcase in commercial cinema and I perform imagining how the audience or my fans would react to a particular scene. On a personal level, I want to experiment as a performer in a variety of roles. That’s why you’ve seen me in Swayamkrushi, Apathbandhavudu, Mantrigari Viyyankudu (which released a week after Khaidi’s release)! However, over time, I’ve realised it’s more important to give what audiences want than opting for self-satisfaction. The producers, buyers need to be safe, which made me choose commercial films.

Post my comeback, it was my long-time dream to play a freedom fighter like in Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy on screen and I also wanted to do a powerful role minus the song-dance routine or romance, a desire which was fulfilled through Godfather. Waltair Veerayya will entertain audiences and remind audiences of vintage Chiranjeevi - like Rowdy Alludu, Gharana Mogudu, Mutha Mestri and the first half of Annayya. I had a blast during the shoot and even when they told me to pack up, I longed to be on set. I came to the set with great enthusiasm and the main reason behind it is Bobby. He inspired me to perform better and give my best. We complemented each other abilities perfectly.

Working with Ravi Teja and his role in the film

Ravi Teja, irrespective of being a star or not, has remained his usual energetic self back when he acted in Aaj Ka Goondaraaj, Annayya with me and now, in Waltair Veerayya too. Nothing has changed in him. He has maintained the same discipline and diet and as a person, he’s one straight line - he has not changed at all. Bobby narrated the story to me without mentioning that he was considering Ravi Teja for a role.

However, the character he eventually played is so strong and crucial to the film and it was the team’s unanimous call to bring him on board. Narrating each other’s dialogues (in the final scene in the trailer) happened out of mutual admiration and we thought it would give a good high to fans. It may not have been easy for Ravi Teja to tell my trademark dialogues again, but he saw it as a fanboy moment. I equally enjoyed the idea of narrating his dialogue from Idiot. I can’t wait to watch the response in theatres.

On his character, story and director Bobby Kolli

I play a fisherman character who’s into smuggling, wears gold/Rolex watches and the massy look has turned out so well. The outfits, accessories have never been so colourful in my career. I trust in content and emotions more than technology and my director Bobby believes the same and that’s why connected well. Though I may have liked him as a fan, I surrendered to him as a capable director. Bobby was so good that didn’t give me any necessity to interfere with the script at any stage.

When I choose a film, I don’t check the number of songs, fights or comedy sequences, they can’t make a film. I only focus on the core emotion that’ll make a viewer say we’ve watched a good film. I always listen to the script like a viewer and keep asking myself what would convince someone to buy a ticket and watch it in theatres. I said yes to the film in a single sitting.

In some situations, when there are grey areas within a scene and I notice it with my experience, he considered my inputs and came up with the best output. He always surpassed my expectations. Even after his father’s death, he involved himself in the shoot before the 13th day and I salute his determination. He said that he didn’t sense his father’s absence when he came to the set and considered it a breather from the personal tragedy. I like him as a professional more than a fan.

On giving the director and the team enough liberty to convey their disagreement despite experience

If you observe me on set, I never look at the monitor. I don’t change my position in front of the camera until a director/cinematographer checks the shot and is satisfied. I only move from my position once they give me a go-ahead signal. I’m always aware of how my scene is panning out but I listen and trust the director’s call. I never try to overpower them. I give them the ease and the freedom of working with a newcomer. However, once we’re done with the shoot, we mutually respect each other and share a good rapport.

Teaming up with Shruti Haasan, Bobby Simha

Shruti Haasan is a great co-star, dancing comes to her naturally and it’s in her genes. She is the daughter of my good friend Kamal Haasan for a reason. In challenging locations like France, there was no scope to prepare anything beyond location. We had to learn the moves on the spot and perform directly on location and she did a fine job. I even worked on a fight with her. I would want to work with her again and it’s rare to come across such professionalism. Meanwhile, Bobby Simha too happened to be my good fan and he is a Bandar native. He was narrating my dialogues and singing my songs on the set. He is a fantastic actor; you’ll be scared watching him on screen.

The importance of ‘editing’ right during the ‘writing’ stage

We have not shot anything extra for the film, it’s important to edit something right at the writing stage than shoot a sequence and not use it late. I always tell the team if a scene is stretching beyond necessity and the producer was safe, as a result. The director needs to take care of the producer first. One must think before chasing high-end equipment and see if it’s feasible for the film - ultimately the emotions are the same. Even in Maredumilli, when we were shooting a two-minute-long sequence, I asked stunt director Peter Heins to be precise and not go overboard. People with authority on set should always minimise costs wherever necessary. We shot the film for over 120 days.

Pushing yourself hard while nearing 70 and the idea of retirement

When people say, is it necessary to push yourself so hard at this age, I say it’s important because I signed up for it; I’d taken remuneration for it and it’s a commitment I’ve made to entertain audiences. The moment we don’t feel that necessity, it’s better to retire. Amitabh Bachchan comes to the set with the same enthusiasm, travels across cities, countries and works hard even today. He’s an inspiration to so many of us. In the early years of our profession, we come with the hunger to prove ourselves and it’s important to sustain it. You need to work hard at your job or else, retirement is the best option.

On the driving force to work and reinvent from time to time

The love of the audience is my driving force every day. When I see the world upside down while I do bungee jumping at 250 feet height, it’s natural to tremble. I forget everything when I imagine how the audience would react to that shot on screen and call it an extraordinary feat. Imagining this reaction from the viewer, I was so relaxed while shooting for one such scene; people who watched Bavagaru Bagunnara would remember that shot. I can’t cite a better example than that.

Ageing gracefully on screen

I always want to age gracefully on screen and try unique roles. Whenever I want to do that, I have people coming to me and saying that I look good in my Gang Leader/Gharana Mogudu avatar (referring to Waltair Veerayya). Even I get tired of doing the same dances and fights. I wish I could come to set and do films that don’t challenge me physically. Do I need to work in such cold weather, dusty locations and drown myself in dirty water? I do it because audiences want to see me in a particular way.

I wish I could do a Drishyam or Vikram too, where I play a father to two kids or hold guns and go on a killing spree, but I’m not sure when and how will that transformation happen. Audiences will decide that and we must be ready for that day. People also ask me if I’m ready for direction too. There will be a day when I need to take a backseat and do something off-screen. I am not habituated to sitting idle. Watching someone like Clint Eastwood, acting and directing at 91-92 is so inspiring; even I want to dedicate myself to cinema until my last breath.

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