Priyadarshi, who recently appeared in Jathi Ratnalu and A1 Express, plays the central character, Aadhi, in In The Name Of God, an Aha Original web series directed by Vidyasaagar Muthukumar and produced by Suresh Krissna. He talks about how he prepared for the role and how his experiences as a regular guy before he found success with Pelli Choopulu continue to shape his performances. Edited Excerpts…
From the trailer of In The Name Of God, it appears like you play a central character who undergoes crucial transformations. Is Aadhi one of the more challenging roles you’ve done so far?
You can partly say that because of the journey of his character. He starts off as a so-called nice guy, someone with a lost childhood that he’s trying to fix. Even though you might not see some of those aspects on screen, I worked out the details of how Aadhi would behave and live, with the director, Vidya [Vidyasaagar Muthukumar]. So, you could call this my most elaborate role in terms of where Aadhi starts and where he ends up.
It’s also been mentally and physically excruciating and challenging. Aadhi is a character who goes through many hurdles before a resolution. It’s fascinating to do a role like that because I know that there will be moments where things are good for him and other moments that will be bad. There are also moments where he’s in a gray area. Somewhere, slightly, this imitates life, in its own way. It helped me anchor Aadhi in my mind. How does someone like him live his life? I didn’t do a lot of research but I was constantly imagining Aadhi in my head.
How is imagining Aadhi different from preparing for the role by doing more research on the character and his setting?
Beyond preparation, I do an objective reading of the script and try to find myself in it, somewhere. I see if I can connect to the other characters in the world of the story. After I read the script, I do any necessary preparation. So, let’s say, hypothetically, that Aadhi is meeting his landlord to figure out a land deal. I try to work out who the landlord is, where he comes from, details of his entourage and finally, how I must behave with him. Should I be submissive or should I carry over Aadhi’s usual personality? But, when you bring all this information to your performance, you only confuse yourself.
So, sometimes, I just focus on Aadhi’s character and temporarily shut down parts of my head that contain all the research. I just ask the director for instructions and let his feedback shape my performance. Typically, the meter sets in within a few days.
Sometimes, I also break the meter when a co-actor contributes to Aadhi’s journey. Sai Priyanka [Ruth] plays an important character and she came in with a different kind of energy. Aadhi is someone who thinks that a wife must be submissive and give in to the whims of her husband. She fights back and that creates a cognitive dissonance in his mind. He has to keep up with his wife, he doesn’t want to be sexist or irrational but he becomes those things due to circumstances. So, sometimes I break the meter to react to the performance of another character.
You played an underdog in Loser and Aadhi appears to be a gritty and somewhat dark character. But you often play comic roles in films, like Jogipet Shekar in Jathi Ratnalu. Is there something in common for you in these very different roles?
That’s a tough question to answer. Primarily, I’m a sucker for underdogs. I lived a life before I got into films as a very common teenager with some aspirations to get into cinema. I was a regular guy in a crowd. When I found success and fame at twenty six, it was hard to fathom: everything was changing too fast and it was difficult to keep a grip on it. A couple of months after Pelli Choopulu, life was back to normal, even though people saw me differently now. I love experiencing these moments of life and intensely going through them. And somewhere, the characters I play are also a reflection of some part of the person I am because of my journey.
For instance, I had a friend a long while back when I was an aspiring actor, who tried unsuccessfully to get me into a network marketing job where I had to put in my own money. He was the kind of person who lies to a friend to take his money and yet, he sounded so convinced as he casually told me that I was a loser who wouldn’t do anything in life. So, when I met Suri, the underdog from Loser, I kind of imagined his character as the aspiring actor I was at one point. My own similar experiences of discouragement shaped my performance.
Even in Mail, I used an experience from my childhood. In the early 2000s, there used to be a network of pirated movie CDs. That fellow in the shop with all those CDs behind him controlled your life and your entertainment. He even acted a bit like a critic. You’d want to watch a Bond movie and he’d recommend a different one. The guys in computer centers were similar. These guys have actually controlled a narrative in our heads. I took that inspiration to my role in Mail.
Whether it’s Shekar from Jathi Ratnalu or Aadhi from In The Name Of God they are a reflection of a part of me, somehow.
Do you have a strategy about the kinds of roles you want to do in films vs OTT? You seem to be exploring more serious roles on OTT…
There’s definitely no conscious plan at all. Jathi Ratnalu came after Mallesham and other films I was doing at that point. All I knew was that I needed to be a part of Jathi Ratnalu. I had no reason to say no. I told the director that I wanted to be a part of the film’s world.
But around the same time, I was also pitched Aadhi from In The Name Of God. I didn’t decide to do it merely because it was going to be released on OTT. But, at the same I want to balance OTT because technology is rapidly changing and the audience is fragmented. Consumption of entertainment has changed drastically in the last five years. Middle class families buy high-end TVs with financing and look at it as an asset. People want to consume entertainment at home. Some of my own friends are too lazy to watch even my films in theatres. They prefer to watch them when they drop on OTT; they feel going to a theatre is an expensive hassle.
I have a problem bringing those people to theatres. But that’s also where the greatest stars of our industry are. The reception for Mallesham was far more when it dropped on OTT. There were an unprecedented number of tweets and messages. In contrast, we even had to go to the US to promote Jathi Ratnalu, because it was running so successfully in theatres there. I saw huge crowds celebrating the film. So, people have clearly demarcated what they want to watch in theatres and what they want to watch at home. I want to reach both mediums, naturally.
Do you think a series like In The Name Of God that looks very raw and gritty can work theatrically, if it were made into a film?
It would be difficult to pull off that kind of rawness. Right from the language to the treatment, it would have to be different. But with the freedom in OTT also comes a certain moral responsibility of the writer to question whether everything is justified by the script and not done merely for sensationalism.
Suresh Krissna is the producer of In The Name Of God. How was it working with him?
This man actually made the common man a hero with films like Baashha. He made these beautiful underdog stories. The 90s were so spectacular because you were watching these films with Chiranjeevi, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. Suresh Krissna sir directed great films with them about common people and their problems but with a ‘mass’ treatment.
He even briefly directed a small montage in In The Name Of God and that was the greatest moment of my life. After a shot, he told me that he had a similar one for Rajinikanth in Baashha. He’s full of information about various actors, their processes and how the film business used to work. He has amazing command of the craft and can set up a scene within thirty seconds. He shot the entire sequence with me in five minutes. That’s the degree of expertise he brought to the set. I’ve been pestering him to direct me soon.
He was much more confident about the product than even we were. That’s true of even Allu Aravind sir. He too comes with such great experience and told me that In The Name Of God was one of their best original content and appreciated my performance as one of my best.