By Manju Latha Kalanidhi
Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that Nagarjuna Akkineni’s next movie,w the Telugu-Tamil bilingual Oopiri (Tozhan in Tamil) shows him sitting blissfully on a chair and laughing out loud as the tagline says ‘Celebration of life’. The 56-year-old-actor is enjoying one of the best times of his life and work.
His Pongal release Soggade Chinni Naayana became the second biggest grosser in his career after Manam (2014) raking him 638.8 million according to trade figures; his TV show Meelo Evaru Koteeshwarudu which he has been hosting since June 2014 is already into its successful season three and the broadcast was increased to four days a week from three thanks to its increasing TRP ratings. His son Akhil debuted in 2015 and he himself is busy with a couple of movies including Oopiri that will release in March. As a businessman, he runs a convention centre and a restaurant and has always been considered among the top three stars of Tollywood. Interestingly, he also enjoys an unusual camaraderie with Big B, not to mention a handful of prestigious endorsements. So what’s next for the complete man who has been in the industry for 30 years now and is on to his 93rd movie now?
“Some time off for myself. I just want to ease out a bit and have nothing on my agenda for a few weeks or months. That’s the dire need of the hour,” says the Virgo who talks of a break, but is already preparing for his next movie based on the 18th century saint poet Hadhiram Baba. Ask him what he wants to do in his time off and he says, “Produce a movie with both my sons, what else?”
Sonny side up
As ‘Daddy Cool’ works out the nitty-gritties for the big bang movie, we ask him what he tells his sons and actors Naga Chaitanya, 29, and Akhil, 21, not to do, in life and in the industry? “I will tell them not to stop themselves from doing anything. Nobody really prevented me from trying out stuff and I think I turned out alright. So, I will tell them to give everything that is legal and permissible a shot,” he chuckles. The romantic hero known for his feel-good movies and lover boy image says it is in good sense to give children a sound upbringing and then trust them to turn out well. He says his infinitely better half, Amala, has been the reason why his sons turned out to be perfect gentlemen.
Amala is one word that lights up his face, just as it did when he was making news for dating this actress in the early 90’s and married her in 1992. What keeps him in awe of her?
“Amala inspires me. Excites me. Completes me. She is 24×7 pleasant. If something is wrong, she doesn’t crib. She smiles, finds a solution. If there is no solution, she endures it. I can’t but help stay inspired when she is around. In all these years, I have never seen her frown or scowl. If there is no salt in the food, she simply asks for the salt to be passed around or just finishes her meal without it. If there is a traffic jam, she simply opens up her book and reads or listens to music. No sighs, refrains or unnecessary chatter there. She has taught me to just smile at everything, not complain. It’s tough for me to kick up a fuss when she is so sweet,” he adds about his wife who is passionate about animals and runs the BlueCross in Hyderabad for abandoned ones.
Positivity all around him at home, but how does he insulate himself with the negativity outside? Nagarjuna says it has been seven years since he read the newspaper or has watched TV for news. “Bad news has the uncanny ability to give you a taste of it and before you know it, it consumes and engulfs you. Crime, cast and communal issues etc simply heat up your brain. I feel out of control in such situations and hence deliberately keep out of it,” says the actor who is surprisingly very approachable to the media. So how does he keep a tab on his own movie news? “I have my team that censors it all for me,” he laughs. So after a week of intense media activity as part of his movie or TV show promotions, he gets urls of his interviews, photo shoots, film reviews or trade news.
Like him, every online identity of him should be happy and positive. “I use Twitter essentially to update my fans about my work. I rarely post or discuss things that may have multiple viewpoints or is mired in controversies. When my film teaser or trailer is releasing, I let my 1.35 million fans know about it.”
Not surprisingly, Nag’s timeline is all about a good book he picked up at the airport recently on the way to a shoot, a nice short film he watched last weekend or how a female fan has engraved his name and his latest release on her mehendi or male fans put on his facemasks at a mela in a small town…
“But if there’s a burning topic and is keeping divided base on which side of the issue they are, I stay out. I am here to spread positivity, not controversies. I have a life beyond the hashtags,” he says.
While he doesn’t really dig gossip news either about the industry or outside, he realises it is a necessary evil.
“Indians love gossip. The media needs gossip. So the two feed off on each other merrily in a synergetic way. I understood early enough in my career. I am happy I find space in the gossip columns because it means I am still in circulation. The day they stop talking about me, I cease to be a star and that is bad news for me,” says the actor.
The best part of the day, he says, is when he gets little insights into the lives of those who take part in his show. “Before I have my guest on the hotseat, I do my homework by watching videos that give me a snapshot of their lives, dreams and aspirations. There is always a heart-touching moment and that is usually the high point of the episode and my day too,” he observes.
“I know that the current generation is obsessed with staying online every second and constantly checking notifications on social media, WhatsApp and SnapChat. Let us say I am bit old fashioned that way. I keep my phone switched off when I work. Like in a corporate set up, after the pack up, I turn it on to check my calls and answer my emails. Once that’s done, I am out of the network into the real world,” says the actor who was an early entrant to Twitter – since 2010 – much before his contemporaries.
“My days are dotted with a lot of meaningful and purposeful things. I start my day with a 45-minute intensive work out with weights. Nothing lightweight for me. Then I have my meetings, story sitting, shoot for my TV show – six hours a day for three days a week followed by time with family and weekends with fraternity.”
For an actor who is known to be a bankable star, owns a film studio and a production house, in-house advisors in the form of his wife – an accomplished actress and an activist herself, you would think he has done it all – feel-good romances, action entertainers, period films etc. “But I still have not played the kind of mythological roles my dad ANR (Akkineni Nageshwar Rao) has played. I still haven’t done an out and out period film where I play a dashing warrior prince. That is still not checked off my list of things to do. I am still looking for an a role that reminds my fans of dad,” he says.
“I will tell my sons not to stop themselves from doing anything. Nobody really prevented me from trying out stuff and I think I turned out alright. So, I will tell them to give everything that is legal and permissible a shot”
Life after ANR
Two years after his dad passed away, Nag and his siblings say he is only missed, but never remembered as he was never forgotten. “A man has to have had lived really well if his family smiles long after he is gone instead of feeling sad. Dad has always been such a positive person that even on January 22, his second death anniversary, we all smiled and laughed at how dad must be looking at us from above remembering all the good times we had. For a man who never went to school, he has lived an inspiring life every minute,” he remembers fondly. Nag’s last movie with ANR was Manam in which the latter plays his son. “He hastened to complete the dubbing part instead of resting despite being detected with cancer. It shows his concern for the hundreds whose livelihood depends on movies and speaks of his values,” he says.
At 56, Nag has an impressive body of work and many prestigious awards. What does he pine for now? “I used to be obsessed with cars. I am done with them. Now, I only want to do movies that count. It’s not fair to be obsessed with anything other than what has made me the man I am today. Hopefully for the rest of my life, I will stay obsessed and blessed with movies,” he ends.
Need of the hour: An ocean holiday
outside India, where I won’t get mobbed
Favourite work spot:
The Alps, always
Best party place in city: My room. Parties are where you chill out and there is no better place than my bedroom where it is quiet and for a change, I am not solving problems, but just unwinding
Hashtags that define him: #OneDayAtATime #SleepWellWakeUpFresh #ChillDon’tPlan
Best time zone: 9 pm, when
I hit the bed blissfully