Next year marks Navdeep’s 20th year as an actor. He debuted with Teja’s Jai (2004), a sports drama served with patriotism, at the age of 18. The road has certainly not been all smooth for the actor but two decades and several lessons later, the actor is on a path of reinvention. The upcoming Aha series, Newsense, is a step in that direction. “I used to think that I had to keep doing something to survive here. But I realised that this is what I have been told by people around me and not what I believe in. The biggest takeaway from my journey is that I finally understood I don't have to do something just for survival but do it only if I like and believe in it,” the actor says over the phone, days ahead of the premiere of the show.
In this conversation with Film Companion, Navdeep discusses his career, the new show, factors that propelled him to shift gears and more.
Edited excerpts below:
You were 17 when you started out. 20 years later, how did your approach to the profession change?
I got much more comfortable over the years, obviously, because we tend to gain expertise in an activity if we indulge in it for such a long time. Theoretically, I don’t think my approach changed drastically. Sure, I’m more at ease now but my understanding of acting remains unaffected. Luckily, I had [filmmaker] Teja garu as my mentor when I started out. He is known for extracting good performances from newcomers and he taught me the craft of acting and the thought process I needed to develop in the right way. For instance, if he sets up a shot for me, he would even tell me what to think while a shot was being filmed. His teachings got embedded in my head as core principles and theories of acting.
And do these learnings continue to help you to date? Can you give an example from recent filming experiences?
Yes. Take, a scene from Newsense, for instance, in which I have to visit a government office to manipulate someone using my influence as a journalist. The shot required me to walk up to a door and stand. But what Teja garu taught me is something deeper: Controlling our headspace during a shot matters more than the physical action being performed. So as an actor, I have to remember what my character went through in the previous scene and his motivation in the present. He would say that even a buffalo is capable of walking up to the mark and standing still if trained to do so, but as actors, we need to bring more depth to our work. When the director asked me to walk up to the door and stand, I slightly improvised it by taking my ID card from my pocket and holding it in my hand to establish that my character is prepared to use his influence and accomplish his goal. This intricate, minute action is an outcome of something Teja garu taught me 20 years ago.
As someone who has played negative characters in films like Baadshah (2013), Seeru (2020) and Mosagallu (2021), how did you pitch your character in Newsense differently?
I would say my character in Newsense leans more toward grey than negative. In films, we tend to box characters into black and white. In reality, everything is a game of perspectives. My character and his actions in the show are driven by necessity, not even by greed. The idea was to keep the portrayal close to reality in Newsense.
Beyond the opportunity to make over your image, what drew you towards the show?
When I heard the story, I liked the characters and the milieu of the story. Ever since I was young, I was fascinated with different dialects and always wanted to explore them. And when I was told that my character speaks in Madanapalle slang, I got really excited. It was a challenge but we cracked it soon, thanks to discussions with the instructor Charan, who was also a part of Pushpa. And coming to the look of my character, I had a doubt whether I’ll fit the part because I know that I look like a Banjara Hills lad (laughs). So initially, we lacked clarity about my transformation into a Madanapalle kurrodu (youngster) but once we did the look test with a tan, it all began to fall into place. It was a stimulating process.
Now that you have shown the intent to reinvent yourself with Newsense, after being restricted to a certain kind of roles, do you hope it translates into a wider range of opportunities?
Sure. Be it Newsense or Love Mouli (upcoming film), both the characters are poles apart from one another and I am really excited for people to watch both because they are the finest works I have done so far. Like they often say in the film industry, I would like to call Love Mouli the first film in my second innings. I’m very excited about this year!
What has taken so long for the reinvention? Are things falling into place finally?
Well, it took me 32 years to ask myself what I want from life. My thought process changed during the lockdown. As I said earlier, it took me time to realise that I should do work that I enjoy and not just to keep myself afloat. The upcoming projects are the ones I picked after my perspective changed and I believe you’ll see a different version of Navdeep on screen going forward.