Nonchalance is the word to best describe Venkatesh’s demeanour at large. He bookends a press interaction with sincere wishes for everyone’s wellbeing. “Please be happy. Don’t overthink things.” “Always have a smile on your face. It costs nothing, and still manages to make your day better.” “Wake up with the best of thoughts and watch happiness manifest through your day.” The nonchalance did throw the journalists off-guard.
As professional anecdote scavengers, one overarching positive statement after another is barely good news. It makes the likes of us wonder, “But okay, where’s the angle in this? What is new about this?”. And Venkatesh isn’t oblivious to it either, gently but playfully leaning into sarcasm when reporters prod him with questions on his performance. Instead of launching into an answer, he mimics the interviewer’s expectation from that particular query, saying “Oh, so you want me to make a big deal of myself now?”, before laughing away. Between an air of zen and a tendency to slip into a lived-in charm, the actor slowly opens up.
Milestones and events
Saindhav is Venkatesh’s 75th film, a fact that finds a prominent mention in the film’s publicity design and promotional literature. Not to mention the fact that the film hit theatres during the coveted Sankranti theatrical release window, where people like to flock the theatres en masse after partaking in traditional festivities. The actor makes light of the said milestone and the event-like importance of a festival release. “I do not see this as a giant landmark film as such. It just happens to be a number in everyone’s career.
Of course for some, especially when you look on the outside, the number looks and feels significant. It does not matter if it is 75 or 100, commitment and sincerity is what matters to an actor going from one film to another. As far as a Sankranti release is concerned, “Film career lo enno sankrantilu ocheyi. Konni aadayi konni aadledhu. Idhi kuda inko sankranti anthe.” (I have seen many Sankrantis’ in my career. Some films have worked, some haven’t. The results of your film will not magically improve just because you overthink about the outcome in these terms. In a week or two, all of this hype will die down. Which is why I will not waste my time thinking about these aspects.” says Venkatesh.
Change and revival
For Venkatesh, who has created a niche for himself with his comic chops and family-friendly cinema, the actor has slowly but steadily been tasting waters in the field of high octane action. The actor notes that things have moved the other way round for him, career wise. Venkatesh says, “I did a fair amount of action back in the day, when I was starting out. After shooting for Bobbili Raja (1990), I had sustained some injuries, following which I ventured into family cinema. Then, I came back to action. That said, I don’t believe we are in control of the trajectory our career takes. No one is in control of their career.
We are in control of the work we do on a day-to-day basis. And that must be continuously sustained by one’s faith.” Saindhav, written and directed by Dr Sailesh Kolanu, revolves around the father of a young girl, who returns to a life of crime he has long abandoned to protect his child from a deadly ailment. Speaking about working in Saindhav, Venkatesh says, “Maybe it was time to accept change gracefully and do something different. First, I did Rana, now I am doing Saindhav.
Not that I was fully certain that this would work or not work, I was glad nevertheless, to take a step in a direction less explored. One should not colour their judgements with the weight of their judgements so much. Sometimes the decisions you make might be right, sometimes they might be wrong. Either way, things will be alright. One should not think too much.”
Of Saindhav and Beyond
Venkatesh slowly delves into what appealed to him about Saindhav. The actor answers, “The story is so perfectly driven, it drives you to progressively emotional highs and high-adrenaline action sequences, capped off with an extraordinary climax. The action is designed so well, nothing is out of place, nor is it the kind of exaggerated action where you see 30-40 cars flying in the air.
The world of the film, and my look is very different, which compelled me to give it a shot. The film is breezy and fast paced, with no lag or deviations.” Emphasising the novelty factor, the actor continues, “Everything is very new for me. It is a new space. By god’s grace, everything came out well. This is the beginning of sorts for me, I am testing waters. Depending on the success, I will decide which direction to take next. The film has got all the necessary, fundamental elements that make a reasonably good film.”
Rana Naidu, script selection and fans
The sexagenarian superstar made his OTT debut in 2023 with the Netflix Original Rana Naidu, alongside his actor nephew Rana Daggubati. The series, an official Indian adaptation of the American show Ray Donovan, has ranked as one of the most watched series in the Indian demographic last year. The series has also been renewed for another season. At the same time, Rana Naidu garnered massive flak for its depiction of graphic violence, profanity and sexually explicit content.
How did Venkatesh process the divisive reception he received for the show? “The audience expressed their displeasure, as they had the right to, and we totally understand where they are coming from. In retrospect, it would have been better had those shock-value scenes been presented in the middle of the series, after the audience has comfortably settled in, instead of bombarding them with the more uncomfortable scenes right from the start. Those portions were way out there, and the effect was jarring. This is the feedback the Netflix team will be incorporating as well, as they create the next season.”
As a follow-up question, when enquired about what compelled the actor to take up something so different from what he has done all these years, he replies, “This is not unprecedented. I have done out-of-the-box films like Pavitra Bandham (1996) and Pelli Chesukundham (1997), which shocked people back then. I was also advised by people to not do remakes like Chanti (1992). But I always believe that if you are very sincere about what you do, and you put in your best, then atleast 50% of the film will fall in place. Over the years, I have figured out how to play the game, through trial, error and careful study.” The actor credits his fans for their patience with his script choices. “My fans closely saw the way I functioned and accepted me for who I am. They were patient when I used to not go to record-collection functions. They were understanding of the fact that I gave my producers and team reins over, as I did not wish to control my image at the cost of the film.”