Lal Singh Chaddha is going to be your big debut in Hindi cinema. How excited are you about the prospects of the film?
I know the material from the inside out and I really know that the film will touch everyone’s heart. I am also nervous because this is my first Hindi film. I look forward to seeing how and if I will be accepted. I want to see if the audience likes me or not. It’s almost like a new beginning in my career. It’s “Take Two”. Starting again with a new audience. I can’t wait for August 11th.
You have revealed in the past that Aamir Khan had personally called you to offer him the role in LSC. Did this put any pressure on you?
When I first came to know that Aamir sir was about to call, I was almost terrified. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what I should look like. There were so many expressions going on at once. And then all of a sudden, I was in front of him on a video call. He was very polite, polite when he was talking to me. His warmth enveloped me and it comforted me. Aamir has the power to put people at ease while giving off that superstar’s aura. He behaves just like any other person in the room. I immediately became comfortable with him and within a week I went downstairs and met him in person.
I have grown up watching Aamir sir’s work, it has inspired me in many ways, I have learned a lot from it. When you do finally work with such people, it is a huge vote of confidence for you personally. You want validation from the people from whom you have learned. In the end when you get a chance to collaborate with them and they give you input on what you are doing right and what you are not, it matters a lot. It is always with you. I have come out more confident than Laal Singh Chaddha. I am grateful for the experience.
They say you should never meet your idols.
This is when some people become completely despondent after meeting someone they idolized. But for me I am very happy that I met Aamir sir.
Your character in LSC is based on the character essayed by Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump. How did you prepare for such an engaging character with so much emotional and physical drama?
Like Bubba and Forrest meet in the army in the original and Bala and Lal do the same thing in our film, but we meet during the Kargil war. We did a lot of training before joining the shoot. The most extensive part of the training were workshops and reading sessions. I got the script about six months back. Our director Advait (Chandan) took me through the lines because my Hindi was not very good. Luckily for me the film needed a Telugu boy who could speak Hindi. So, even though my Hindi had slipped into the Telugu accent, this was what was needed. They wanted me to leave some Telugu words here and there. He was part of my character.
When it comes to the look of my character, this is something that Aamir sir was constantly shadowing throughout the months of preparation. I had to wear a mouthpiece to make my jaw look a little different from what will be seen in the movie. Which took some time to explode. There has also been a change in two-three looks of my character in the film. We also took 3-4 days of training in the army camp in Srinagar. While the training was intense, I loved the process, as I got to spend time with these people. With Aamir sir, I always wanted to be next to him and see what his process was like. Advait and Disha’s entire team became close friends.
Didn’t you venture into Hindi films for so long because of the language barrier?
My Hindi was never good. I grew up in Chennai and then shifted to Hyderabad. So Tamil and Telugu are the languages that come most naturally to me, we speak them at home as well. Hindi was always a little off. Whenever I used to get a call for a Hindi film, I was always a little skeptical as to how I would be able to fit into that texture and canvas. I always wanted to be present in front of the Hindi audience through someone else. Like, in Laal Singh Chaddha, I am going to be next to Aamir sir. I always wanted this kind of guidance for my first Hindi film. I wasn’t too worried about playing the lead, but I wanted to play the right character in my first Hindi film. I can’t really try to do that in Telugu cinema. What happens here is everyone, including fans and filmmakers, expects a certain kind of cinema from me. It is because we have already made an assumption since coming from a film family, he is making a certain kind of cinema. There’s a lot of expectations here but I’m coming out there and presenting myself to a new audience so that I can go really crazy. I can’t do that in Hyderabad.
Are you clearing the slate and in doing so, how will your Telugu fans react to the creative exposure?
I am wiping the slate clean. I am not the hero or the main character. I am playing a supporting character who contributes to the progress of the film. When fans come to know that you are doing a particular character, their mindset automatically changes. They come to the theater with an open mind to accept whatever you are about to present. Hopefully the Telugu audience will come from a more accepting place. The Hindi audience doesn’t know me so well that I have no hope. They are going to leave a mark on the basis of this film.
During your interview for Thank You, your co-star Raashi Khanna revealed that your screen time for the entire day was just four minutes. It sounds crazy to have a young movie star set in 2022. Are you completely different and don’t want to know what the world is talking about?
