Adivi Sesh is awaiting the release of Major, a film based on the life of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan. In this interview with Lahari, he talks about his journey so far, his acting process and his upcoming film.
Edited excerpts below:
The first time, when you were in front of the camera, how was the feeling? Now, what do you think about it?
My most memorable experience in cinema was on Panjaa. They said the set was for a song and we are going to shoot it. I was surprised and said, "I have a song?!" I remember walking in for the song and that was one of my first experiences.
Usually, actors have this shelf life. Some films click well and others don't. What do you think helped you sustain in the industry for so long?
When I first entered the industry, they told me that there are many young actors and it will be tough to sustain in this business. And it is true, especially if you have no background in cinema because there will be no guidance. When there is no guidance, you will make wrong choices, wrong decisions and pick the wrong films.
I realized very early that the right decisions will take you a long way. That doesn't mean each film I do will get a hit, but I was fixed that I will only do films I like. Because many actors are in a position where though they do not like the film, they have committed to do it, so they are put in a state to act in that film.
I do not like to do it that way. If a film doesn't work out, I will sit and talk and figure out how to do it better. Otherwise, from the first, I consciously think and do a film I like. That is also probably why I have done only four films in the past six years.
When we talk about Adivi Sesh, we talk about films like Karma and Kiss because that is when the 2.0 version of you came. At that moment when you felt you have to buck up and do things, what did you exactly do to change?
I realized that though the people who advised me had good intentions, their advice was sometimes wrong. So then, first of all, I started making decisions based on what my heart says.
If a script comes in, before analysing the other factors, I started to see whether I like it or not. I started listening to my heart. I feel if you listen to your heart, even if you fail, people will respect you.
I mean, it is not just about hit or flop. If a film flops, how it flopped is also important. If it flops with respect, it's different. So I think how you try matters a lot. Listening to my heart was the biggest and most important thing. As far as I know, the heart doesn't lie. It doesn't mean ego and all. It is about whether I like the film or not. That's all.
What is your process of acting? When you get a script, what is the first thing you do and what are the little things you do?
I think the first question I ask myself when I like a script is, "Will I be suitable for this role?" Once I got a very good script. As an actor, there will be selfishness to do a film you like. But it took a long time for me to realise that I was not the right fit for the film. So right casting also matters.
In case I may be right for the film but I am not yet completely there, what should I do and how should I mould myself? That's the next question. Maybe like body language.
For instance, Major Sandeep would always walk steady, straight and be upright. But for me, because of my height and the chances of hitting the doors, I slouch and walk a little. I realised I have to change that and so I was very upright in the film Major.
By nature, I am left-handed. But Major Sandeep is right-handed. To be able to handle weapons, throw punches, fire guns, and all that like a properly trained military officer, with your right hand is very different from doing all those with your left hand. Even if I start running, the first leg I keep forward is left. I have to change that to right. So even if we talk about only body language, you have to change much. Then there is voice and all.
So you start trying different things to be the character. I also had to go through a huge weight loss transformation as well. When I signed Major, I was 88. Then I came to 75, then 78, then 81 and again 75. So I had to do those within short spans. Luckily, the lockdown gave me time for the weight change.
In Major, you play two different variations – young days and the soldier days. What was the toughest one?
There are three variations – young days, and at the same time, there is a change in mindset when he starts to think about "what does it mean to be a soldier" and the actual soldier. I enjoyed the young days because it was the closest to Major Sandeep.
I think what was very tough for me was the action sequences at Taj. Not because of why everyone thinks. Because this film has some major action scenes, it is like very tough stunts and I did all those myself. So there was jumping and all.
When we decide that we are going to take a superhuman story and make it, we better behave like a superhuman and be authentic. So you want to just give it all. In one scene, I had to jump from a 5-floor building, and I am scared of heights. So it was very tough, the scale and hugeness, it was tough.
After a point of time, we know how an actor smiles, cries, etc. but when you played a cop in two-three movies, we could still see differences in the way you acted. You brought that change. Of course, the story helps. But how do you bring that shift?
I think the question isn't about being a cop, it is about who he is as a person. For instance, in Evaru, the character is in Tamil Nadu, and can't speak Tamil properly and like that. Whereas in Hit2, the character is in Vizag and is a very urban character. Maybe he is someone who goes back and watches Netflix.
If you compare Evaru and Hit2, the two police characters are very different. So it is the people and the background they come from, how do they think and talk, all that matters. Language also plays a big role.
120 shoot days, 75 locations, 8 sets, three languages, produced by Mahesh Babu, Anurag Reddy, Sharath Chandra, Sony Pictures – Tell me about this.
It is the biggest film of my life. When I say biggest, it is not just the budget, canvas or emotions. It will also be an experience for the audience. There are 2700 VFX shots in the film. So it is a very very big scale film and you would have seen glimpses of it in the teaser.
It is a big honour that Mahesh Babu sir believed in Sashi (director) and me and gave us this responsibility. When I told about the concept to Anurag Reddy or Mahesh Babu, I didn't have the story with me. They believed in my emotion and passion to do this film. So they are trusting us. Major Sandeep's parents are trusting us. So it is a big responsibility and we all thank Mahesh Babu sir and Sony Pictures for trusting us.