So what makes an actor a superstar? Every actor worth his salt in the industry will have a definition for what makes a superstar. Some express it and some don’t. Out of the very few that expressed what makes one a superstar, Mahesh Babu put it in a concise way when he said, ‘A Superstar is one whose flops also make money’. By that definition, is there a superstar in Telugu Film Industry?
Well, audiences have a much simpler gauge for a superstar. The actor who can impress them with a full-length comic role is the one that they consider good enough for superstardom. That’s where versatility kicks in. Unless an actor plays a comic role, he would find it tough to pave his way to superstardom.
There are exceptions to every rule in Telugu Film Industry. So, there are actors who made it big without actually having starred in a full-length comedy role. The names that come off the top of my head are Krishna, Krishnam Raju, Sobhan Babu, Balakrishna and Pawan Kalyan. Now these are actors who entertained the audience in their own ways.
Nani is an actor with the right ‘lineage’ for movie industry. It isn’t tough to guess what’s meant by ‘lineage’ here. Yes, it’s the caste that he belongs to. That sect dominates the Telugu Film Industry. He didn’t have it easy. Never. He slogged it out. He made it on his own; a beacon of hope for the present generation actors.
He started out as a clap director for ‘Radha Kalyanam’, assisted the directors in movies like Dhee, Asthram and Allari Bullodu. He hosted a show on the now defunct World space radio.
He made his debut in the movie ‘Ashta Chemma’. His was a good presence, although Swati Reddy, Srinivas Avasarala walked away with the honours from the movie. With time, he gathered hits and flops. Flops more than hits.
2011 was an year to remember for Nani. He got his first big hit and was noticed for his acting chops. Ala Modhalaindhi was a movie helmed by Nandini Reddy, a friend of his. The movie was a breezy entertainer; a hit and a fillip for most of the people involved with the movie. Nithya Menen stunned people with a brilliant performance and she sang a couple of songs in the movie. Nithya Menen was a seasoned performer though it was her first movie in Telugu. Nani held his own in front of her and the combination sizzled.
Later in the year, he came up with his best performance in Pilla Zamindar. It would be exaggerating to say that he portrayed a character with various shades, but it won’t be wrong to say that his character travels through various shades in the movie. His acting stands out in many sequences. Be it the time he has to behave rudely as a rich Zamindar inherent to the scene where he acts as a servant to a rich zamindar inherent in a drama. In the latter scene, he shifts gears effortlessly from comical apathy to misery.
In an interview post Eega, Rajamouli while talking about heroes, likened Nani to a Ravi Teja with method. Explained better, it meant that Nani was someone with a lot of spontaneity. That spontaneity, according to Rajamouli, came with the understanding of the character, thinking about the character. While Ravi Teja is the character (however repetitive his roles may get), Nani gets under the skin of the character. It’s no surprise then that Nani’s favourite actor is Kamal Hassan
In 2015, he dubbed his voice for Dulquer Salman in OK Bangaram. At the audio function of the movie, he expressed his desire to work with Mani Ratnam. He wouldn’t have expected the dream to turn into reality before the year ended. There is some spark in his acting. A spark that attracts you towards him. It doesn’t matter if you are among the audience or a director.
In 2012, he was a part of his biggest hit till date, Eega. The movie featured him in a 29 minute role – he appears in the seventh minute and gets bumped off in the 35th minute. To his credit, he manages to make an impression. Sometimes you need to listen from someone else about what you already feel. A colleague recalled that it’s one of the best cameos he has ever come across. He is a Tamilian and a die-hard Kamal Hassan fan. That would probably gladden Nani.
Eega was a huge success. Did Nani contribute to the success? Yes. Did he get to benefit from the success? No, not exactly. While it would’ve got him more offers than before, it could’ve been self-destructive had the movie flopped. Everybody associated with the film, in starring roles, went a step ahead. It was only Nani who remained he was.
He also starred in Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu in the same year. Another of those movies that got him critical acclaim but not the box-office success that he was looking for.
2013 was an year from hell for Nani. His movie ‘Paisa’ was ready for release but got postponed innumerable times. As a result, he had a sabbatical, that, as of now, seems to have done him good things than bad. It was also in this year that he found out he would be starring in the first movie produced by Yash Raj. Though it was made in Tamil, it was also dubbed in Telugu.
2014 was the first time that Nani’s releases were not well spaced and it was one of the reasons why the movies, both of them, failed to do well. Both the releases were in February and both bombed! In a repeat of 2013, one of his movies, Jenda pai kapi raju, was delayed. While the Tamil version released in March 2014, the Telugu version failed to see the light of the day in 2014. What followed was a span of more than an year of no releases. Nani endured a lean 2013 and 2014. He was not in danger of being reduced to anonymity, but he was getting forgotten. In two years, a lot of people had their careers moving ahead and a few others had their careers careen downwards. Nani didn’t belong to these extremes, but with Eega his career started to veer between the extremes.
In 2015, through Nani, filmgoers learnt how the movie-making business had changed over the years. On March 21, 2015, two of his movies released; Yevade Subramanyam and Jenda pai Kapi Raju (phew!).
While 30 years ago it was a measure of superstardom to have couple of your movies releasing on the same day, it showed a lack of planning and a hint of foolishness to have your movies release on the same day. It was out of Nani’s hand and Jenda pai Kapi Raju might not have released for a long time if it didn’t on March 21. With the other movie- Yevade Subramanyam- Nani did something different. He went out of his way to promote it. He needed the movie as much as the movie needed him. He was the lone known face in the cast, apart from Krishnam Raju. The movie provided him with a much needed breather. It was also a movie in which we saw his acting flower. He pretty much did everything in the movie. In hindsight, Yevade Subramanyam is Nani’s Khaleja. Regardless of the box-office performance, it showed people what Nani was capable of. It remains as one of the reasons why his next movie was a blockbuster. Back then this was what I wrote of Nani in Yevade Subramanyam
It takes a lot of courage to accept a movie like this when you are having an extended period of trough and not had a release for more than an year. It’s heartening to see Nani accepting the role because he is among the very few actors in the industry who could’ve done justice to this role. Hope he gets to ride the wave and reach the crest.
Nani is brilliant in the movie. He conveys every single emotion brilliantly in the movie. Ruthless person, an opportunist who is willing to wait for his work to be done, a persistent nag, changed person and a good human being- Nani puts across all these traits and convinces everybody watching the movie that he embodied all these traits well
Bhale Bhale Magadivoy was a movie that led to a lot of cynicism among the movie goers. Why would an upcoming hero accept a project with a director renowned for double entendré. Nani maintained from the first day of the shooting that it won’t be a typical Maruti movie. Yet, a few people were cynical about the content of the movie. How their hopes were belied! The movie ticked a lot of boxes for Nani.
A full-length comic role, a blockbuster, recognition and a lot of hope on himself. If he can land a hit with his next movie, superstardom won’t be far away. Something that Ravi Teja ( a person he was compared to by Rajamouli) also found himself in. He threw it away by appearing in similar roles. You can bet your last penny that Nani won’t.