Of course I want to know the opinion of the world and I want to know what is happening in the world. But that doesn’t mean I meet via Instagram or Twitter. During the pandemic, all of us sitting at home spent a year or two in contemplation. When the pandemic started I didn’t know what to do with myself. I used to swipe all day long while sitting in front of the computer or on my phone. I used to spend all day on social media and at the end of the day I used to feel mentally exhausted. And if I reflect on that today, I’ve gained nothing from being on Instagram and Twitter all day. I realized that there are a lot of false projections on social media as well. There is too much to get carried away with in one person. The whole system is based on people presenting themselves. Yes, there is a lot of reality as well, but there is more to that projection. It can consume you and lead you in the wrong direction.
Everyone is dependent on the internet to fill their daily information. Isn’t it?
I know what my interests are and what hobbies I want to pursue. I don’t need to be on social media to gather that relevant information. I can go straight to a relevant website and read about what I want. I can refer to an article on this topic. I wanted to separate myself from the things that eat me up but do not give me any benefit in return. I am on social media during film releases and I have been reading twitter comments and reviews during the one month period before and after the release of my films. But after that I broke up with him. I just love being in my area with the movies and characters I’m doing and focusing on the people around these activities. I have a select few hobbies and I just want to go online to get information about them.
Surely you would agree that there are benefits to being on social media too. Your peers have often talked about how social media has given them direct access to their fans.
Our fans reach us through social media, it gives us direct access to them. Like I said, I’d like to be intentionally involved and hear what fans are saying during a month of release, but consuming too much data can also annoy you. It can send you down a spiral. Sometimes, when you are in the process of making a film or selecting a script and you are hearing too many opinions, it can throw off your balance. One should dedicate time to engage with that data and then switch off and let that data come to your mind so that you can form your own opinion and set your posture straight. I like to keep a healthy distance from the online world.
Social media is also a place where your personal life can be quite openly dissected. Does this frustrate you?
This is disappointing. I am here as an actor and I want my professional life to speak. I don’t want my personal life to become a topic of discussion. We all have a personal space and there is a reason why it is called ‘personal’. Unfortunately, this is one part of this job where your personal space also becomes a narrative. That’s the stuff that makes it work. It is my responsibility to be affected by it or not. Every celebrity really needs to take that call. It gets frustrating that my personal life carries a bigger title than my professional achievements. But I feel, I just need to keep working harder on my profession. Pieces of personal life will come and go.
Is that why you have chosen to remain silent on your split from Samantha?
We both made a statement about whatever we wanted to say. Anyway that’s what I’ve always done with my personal life. The things that I think are important to share and put out, I inform the media about it, be it good or bad. I come out, tell people about it through a statement and that’s it. In our case, Samantha has moved on, I have moved on and I don’t need to tell the world about it, more than that.
My friends, family and people who matter, all know. And you see, news replaces news. All speculations and conjectures are all very tentative. The more I react to it, the more news it will become. So I just keep calm about it, let it happen and it will hopefully all go away.
Your previous releases like Love Story with Sai Pallavi and Bangaraju with your father Nagarjuna were successful, but your recent release Thank You, where you took up the responsibility of the lone star, didn’t do all that well. What is your reaction to the film’s reception?
Thanks has been an eye opener for me. I have learned from the flaws of the film and I will ensure that I do not repeat such mistakes in future. But do you know, times have changed too. Thank You is a film that I signed four years ago before the pandemic. At that time the audience, their perception and the way people viewed cinema were very different. I think the pandemic has brought a change in the audience. They are now very clear about what kind of cinema they want to watch in theaters and what kind of cinema they prefer to watch from the comfort of their homes. No disrespect, but just a change in their priorities. Today, if I make a soft, honest, love story, no matter how well written or made, I will be concerned about its reception in theatres. Because viewers are happy to eat that kind of content at home. Today, if I have to bring audiences to the theatre, I have to promise them an ‘x’ factor which they are going to enjoy and that is going to be worth their money and time. It should be an immersive experience that can only happen in a theatre. This is a big lesson for me from Thank You.