Edited excerpts from an interview between Priyadarshi and Alekhya:
Given that nostalgia and technology are both important to the script of Mail, let’s go back in time for bit? What was your first experience of using a computer?
Back in the late 90’s there was a DOS-based computer known as Windows-DOS, which worked on command oriented output. These computers had Y2K problems later on. As far as I remember my father used to type several research notes of his on the computer. I used to sit behind him and watch it out of amusement. Later, I was introduced to a few basic computer games. Also, my father worked in the University laboratory which had a group of computers. It seemed like a new world to me. That’s when I realised one is not allowed to enter with footwear and that was the only place which had ACs. And it was the first time when I heard the word ‘server’. If not for computers, all these words—mouse, keyboard, mouse ball, monitor—wouldn’t have been there in my life in those days. The floppy discs were bigger than my hand palm and I still have them with me.
What were your most memorable moments with the computer?
By the early 2000’s I started playing Road Rash. This game got me hooked for many years. So during the shoot of Mail I used to ask these guys to put it. I used to play for an hour or two in between the shots; it’s addictive. I still remember the cheat codes and they worked well. I felt like I was transporting myself to those times. Later in 2002 we bought a computer and it was a huge thing for me as a kid, after the buying cycle.
How is it like to play a young man’s role who is new to computers in this fast-paced digital era?
The character, Hybath, that I am playing is one of those guys who knows very less but feels like a game changer, like a boss. He wants to teach computers to everyone. He has his own world. Even in the trailer we hear him say, “Nenu edo manchi cheddamu ani veelaki computer teskosate, daaniki virus antincharu chusnava..” So Mail is all about discovering that goold old time, space and living that nostalgia. Today we want our mobiles and tabs to work in a split second but back then it took six to eight minutes for the computer to switch on. So I had moments where I wondered how far we have come in terms of digital space and revisited how I was like a digital native in those days. It was a surreal experience to look at the world from the eyes of Hybath and then compare it as Priyadarshi, now. It’s more like reliving those times that my director Uday, saw as a child or a teen.
We see that Mail is titled ‘Chapter 1’. Is there going to be a sequel for this and are you a part of it as well?
Yes, there is going to be a second part but I am not sure if I am a part of the sequel. I am equally curious to be a part of the second one but let’s see. Kambalapally Kathalu is basically a memoir of Uday Gurrala and his life and Mail is one such chapter. The following chapters reflect his other experiences of his life.
Looking at your filmography, it’s known that you’ve played roles of several shades. How do you prepare for a character?
There is no hard-and-fast rule. There are some parts wherein I’ve challenged myself on how to do it and something like Mallesham came my way as a surprise. I wasn’t looking for such a kind of film but given that time and space, I grabbed the opportunity. I thought let me give it a fair chance. I never saw myself as a comedian so I always had in my mind to look beyond things.
As a character artist, do you think comedy is your strong suit?
The way we define comedy in Telugu Cinema is very different. Now, as an artiste, I don’t head out to do something comical purposefully in my films. I view it as—there’s a story, it has got some characters and they all work in a certain way in that space. Coming to Mail, it seems to be fun and comical because we as a generation have become advanced with respect to computers/digital space. Now, looking back at them it feels funny. I, as Hybath, is just a catalyst who is driving that story. People somewhere attribute me to comedy because of the blessing that Pelli Choopulu did but my biggest challenge is to find the right scripts.
Why do you find it challenging to select a script?
As an actor, the choices that I make or the stories that I choose to tell define me for what I am. In an industry one tends to box the actors into categories like a mass hero, a comedian, a lover boy etc, for the convenience of the writers and directors for casting. They look out for certain vibes and elements based on segregation and it is not wrong, by the way. Sometimes I am unsure about what my potential is. Maybe yes, comedy but Mallesham was a self-discovery for me. Selecting such a script is a leap that I took; it rewarded me and helped me discover what I am. So it’s a challenge for me to know if I would be able to pull off those characters.
What are the things that you look out for when you are selecting a script?
It’s the story. As soon as I hear the story I should feel “Abba!!! Entha bagundi ra!”— it means somewhere at some point I connect with the story. Then I look out for the part I am offered and what I’d like to play. For instance, speaking about Mail, I was in touch with Uday and he said he’d come up with some interesting stories. He went out for a rickey and we met for a discussion after that. He showed me a short film that he made for a pitch and I loved it! I said, “If this is how you’re gonna make the film, then am immediately, right now in the film.” However, it took me a while to understand how things work in the industry. But ultimately I look for what the writer or director is intending to tell in the story.
We see you play characters like Mallesham, Suri in Loser and now Hybath. All these characters have an out-of-the-box spirit. Do you find yourself in a similar space?
Not really but I love the underdog guy, the common man in all of us. Mail comes from a known space but the whole experience of the film is out of the box. These are our stories, we all are a part of it. The way things are viewed and the story is told is important.
How has it been to work with budding actors Harshith Reddy, Mani, Gouri Priya, etc?
It was great. Five years ago I was like them. It was fun and kickass. They are bringing the true Indie stuff onto the table with their experiences. They worked harder in the workshops. All these newbie actors did their first film in sync sound and that calls for some good acknowledgement and incredible potential. I’m looking forward to their work in the future. Especially Harshith and Gouri Priya, they have amazing potential to become future stars in the industry.
Lastly, do you communicate over mail these days?
Yes, I do. Now, of course it has taken a beating in terms of communication but I write mails to my old friends. In my college days I used mails for the submission of projects and assignments. So, yes, I survived by mails.