The Butterfly, Evaru actor recollects his earliest memories of facing the camera, his next release A Beautiful Girl, his desire to be part of impactful indie cinema and the need to build a strong ecosystem to tell good stories
Last Updated: 02.00 AM, Jan 23, 2023
Nihal Kodhaty, one of many promising finds in Telugu cinema who’s come up with credible performances in Butterfly, Panchatantra Kathalu and Evaru, isn’t new to fame or limelight. Having made his debut as a child actor in Nikhil Advani’s Salaam E Ishq and working in Jagadam later, he was part of a little over a dozen feature films and a handful of advertisements before he turned 15. By the time he transitioned into a male lead, Nihal knew the ABCs of his craft organically.
He confesses to being an introverted kid, a terrific dancer, a business school product, and it’s hard to slot him in a box. In a chat with OTTplay.com, it’s evident that there’s more to Nihal than his acting dreams.
It all began with dance…
I was a very introverted kid who was very much into myself and my parents wanted me to dance and put me through a class though I was not interested. My mom used to take me in an auto to the class every day and for a couple of weeks, I was so shy that I could not get myself to dance. My mom warned me she would put me in a police station nearby if I didn’t dance the next day and that’s how it all began.
First brush with cinema
I learnt to dance for a few years and I started getting a kick out of it. I ended up winning a competition held for child models in Mumbai and filmmaker Nikhil Advani, one of the judges, who was shooting Salaam E Ishq in Hyderabad, wanted me to come down to the set one day. I was to play a friend to another child actor in the film. When the kid didn’t perform as per their expectations, I stepped into his shoes and the very first shot in my career was with Govinda sir. Hindi came naturally to me and it went well.
The Jagadam experience and balancing academics as a child actor
A few days later, I came on board for Jagadam as Ram Pothineni’s brother. I was perplexed for a while, noticing so many people on set but I was treated with utmost care, they bought me chocolates to make me act. After the fourth day, I felt I had great fun and began enjoying it. I didn’t acknowledge it back then but the basics of the craft - standing on your mark, taking the light, standing steady for focus - came to me at an age where I absorbed it quickly and didn’t have to really learn.
I was on the sets of Jagadam for 70 days and it was a film school for me. Initially, films were an excuse to bunk school but I enjoyed it with time - I did many ads for big brands and nearly 18 films as a child actor. I started acting when I was in my sixth class and went on till I was 15. I don’t remember attending school all those years. My parents were completely okay with it and I wasn’t a bad student either. I had tuition, I worked a few hours more before the exams and I fell in the distinction category and my parents didn’t complain. Right from my childhood, it was clear that this is a profession I would be exploring in the future.
From being a child on sets to choosing acting as a career as an adult
It was indeed a change. Though the aim was always to be an actor here, it wasn’t easy to risk your career with a profession like this. I and my father had a conversation during my 12th grade where we were discussing whether to go to a film school or take up the conventional form of education. Dad preferred the latter and hence, I finished my mechanical engineering (Guntur Vignan), went to France for a student exchange programme for a year and did my MBA later.
I was enjoying my professional stint but I realised this isn’t what I’d initially planned for. I wondered if the stint as a child actor was a fluke and wanted to know if I had it in me to take up acting as a career. I did a small film that helped me bag Evaru and it was a litmus test for me to know how I could carry myself as an actor on screen. Every day on the set was a confidence booster. Sesh gave his everything for the film and he’s someone who didn’t believe in complimenting his co-actors for their shot. (he thought it was their job to act well)
However, he clapped after every shot I gave and it was a morale booster. I realised I was good in marketing and analytics but Evaru made me realise it was time to take charge of my acting career. One of my mottos, after making that decision, was to meet at least one film celebrity every day. I went to every audition I knew of and all my current projects materialised that way. All along, I believed in my worth and worked with the right bunch of people who helped me portray my character aptly.
When dance paved the way for the actor in him
As a kid, I used to feel liberated when I danced and most of the cultural venues in Hyderabad were like home. It completed me and I did over 1000 shows across the country, learnt in Shiamak Dawar’s institute, and went to competitions on Sony, and Star Plus and it opened me up as a kid. My gurus told me I was unique because I danced with my face and that’s where the acting bug bit me. Dancing is a huge contributor to the actor that I am today.
Handling self-doubt during teenage years
As far as I can remember, I was very fickle-minded during my graduation/MBA days. In a few days, I thought I would take up the placement offer and lead a fancy life in a luxurious house. Another day, I would take up an online course in film technicalities to have a deeper understanding of filmmaking.
