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Exclusive! Jhansi Season 2 actor Chaitanya Sagiraju: A filmmaker’s conviction matters to me

The actor, who shot to fame with Hit: The First Case and was seen in Hotstar's show Jhansi, throws light on his career in the industry 

Exclusive! Jhansi Season 2 actor Chaitanya Sagiraju: A filmmaker’s conviction matters to me
Chaitanya Sagiraju
  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 03.46 PM, Jan 22, 2023

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As an introverted youngster who struggled to open up and socialise amidst people, Chaitanya Sagiraju used dance as an outlet to express himself without any inhibitions. He was naturally thrilled with the popularity that came his way for his dances till his college days and he initially saw acting as a path to build on that fame. After juggling his IT job with a few short films and indie projects, he realised how being in front of the camera made him happy. Five years into his job, Chaitanya took that leap of faith to give up his stable income and build a career in the entertainment industry.

After making a mark in indie films Anaganaga Kathalo, Sadaa Nee Premalo, mainstream projects like Hit: The First Case and the web Jhansi on Hotstar, the budding actor holds forth on his love affair with the camera.

Chaitanya Sagiraju
Chaitanya Sagiraju

From dancing to acting and finding my feet

I used to dance regularly from childhood till my engineering days. I was quite popular among my juniors and I tried to sustain that fame through acting, without looking at it as a career. I studied in Bheemavaram, was a huge Prabhas fan and my uncle was his fan’s association president. I was under the assumption that my uncle would help me take my career forward. I had a childhood friend who studied at IIT and wanted to be a film director while managing his job in Bengaluru. I was naturally interested and bagged a job in the same city in 2012. He continued with that job but I felt I was a misfit in the IT job.

I did a photoshoot soon and my friend shared my profile with an aspirant director. In 2013, I did a short film and used to travel from Bengaluru to Hyderabad during the weekends for shoots. I got transferred to Hyderabad later and was relieved to not travel every weekend. I acted in an independent film Anaganaga O Kathalo, which changed everything for me. The director Shivadeep Nimmala is a college friend and I trusted him blindly. He assisted Trivikram before and I didn’t foresee that opportunity from him. Through the project, I realised my mistakes and evolved and became more confident with my craft and in conveying my emotions.

Quitting my job for a career in the industry and bagging Hit: The First Case

Soon, I gained the confidence to quit the IT job and started getting audition calls. In 2018, I got married and my wife was ready to support me financially. I did a few other independent films later for experience. I wasn’t happy with the characters coming my way and I didn’t want to do the stereotypical friend or brother-in-law roles. Soon, I worked in an indie film Sadaa Nee Premalo, in which I played a character with different looks across decades and it offered me a good scope for a performance. In the same year, director Sailesh Kolanu was looking to cast an actor for Hit and they were searching for talent from short films.

During the audition, the team of Hit gave me a role where my daughter gets kidnapped and the kidnapper asks me to kill my wife. I did a good job with it; they liked the fact that I was prepared and gave me a different character. They spent an hour coordinating my looks, role and performance. I generally get detached after an audition but surprisingly, I was finalised for a key role. I didn’t even inform my family about it and I wanted to surprise them at the time of release. I am generally introverted and people thought if I would go far being reserved here but watching my performance in Hit, my near and dear grew in confidence about my abilities.

Life after Hit and COVID-19

I got calls for a few projects later and the pandemic happened. I drew a blank for two years and one of my writer friends Vamsi suggested my name for Jhansi. I want to do roles that create an impact and not simply appear on the screen. I was also part of Shuffle, a rom-com spanning five-episode series. I am confident audiences will like it. In another project Shivaoham, an arthouse film for the web, I play an auto driver in Kadapa and it is shaping up very well. It is one of the best characters of my career. I played brief roles in ZEE5’s Bahishkarana and Bhoothaddam Bhaskar Narayana; there are negative shades in my role in the former.

Finding my purpose as an actor

I want to be recognised as a good actor and perform roles according to my age. I don’t know if I can do any other job as well as this. From my childhood, I was an introvert but I forgot everything when I danced on stage and didn’t speak much otherwise. Even during engineering, not much changed. I danced without inhibitions. Overcoming my fears and getting experience were among the main reasons I took up short films. I understood the technicalities of acting better with time. The court petition scene in Jhansi was probably the only scene where I had to perform amidst 150-200 people. Otherwise, I was generally surrounded by a limited crew on sets.

I forget everything else whenever I am in front of the camera. I was surprisingly never nervous on sets. I don’t consume many takes, I prepare well and behave as per the needs of the script. I am never into socialising and blamed for not pushing myself too hard. Seeing my short film days in 2012 and looking at how I have progressed and am passionate about my job even today, I feel I am in the right profession. I always used to follow the footsteps of my childhood friend for a long time, he was two years elder to me and I didn’t know my purpose for a long time. Acting was the only thing I consciously took up in my career and my parents are now happy about it.

Any regrets about leaving a reasonably stable career in the IT sector?

Though I have a few worries that I am not supporting my family the way I’m expected to, I am satisfied about pursuing my ambition and am hopeful of making it big soon. The main issue behind giving up a corporate career was that I never liked my job. When I shifted to Hyderabad, I even had suicidal tendencies and there was immense mental pressure to fulfil my duties despite support from my superiors. I may not have a stable income today but I am happy that I don’t have to do a job that I don’t like.

Chaitanya Sagiraju
Chaitanya Sagiraju

Developing a network of like-minded well-wishers, filmmakers in the industry

Honestly, I consider myself lucky that I have had well-wishers who respected me for my talent and offered me projects. When I am working, I make sure I develop a good rapport with the team and be malleable. I don’t waste much time on sets because time is money. Each minute costs around Rs 6000 on sets and you shouldn’t take it for granted. I have a very limited circle of filmmaker friends in the industry but I take up anything that they offer blindly. A lot of people offer me roles but I take a lot of time to trust people. I need a good reason to say yes, the role has to have a deeper meaning, depth. The conviction of a storyteller matters to me.

I think I have improved with every project, regardless of the length of the role. I feel I am more at ease as an actor now. With Jhansi too, I was equally prepared for a yes or a no. The team narrated the script, asked me for my dates, and didn’t watch my previous work. I didn’t know if I would be able to impress them. After a couple of takes, the director Thiru came to me and told me I was doing a good job. The vibe on the set was very positive and most of my co-actors including Anjali were quite comfortable.

On his next big release, the web series Shuffle

We wanted to do the project during the pandemic and planned to do it on a very low budget. Jagadish Cheekati came on board as the cinematographer and Rajini (who works with Pawan Kalyan) helped us with the costumes. We pitched it to UV Creations and my friend wanted to do it with his team and didn’t want any involvement from them for the production. They took a coffee shop for rent and hired another room opposite the building. We just had to cross the road to enter the set. All the actors had a 10-day workshop and we were very comfortable with each other. It has organic comedy, an underlying emotion and the situations are very unique. The show will bring a smile to your face.

Have OTTs opened new doors for actors?

I am not sure if OTTs have created new opportunities for me. I don’t know what approach streamers are adopting to go with their casting decisions. Some chase social media popularity, some look for identifiable faces while auditions aren’t always held for newcomers. I hope to create my next opportunity through my performances and I believe in my abilities. It all depends on the approach of a particular team.

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