The ‘Natural Star’ holds forth on his latest release Hi Nanna, promising a familiar yet a moving tale
Nani and Mrunal Thakur
Nani has been on a promotional overdrive to widen the reach for Hi Nanna across multiple languages, roping in the biggest of names in the industry for interviews, travelling across cities, speaking to scribes. He’s visibly exhausted, points to the kumkum on his forehead and says, ‘my mom feels I’ve been everywhere these few months and wanted to ward off the evil eye with a drishti.’
After Dasara, it’s the second time Nani has gone out of the way to spread his wings across industries. “Generally, we presume that the film should do the talking more than us and try to step back. I always wondered if exhaustive promotional interviews were necessary and how it would translate into collections. Dasara changed my perspective. It’s important to make a good film and also promote it aggressively.”
While in conversation with Kannada star Shiva Rajkumar earlier this week too, they discussed that the gaps between industries have diminished in the recent times, giving Nani another reason to promote his films well. “He was happy to know the reception for Jailer and how everyone here is aware of his work. I was to do a special appearance in a song for one of his films, which couldn’t materialise.”
He compares Hi Nanna to a dessert in his career - something that’s sweet, feel-good and is the most important part of the meal. “I feel such films have reduced over the years. Moreover, if there are 100 films focusing on motherhood, barely 4-5 films discuss the father’s side of the story. If I try to force a reason behind choosing Hi Nanna, I would be lying. I’ve just gone by my instinct, hoping it would work.”
Though the popular notion is that Nani is more open to working to newcomers than established directors, the actor says it’s the story that takes the cake. “If something like a Dasara came from a popular name too, I would have done it. With a newcomer, I make sure I don’t waste their time and give my reaction immediately.” His experiences as an assistant director have considerably influenced his approach.
“As an assistant, I’ve seen how directors have waited for years to rope in a particular actor, only to be disappointed later. Time is money and energy too. As newcomers, they come with a certain enthusiasm and the least you could do is to be honest with them,” he shares. While choosing a film, Nani also makes it a point to do it for the right reasons and not get swayed by the external factors.
The lessons he learnt prior to Yevade Subrahmanyam - when he faced setbacks like Jenda Pai Kapiraju, Paisa, Aaha Kalyanam - have come in handy. “While I blindly wanted to work with Krishna Vamsi (Paisa) without listening to the script, I was distracted by YRF’s brand value for Aaha Kalyanam. With Jenda Pai.., I was excited about the double role. None of these factors helped when the films released.”
Interestingly, when Nag Ashwin approached him for Yevade.., he liked his laidback attitude. He wore shorts, kept scratching his eye as he was narrating and had the conviction to shoot near the Himalayas sans apprehension. “While I wanted to do a coming-of-age film, I knew I would get to learn something from the experience. Ever since, I’ve trusted my heart to do a film and the approach hasn’t failed me.”
When someone points out that Hi Nanna marks Nani’s return to his comfort zone after Dasara, the actor states, “People said the same when I did entertainers/comedies. I like how my ‘comfort zone’ keeps changing. I’m the same actor who did MCA, Dasara and V. It’s also humbling when Venkatesh (garu) said that his fans feel Nani has taken after him in catering to the tastes of family audiences.”
There have been several theories about Hi Nanna’s plot in the recent times, with a few comparing it to a Korean film and hits like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Santosham. “In this age where we’re exposed to stories across the globe, it’s hard to tell something that has never been explored before. Parts of Hi Nanna may feel familiar, but it’s intentional. Within a relatable terrain, we’ve tried to tell something new.”
While Nani has high words of praise for his co-stars Mrunal Thakur and Baby Kiara and labels them gifted performers, he emphasises the significance of the cinematographer Sanu John Varghese and Hesham Abdul Wahab’s music in the film. “Sanu is undoubtedly my favourite cinematographer. The beauty in his work is that he doesn’t try hard to impress. All his films in Telugu have been with me.”
Nani opines Hesham’s songs remind him of AR Rahman’s albums in the 90s. “When we listen to AR Rahman even today, we often compare it to his 90s hits - such is the standard he has set. Hesham has come close to achieving that in recent times.” He adds that Shruti Hassan only appears in a song in the film and promises a few surprises in the cast. After a show with his family later in the day, Nani leaves to the US for the last leg of promotions and plans to spend quality time with his sister later.