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Exclusive! Nani on Ante Sundaraniki: Sundar is innocent and mischievous at once; the challenge was to make him likeable

The actor opens up on Ante Sundaraniki, what makes its director Vivek Athreya a great find for Telugu cinema and the brand of comedy that the film would be known for

  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 04.19 PM, Jun 08, 2022

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Exclusive! Nani on Ante Sundaraniki: Sundar is innocent and mischievous at once; the challenge was to make him likeable
Nani

Nani is the ‘Mr Consistent’ of Telugu cinema. His presence in a film ensures it a minimum guarantee value. Period. His stardom is a result of the audience’s trust in his choices. No other actor has come close to him in displaying earnestness on the screen - no wonder he’s nicknamed the ‘Natural star’.

After a memorable film like Shyam Singha Roy, Nani returns to his comfort zone - a lighthearted comedy with Ante Sundaraniki, directed by Vivek Athreya. He is cast as Sundar, a youngster who feels trapped by the Brahminical conservatism within his family.

In a chat with OTTplay.com, he tells us why the brand of comedy in Ante Sundaraniki is much different from his previous films and how the pan-Indian film trend hasn’t affected the way he chooses his films.

On his continual faith in young, first-time filmmakers:

Many ask me why I keep working with new or debutant directors. Rather than working with established filmmakers, I like to work with those who’ll turn into star directors in the future - that way I would be an integral part of their journey. There’s greater satisfaction in trusting someone in the initial phase of their career than in the time they become big.

Isn’t it a risk to bet on filmmakers with no body of work? How do you trust them?

I always trust my gut feeling. Many people gave me opportunities and trusted me when I was three-four films old and didn’t have a vast body of work. It’s because of them that I’ve come this far. I feel that I need to give that platform to upcoming talented directors too. I don’t overthink if I believe in someone’s potential and take the plunge instantly.

What separates Ante Sundaraniki’s Vivek Athreya from the rest?

From the time Vivek narrated the script to spending time with him on sets, I am very confident that he’d be a celebrated storyteller in the times to come. His writing and story won me over. He is a gem of a director, he has an original voice (which is rare) and doesn’t make films based on trends. Even if we give his script to any other director, none can execute it like him.

How is your comic timing in the film different from your other outings? Did it have to do anything with the orthodox Brahmin backdrop in particular?

While comedy may be my strength, the timing in this film is distinct from all other comic capers I have done so far, be it Nenu Local, Bhale Bhale Magadivoy. Vivek’s writing didn’t give me a chance to behave like Nani from another film. It’s going to be a hilarious ride.

Generally, when actors get to play characters from peculiar backdrops, they tend to overdo it. On most occasions, the slang that Brahmin characters utter in films isn’t close to reality and is exaggerated beyond necessity. That approach may work in full-length comedy entertainers but not a realistic film like Ante Sundaraniki.

Vivek comes from a Brahmin family and has translated all his experiences onto the screen very authentically. There’s a certain relatability that you’ll experience and find parallels between the film’s characters and people in real lives. There’s nothing cinematic about the film.

There’s a certain kind of innocence in Sundar that you bring out so well. Even after so many films in a similar space, how do you bring a freshness to such characters?

I think innocence comes naturally to me. I struggle more if I have to showcase grey shades in a character. Innocence generally comes from the script - even if you have actors who could bring that out, you can’t salvage it if you don’t have a good story. I remember Vivek telling me that Sundar is innocent and mischievous at the same time; the challenge was to make him likeable. I had to bring a child-like quality to my performance. I think we’ve got the balance right.

From what we understand, there’s more to film beyond the interfaith marriage conflict…

There are two layers to the story - one I can reveal and the other, you’ll know after the release. The obvious one is of course the interfaith marriage angle, it’s only a subplot. The film is based on a different aspect altogether. Let’s reserve the surprise for the theatres. I’m saying this because I don’t want to kill the joy you may experience otherwise.

The film tells the story of a youngster who’s desperate to go to the US someday. Did you have any such plans before you became an actor?

Keeping the hope aside, I never felt I stood a chance to land in the US. We are a bunch of 16 cousins - 15 of them stay there. I was deemed the loser and no one expected me to settle there. Many years ago, I was witness to this desperation to go to the US. In case one’s plan didn’t work, they weren’t considered marriage material at all. In Ante Sundaraniki, the parents don’t want Sundar to go to the US, but he has a reason to go there - why? You’ll know soon.

Till Shyam Singha Roy, you’ve picked scripts that are genuinely aimed at a Telugu audience. However, with your stardom expanding across other markets, is there an attempt to look at stories from a different lens?

When someone looks at my filmography I don’t think I would come across as an actor who plays by conventions. I always went against the tide, choosing films not suggested by anyone and taking risks. I’ve selected technicians, directors, and stories that didn’t go with a trend and never had a success formula in mind. I always choose films that I would like to see on the big screen and this will never change.

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