Whichever film Vijay Deverakonda has been a part of thus far has turned into gold. After back-to-back hits in Telugu like Pelli Choopulu, Arjun Reddy, Mahanati and Geeta Govindam, the actor ventures into Tamil cinema with Anand Shankar’s NOTA
Vijay Deverakonda doesn’t know much Tamil, but in our twenty-minute conversation, he attempts to speak the language anyway. “I don’t do this to impress anyone,” he laughs, “I’ve only picked up a smattering of Tamil – sufficient perhaps, to speak to the local autowallah.” The actor is already a star in Tamil Nadu despite not having had a single release in Tamil (excluding the bilingual Mahanati), such is his fan following.
Excerpts from the interview:
It was a surprise to see you begin your speech at the press meet with a Tirukkural.
Yes, it has helped me improve my Tamil-speaking skills. I don’t know the language, as you can see, but I’ve dubbed for myself in NOTA. That came after a lot of hard work and determination. Whenever I meet Tamil-speaking journalists, I let them ask questions in Tamil. That way, I learn. At the launch event that happened a few months ago, I couldn’t even speak one word in Tamil. I kept practicing, and here I am. For all the unconditional love I’ve been receiving from the Tamil industry after Pelli Choopulu, what I’m doing is nothing. Arjun Reddy ran in Madurai, Coimbatore and Thanjavur. I hadn’t even visited these places. Also, I got gifts through couriers, and I was completely floored.
Why Tirukkural though?
I was introduced to it in my school, and it’s amazing how Tiruvalluvar has a couplet for every situation. It’s like an encyclopedia that encompasses all aspects of life.
Surely, there has to be a significant reason behind choosing to venture into Tamil?
I wasn’t too keen on doing a Tamil film. I decided I can wait until I learn the language, but when Gnanavel Raja made me listen to Anand Shankar’s script, I knew I had to do it. NOTA isn’t a conventional debut, and Anand was very particular about [me] doing the film. I was told the team was ready to even make the film in Telugu. When I accept a film, I want my Telugu-speaking audience to also experience it; so we opted for a bilingual. It’s a story that needed to be told.
You’ve dubbed for yourself in NOTA. Tell us about the experience of emoting in a language that is not your own.
It felt like a nightmare, but I didn’t give up. It took a lot of time to understand where I should pause, how to pronounce a word. As a result, I was continuously engaged in the task of unlearning and re-learning. I still am. That’s why I practice Tirukkural whenever I’m free. Can you get more Tamil than a Tirukkural? That’s how I’m planning to start my speeches whenever I’m here. But, NOTA has made me feel more confident as an actor.
NOTA is a political film; more specifically about Tamil Nadu politics.
I had no clue what was happening [in Tamil Nadu] except that madam Jayalalithaa was the Chief Minister. But Tamil Nadu politics is somewhat odd when compared to the rest of the States. She was hospitalised one day, and after three months, it was declared that she had passed away. Nobody knew what happened. The whole story was like a thriller. Besides, I was totally shocked by the police firing that took place in Tuticorin. I couldn’t come to terms with the incident. But one thing is for sure – there’s so much anger in people.
Does your character in the film speak for the public, represent them from within a political institution?
The film was a way to vent my angst against the political system. And, oh, I enjoyed playing a politician. I think anyone who has abused a politician will find NOTA relatable. The film doesn’t have any message to the audience. Also, I don’t believe in doing ‘message-oriented’ films. The story revolves around this laid-back guy who’s forced into a situation where he becomes a politician. How he reacts to things and what happens in due course forms the screenplay.
Are you a political person?
I’m very much interested in politics. Now don’t ask me if I have political aspirations (laughs).
Moving on, what are the markedly different ways in which Telugu and Tamil cinema function?
There’s not much of a difference, but since my mother tongue is Telugu, I’m more comfortable there. We’re the second biggest in terms of the number of films made. As for technicians, they’re more hospitable. At the same time, Tamil cinema has always had so much variety in scripts. For instance, Aadukalam and Paruthiveeran. You can see such intense films being made only here.
Cut back to Arjun Reddy. The film became a rage that even the audience who didn’t know Telugu caught it in theatres.
The role might have been challenging, but I took it easy. Thanks to Sandeep Vanga, the director. The film worked because of its originality and emotions. I loved being Arjun Reddy. He’s raw and unapologetic. It was liberating -speaking my mind and all that. I wasn’t the only reason why it worked. Credit equally goes to Shalini Pandey and Rahul Ramakrishna (who played Shiva). The same applies to Geetha Govindam. If Rashmika hadn’t played the heroine, the film wouldn’t have been what it became.
Did you expect Arjun Reddy to make such an impact?
Truth be told, no, it was an experimental venture. We tried something new, which was not explored, at least in Telugu cinema. But the response was massive.
Though Arjun Reddy and Geetha Govindam were hit films, your characters had toxic masculinity.
What’s masculinity, you tell me! This world is filled with all kinds of people – sexists, feminists and so on. Arjun Reddy slaps a girl, but Vijay Deverakonda will never do that. I got a script, and I played the character. I am not a writer, and I can’t give you an answer as to why he behaved in a certain way. I think it makes a human being, a human being – with all flaws and imperfections. These films never justified someone’s behaviour. They were depictions of how some men are.
That way, aren’t actors performing roles very alien to their own personalities all the time?
Yes, you can be someone who you’re actually not. That makes me high.
Did Arjun Reddy influence you as a person?
When you work with certain people, their influences tend to rub on you. For instance, Sandeep (Arjun Reddy director) gets pissed off when someone’s not good. I became like him. Arjun Reddy is a film that will impact you even today or ten years later.
How do you handle all the attention that has since come your way?
I’m still getting used to stardom. Sometimes, I get uncomfortable when I see huge hoardings of mine here and there.
The kind of cinema that you’d like to be a part of in the future.
I connect with simple stories and realistic cinema. These larger-than-life characters don’t interest me much. That’s why I liked NOTA. As an actor, I want my movies to reach a larger audience. For the next two years, I’ve got a packed schedule. Otherwise, I don’t want to do a bilingual again, because the process is excruciatingly painful. But, let’s see.
NOTA, directed by Anand Shankar, and starring Vijay Deverakonda and Mehreen Pirzada in the lead, releases today.
The Vijay Deverakonda interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.