At 54, Akkineni Nagarjuna still looks strapping like any of his young contemporaries. Known for his quick thinking, ability to reinvent himself and for being a maverick, there’s a reason why he commands a good hold over the industry. However, if life has taught him anything, it’s to be always open to change and embrace it with humility.
Last year was a trying time for the actor. His films Greeku Veerudu and Bhai were disasters, and his father, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, was diagnosed with colon cancer. “I just wanted 2013 to get out of my way, and was waiting for December 31 to pass,” recalls the actor.
About the two flops, Nagarjuna says, “Bhai was one film in which I completely lost my way. There was a point while shooting, when I realised that it was a sinking ship, but could not do anything about it. But after watching it, I realised how bad the film turned out to be.”
And just like that, by the start of 2014, the actor turned things around. His first production venture Uyyala Jampala was a huge hit. A relatively small budget film with newcomers, it was a family entertainer that was lapped up by the audience. The hype for his family production Manam was also doing the rounds, with everyone excited to see the three generations of the family—Nagarjuna, his father ANR and his son Naga Chaitanya and even a cameo by younger son Akhil—sharing camera space. The film that released on May 23 has turned out to be the third highest grosser of the year so far in Telugu cinema.
As much as 2014 was a better start, it immediately turned sombre with the actor’s father passing away. “He dealt with the illness with absolute calm, channelling his energies into the film. In fact, in December, in spite of us telling him that there was no hurry, he was adamant on shooting. A few days after the shoot was complete, he lost his voice. Maybe he had a sixth sense which told him to shoot while he still could.” ANR’s death in January this year turned the film into more than just that; it was a final and fitting adieu to the man who taught the actor much. “For us Akkinenis, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we wanted to ensure that Manam would turn out to be the best it could be.”
Manam follows the attempts of ANR’s character of bringing together a young couple who remind him of his parents, weaving in the concept of rebirth. Following a different release strategy, Nagarjuna says he didn’t want the film to be a commercial film per se, so they chose not to saturate the market with many prints of the film. “Whenever I’ve made a film without thinking of the box-office outcome, it has worked. Manam was made purely from and by the heart. It started as a deeply emotional journey for the family. As it progressed, it became more and more precious to us,” he says.
Looking ahead, Nagarjuna isn’t immediately tied down by too many commitments and is hoping to take a break. While talks were on for him to star in a multi-starrer being helmed by Mani Ratnam, the project fell through. Instead, Nagarjuna will be making his TV debut with the Telugu version of Kaun Banega Crorepati. Titled Meelo Evaru Koteeswarudu, the show will go on air from mid-June. “The show will realise dreams of the common man. Everybody deserves an opportunity to fulfil his/her dreams. This show will provide a platform for such people.” he says. As for films, the actor has decided to take it slow. “After the debacle of Bhai, I realised I will not do any movies unless I really like the script.”
With his youngest son Akhil also making his debut in films through Manam, Nagarjuna says they’re planning his career as well, but they’re in no rush. Talking about his equation with his sons, he says, “Chaitanya is extremely mature for his age. We don’t have a typical father-son relationship—he’s more like a friend to me. I also take advice from him when I take certain decisions, he is always calm and composed. With Akhil, on the other hand, I’m a bit more like a father. He’s still young and is trying to figure out what he wants to do. As a parent, I’m not putting any pressure on him to get into films or do anything else, and I told him he can take as long as he wants to figure out what he wants to do.”