Actor Nani: ‘Jersey’ is a hugely satisfying experience
Sarathi Studios is like an old warhorse. It remains nondescript but continues to brim with activity. In its premises, director Vikram Kumar’s unit is shooting his film Gang Leader. Work continues well into the balmy evening. The film’s lead actor Nani finishes a shot before he settles down for this interview during a break.
Nani appears composed and confident when he talks about his forthcoming film Jersey, releasing on April 19. He’s usually a bundle of nerves before a film release, not this time though. “We are all proud of Jersey and can’t wait to watch it in theatres,” he says.
Excerpts from the conversation:
You had stated recently that this is the best film in your career. What gave you that sense of satisfaction?
When I watch my films, at some point I feel I’m watching Nani and not the character. This is more pronounced in a typical commercial film. In Jersey, I saw my character Arjun and not me. That’s been a hugely satisfying experience. I was emotional on the last day of the shoot. I felt as though I am parting from a childhood friend called Arjun. When I reached home, my family members asked if something was wrong. I told them that it was a beautiful feeling I couldn’t express in words.
What do you think made that happen?
While shooting, I felt there was some external force helping us create some magic. I couldn’t find any fake note in the film. Every character, every dialogue is in sync. It’s got to do with Gowtam’s (director Gowtam Tinnanuri) writing, the characterisation and every aspect falling in place. This film is close to many of us, including Gowtam and Sathyaraj sir.
- Adivi Sesh had once commended how effortless Nani’s performance looks on screen, belying the hard work involved. Asked about his approach to acting, Nani says, “In the beginning I would unknowingly mould a role into my comfort zone, in terms of how I act. Then gradually I refrained from taking the easy way out. Since I come from Mohana Krishna Indraganti’s school, I’ve always loved his script reading sessions with the actors and technicians. We did that for Ashta Chamma and Gentleman. When I asked other directors for similar sessions, many of them would tell me ‘meekenduku sir’. For some reason, directors trust me a lot. That spoilt me. So on location I internalise what I have to do and deliver. Jersey required preparation, so it also depends on the character.”
- Nani will be teaming up with Mohana Krishna Indraganti again for a new project.
- The ‘Jersey’ team included 130 professional cricketers, including 18 from England. Cricket portions were filmed in two international and five domestic cricket grounds, over 24 days.
You are 35, a year younger than the character Arjun, who is a late bloomer in cricket. You’ve tasted success since your 20s, unlike Arjun. Have you met others like Arjun?
Many of them, especially in the film industry. From morning to evening we see people who are waiting… to make a mark. Since I worked as an assistant director (AD) before becoming an actor, I know so many Arjuns, still waiting to prove themselves. There was a certain energy and confidence in those ADs and now, 10 or 12 years later, they still work with hope but don’t have age on their side. Several actors and technicians are in a similar phase.
There are biopics on sports personalities and fictional dramas with sports. How would you describe the treatment to Jersey?
Jersey is a fictional drama that’s been treated like a biopic. While watching the film, you might feel that it could be a real cricketer’s story.
The narrative arcs of underdog films, in sports, follow a predictable path. How do you break that and make it interesting for the audience?
(At this point, he shows a rough cut of the trailer. The conversation happened before the trailer release on April 12). Jersey is also a family drama. I think every father and son will connect with the film. This is the first time I saw some portions in my own film and cried. The emotional connect will be a strong point.
Is the character name Arjun incidental or does it also allude to your (two-year-old) son?
It’s incidental; Gowtam made that clear while he was narrating the story.
You trained in cricket for 70 days. Tell us about the process.
I trained with coach Daniel in his cricket academy in Hyderabad and watched a lot of cricket. Daniel was particular about the body language that should reflect on screen. The stance, holding the bat, how you run, wear the gloves, or walk away from the pitch when you get out… everything matters. Though it’s an emotional family drama, Gowtam and I knew that the audience will connect with the story only if I look convincing as a cricketer. That was our biggest challenge and I feel we’ve overcome that.
Sports sequences need to be filmed from multiple angles. Can you elaborate on the technique?
There’s one portion where the audience will see a cricket match for 15 to 20 minutes. I don’t think we’ve seen something like this in a Telugu film. We wanted to create the ambience of a live match, without cinematic close-ups. We had to do that using film and not sports cameras. And these cameras placed in multiple positions shouldn’t be visible on screen. So a lot of factors come into play. We also filmed a night match and there are only two cameras in India to shoot a sports film under those light conditions; so we had to wait for it. The only cinematic liberty we took was in using a red as opposed to a white ball for a match played under floodlights. In international cricket where players wear jerseys of different colours, the white ball stands out. But ours is a Ranji trophy match where the players are in white. So we used a red ball.
2018 wasn’t a great year for you, particularly with Krishnarjuna Yuddham (KY). Was that a time to introspect on your choices?
People think that since KY didn’t do well, I might have chosen carefully and worked on Jersey. I would have done Jersey anyway. KY didn’t change my thought process. Some films work and some don’t, I know when things aren’t going well. But I give it my best and hope that people will look past the glitches.
2018 also had you lend your voice to a fish character in Awe.
That was the easy part, producing Awe was time consuming (laughs).
Will you continue to produce unconventional films like Awe?
Absolutely. We’ve locked in a script for Wall Poster Cinema’s (production house) next film. I witnessed a new side of cinema through Awe. And when it was out on Netflix, there was amazing response on social media. Digital platforms are opening up possibilities.