The actor’s second film is an ultra-realistic love story by the National Award-winning filmmaker, which he is now following up with a commercial flick directed by Nanda Kishore, called Raana.
Shreyas Manju grew up surrounded by all things cinema; the son of veteran producer K Manju, he has seen it all – the good, bad and ugly included. That he would want to get into cinema was a given, but he wasn’t sure of what to do until filmmaker Indrajit Lankesh gave him a pep talk.
The result was that Shreyas decided that he wanted to be in front of the camera, leaving other aspects of filmmaking in his father’s able hands. After months of hard work to physically get in shape for the camera, he made his debut with the commercial flick Paddehuli, directed by Guru Deshpande. At the time, Shreyas was super-confident about what he was bringing to the table, but the lukewarm response to the film told him otherwise. “I had worked really hard on Paddehuli, but audiences felt it could have been better,” he says.
Then, instead of sticking to the tried-and-tested formula, Shreyas picked a sober love story as his next, directed by Malayalam filmmaker VK Prakash, in which he is paired with Priya Varrier. “Vishnu Priya is complete and has come out well. Back in April, we were approached by an OTT platform to release it, but we decided against it, solely because the visuals of the film, which have been shot amid greenery and mist, are meant for a theatrical viewing. My character in the film is mad about love, which, we believe, audiences will be able to relate to. November is when we are looking at releasing the film in theatres,” says Shreyas, adding that the first song from the Gopi Sundar musical will be released this week.
Vishnu Priya, he adds, is not a regular Kannada film or run-of-the-mill love story. “The dialogues are different, there is no comedy track or action. It has a very realistic feel to it, much like what you see in Malayalam or Tamil films. Honestly, I still have butterflies in my stomach about having done something so different. In fact, when I was dubbing for the film, I wasn’t entirely sure about how it was shaping up because the story runs high on emotions, and voiced my apprehensions to VKP sir. But once Gopi Sundar finished the re-recording, it elevated the whole experience to another level and I then went and apologized to the team,” says Shreyas.
Working with VK Prakash, adds Shreyas, has made him a better actor. “VKP sir is a National Award-winning filmmaker, who does not tolerate any form of heroism or exaggeration with body language, dialogue delivery or expressions. He would tell me straightaway if he thought I was overdoing anything and got me to be as real as possible with the most subtle expressions. In a sense, this involved a lot of unlearning whatever I had done in my debut film. If you look at most Kannada films, they tend to be loud in all aspects. Vishnu Priya is nothing like that,” says Shreyas, adding, “After we were done, VKP sir called me aside and said, ‘I saw Paddehuli before we worked together, and I would have rated you a three on 10 as an actor back then. But now, I think you’ve shown that you are a seven or more’. That made me very happy.”
Yet after this experience, Shreyas is currently working on a film with Pogaru maker Nanda Kishore, an entertainer called Raana. “It was not a conscious decision; it just so happened that at the beginning of the pandemic, we were on the lookout for a script to develop as my next film. We recently released a first-look teaser, which has given people the impression that Raana will be a hardcore, loud masala entertainer. But that’s the thing, this impression is only based on the teaser, while the character is nothing like that. He is quiet and subtle, always minding his own business. Circumstances force him to defend himself and that is the bit we chose for the teaser,” explains the actor.
Shreyas adds that Raana is not all mass and no class. “I think it strikes middle ground in its narrative style. Yes, there are commercial elements, like songs, dance and action, but I do not have bombastic punchlines. The action in this film will be a highlight; we’ve used references from the Hindi film War and the English movie John Wick and built on it. In fact, the second half completely runs on action. The stunts take the narrative forward, rather than the story,” he says.
Nanda, though, is fresh off the success of his last release, Pogaru, so expectations will be high on his next. Is this putting any pressure on Shreyas? “I think with Pogaru it was more about its leading man Dhruva (Sarja) and the fact that he had three hits prior to that. More than box-office expectations, I think audiences are more curious about how Nanda anna will portray me,” reasons Shreyas.
As a one-film-old actor still making baby steps in the industry, what image is Shreyas trying to project? “I don’t want to build any particular image. So far, I have tried to be as different as possible with each of my films, be it with my looks, body language, characterization, etc. In fact, last year, I had done a photo-shoot conceptualized by choreographer Imran Sardhariya, possibly for an upcoming hardcore romantic comedy. The idea is to portray me as a playboy. This will, hopefully, be my next after Raana. I am trying to steer clear of stereotypical commercial films, but will try and infuse some freshness into the genre. I am also not hung up about the subject revolving around my character; case in point being Vishnu Priya, which is about two lovers and the problems they face,” he signs off.