Though I enjoyed my student days, I was confused mostly. I wasn’t in the industry then but I was involuntarily into film tutorial videos and director interviews. Honestly, engineering didn’t demand much out of me and I had enough time. I was part of a film club in college, I even remember doing a frame-to-frame analysis of Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh with friends.
If the near and dear contributed to his confusion
My parents came in handy because they didn’t pay heed to relatives who weren’t happy about me giving up a comfy MBA career. All they told me was that I could be successful or be a disaster, but I would be at least happy making a career in cinema. They promised to take care of my finances and looking at my progress to date, I think I’m proving them right.
If there was disappointment about not enrolling in a film school
For a brief point, I was slightly sad that I couldn’t learn filmmaking the conventional way but I slowly started realising that the who’s who in cinema didn’t go to a film school either. Acting, more as a craft, is about observation and I try to pick up traits, and mannerisms from every person I met - the way they talk, eat, behave, smile, drink and breathe. Subconsciously, I dream of using these influences for a role.
Working his way through diverse roles
Regardless of your capabilities as an actor, you can only be as good as your script and the director you work with. Both Panchantantra Kathalu and Evaru, my directors Shekar and Ramji were very clear about what they wanted from me. I want to take up roles that are contrasting from one another that, people can’t even identify me easily. While I shaved my head for Evadu, I was this rustic youngster in Panchaantra Kathalu belonging to a village in Telangana. In Butterfly, I didn’t have to do much to go out of my comfort zone while The Beautiful Girl took me into an entirely different zone as an actor.
Reason behind saying yes to Butterfly
Butterfly and A Beautiful Girl are produced by the same banner – GenNXT Movies. They had told me that I only play a supporting hand in Butterfly but guaranteed it would bring me reach, visibility and it was important to be seen in good films. When people like Rao Ramesh, Bhumika and cinematographer Sameer Reddy came on board, it was an easy decision to make because ultimately, I am here to work with credible names and learn from them.
I was the male lead in Butterfly, but the story was about the girl and it was a fair deal. I take pride in the fact that I don’t just act when I am associated with a project. Using my MBA knowledge, I helped Butterfly producers come up with a pitch deck for the film, involving myself in the negotiations with Disney+ Hotstar, understanding the budgeting, and cost-cutting measures, meeting distributors who explained the importance of landing the right film. I wasn’t trying to do my job as an actor and tried to get a holistic view of the process.
Putting MBA knowledge to good use in cinema
Luckily, I studied marketing and analytics in my MBA and was able to make it work here. I worked in the PUMA head office for my internship, associated with the biggest marketing players in the country (in addition to a campaign with Virat Kohli). I believe I have an understanding of the marketplace and presenting your product to the target audience, though the filmmaking business works differently.
Looking beyond acting in cinema
It’s too early to venture into anything beyond acting now. I want to establish myself as an actor in the next decade, make a lot of money and produce films with newcomers. I also want to build a small place in a small building where first-time filmmakers have the liberty to work on their films, do post-production, have an understanding of how to pitch their product for the OTTs and push themselves in the market. I have known several instances where there are great films which can’t make it to OTTs owing to the lack of resources. I want to be a bridge between both ends though it’ll take a while for me to get there.
On his approach to choosing scripts
I am thankfully in a position where I’m getting a lot of offers. While the scripts are good in some cases, they don’t have the infrastructure to execute them and in other situations, the scripts aren’t great. I want to strike a balance between films where I get to play the lead and another film, where irrespective of the length of the role, I do it for the reach. A Beautiful Girl is a story revolving around me and I would ideally want to balance it out with a film that’s headlined by a mainstream star.
The plan for the future
Being part of good, amazing cinema is my priority. I want to bring nuance to commercial cinema. Even within indie cinema, I honestly believe a lot of stories in the hinterlands of the country are still waiting to be told. I’ve some heard fantastic stories from writers but I’m doubtful if the stars would be a part of it because they would ideally want something bigger in scale. My current priority is to be a part of such stories, work extensively on the pre-production, get the budget right, host workshops and help it get on floors. I think it’s doable. I want to do untold stories that are commercially viable. In this age, storytelling is the biggest art form one should master.
What to expect from A Beautiful Girl?
A Beautiful Girl is eyeing a February release and we’re in the final stages of post-production. We’re extremely happy about the film, it has come out very well and we are going for a theatrical release. The story is about Ravi and Charitra and how their small dreams lead to huge problems and how they deal with them. It’s thrilling while there’s a love story unfolding simultaneously. The team is super kicked about it and it’s going to be big. It’s a hungry team, there was mad energy on sets, we sometimes worked for 18-20 hours a day in a 56-day schedule and genuinely hope this will be a game-changer for us.