Waiting to strike gold
Telugu actor Nani on his new film, Dasara, and setting his own targets, when it comes to being a pan-Indian star
At a time when every actor is rushing to establish themselves as a pan-Indian star, Telugu actor Nani has been patiently holding on to his horses. For him, it is not enough that a dubbed version of his film is being watched on television or online to earn the title. “It is true that my films Eega, Jersey and Shyam Sinha Roy have been watched on YouTube and television channels. But I believe an actor is pan-Indian only if the audience goes to theatres to watch it in different languages,” he says, adding that he is banking on his newly released film, Dasara, to shake things up.
Having been released in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi, it has the potential to draw viewers from across the country to theatres for more than one reason. Set in the backdrop of the Singareni coal mines in Telangana in the 80s, the period action-adventure film will see Nani, known for his soft romantic onscreen image, in a never-seen-before ‘raw and rustic’ avatar of an alcoholic miner.
“I have done nothing of this sort before. I had no training for the kind of action I do in the film. Most actors would say they had a great time shooting, but Dasara was quite difficult. We gave it our 100 per cent because we knew we were making a great film,” he says, adding, “Once we got into the coal mines area and into our costumes, the body language automatically changed.”
Now a leading actor in the Telugu film industry, Nani began his onscreen career starring in television commercials; he even worked as a ‘clap boy’ on sets before landing his debut film Ashta Chamma in 2008. It was, however, his 2011 romantic comedy Ala Modalaindi with Nithya Menen that established him as a star. Since then, he has starred in over 25 films. He was last seen in period romantic drama Shyam Sinha Roy, a 2022 sleeper hit that came as a relief to the actor especially after the back-to-back failures of V (2020) and Tuck Jagadish (2021). Dasara’s success, therefore, is also crucial for the actor to cement his position. “If Dasara becomes a big hit, I will accept that I am a pan-Indian star,” the 39-year-old actor says.
At first glance, with its historical backdrop, adrenaline-pumping mood and actors’ rugged appearances, the film appears to be following in the footsteps of some of the recent gangster dramas, particularly the 2018 Kannada film KGF starring Yash, or even Allu Arjun’s Pushpa. Nani, however, is quick to assert that the films are different, barring some contextual similarities. “These are all stories based in coal mines in remote villages. KGF was shot in the coal mines as well, so there was a lot of dust and dirt around, similar to how we shot,” he says, adding, “It does look the same, but the stories are vastly different, and the comparisons are baseless. Every film has a car, but that doesn’t make them the same film.”
Dasara has also been among the most anticipated films of the year for Nani’s reunion with Keerthy Suresh since their 2017 hit romantic comedy Nenu Local. Dasara’s music has been composed by Santhosh Narayan. The soundtrack became an instant hit after the first song—Dhoom Dham Dhosthaan—dropped in October last year.
To ensure that the film is successful pan-India, particularly with the Hindi-speaking audience, Nani has ensured that he has the tried-and-tested voice of actor Sharad Kelkar to dub for him. “I am not yet confident of my Hindi, and I loved the way Sharad dubbed in Baahubali. People loved his voice,” he says, adding, “Only when I am confident of my Hindi-speaking skills, will I do it myself. Until then, I will keep asking Sharad.”
Steering clear of the North versus South debate, Nani insists that the entertainment industry is going beyond the language barriers and making what is now “Indian cinema”. “We are now equals,” he says. Which is why even as Bollywood is churning out remake after remake of southern films, the actor is not keen on doing a southern remake of a Bollywood movie.
“I did the Tamil version of Band Baaja Baaraat, but it flopped. I don’t think remakes interest the audience anymore. Everyone is watching originals these days. Perhaps, that is why the Hindi remake of Jersey (starring Shahid Kapoor) did not do well,” Nani says. After Dasara, the actor is gearing up for his next venture, tentatively titled, Nani 30—a feel-good Telugu emotional drama, where he will be playing father to a six-year-old girl. It will also star Mrunal Thakur. “It’s a working title. We have named it Nani 30 because it’s my 30th film. It is being directed by Shouryuv,” he says.