Excerpts from a conversation between Nagarjuna and Baradwaj Rangan
How did the name of ‘Celluloid Scientist’ get stuck to you? Who called you that first?
‘Celluloid Scientist’? (laughs) Baddy, who told this to you? (laughs)
I just read this on the Internet. It’s everywhere.
In my earlier days in cinema, I experimented with a lot of new films. I mean new-age films for that time, which become extremely successful. Like you said, you like my Siva and Geetanjali. At that time, this came out. Because, they were very, very new films and people. I don’t know about the rest of India, but people here liked giving some names to everybody.
It’s not something that came like a title?
No, no. It wasn’t a title. It’s my nickname given by the audience.
From the time you worked with Ram Gopal Varma, Mani Ratnam… and to Rahul Ravindran today, you have this tendency to pick out relatively untested directors. What makes you look at a director and say ‘Okay this is someone I want to work with.’?
I always wanted to seek something new. Always. It’s been in my grain. I always wanted to look at new things, seek new things. That, of course, was the start of it. Whether it is a director or a co-actor… or anyone, I need to vibe well. With a director, it is very important that I need to vibe well. The first meeting almost makes me decide whether I’m going to do this film or not.
Based on how you talk?
How we talk, what questions we ask each other and how the answers are going to be and if I’m comfortable with this man or woman… that’s what makes me decide.
But how do you know that it is going to translate into the ability to actually direct a film. Because there’s a technique involved in it, right?
A very few were absolutely brand new directors whom I’ve introduced and worked with… like Ram Gopal Varma. But if you look at Mani Ratnam, he had already done a few films at that time. I liked his Mouna Ragam very, very, very much. By then he hadn’t done a Nayakan or Agni Natchathiram. They were not even on the floor. I liked Mouna Ragam, and I went after him because I really liked it. Like that, there have been quite a few directors. After seeing their first films, I don’t look at their success at that time, I see their visual sense. That worked for me quite a bit.
What do you mean ‘Went after him’?
Mani Ratnam? Yeah, I had to go. At first, he refused. He said, “No. I don’t know Telugu, I’m not going to direct a Telugu film. I need to know Telugu for that”. I used to go and meet him whenever possible and, fortunately for me, most of the Telugu films were shot in Chennai at that time and he lived very close to where I was living. So, I knew he would go for his walk at 7 in the morning and I would go around that time. I’d say ‘Hi Mani! What did you think?’ Because of this persistence for a couple of months, I think he looked into it. And then he must have thought about the language. Telugu is a big language and a big area, so why don’t we get into it. And it worked for him.
Today, when I asked a lot of people when I was preparing for this interview, ‘Name three Nagarjuna movies that you remember’, almost everyone named Siva and Geetanjali. Those two seem to be so iconic in people’s minds.
Because they changed the path of cinema. I wouldn’t say just in Telugu. I would say in the country itself. I worked with so many technicians. The cameraman of Manmadhudu 2 said he was inspired by Siva, and that’s why he came into films. Like that, I’ve met so many directors and cameramen and actors who said they only got into films because they were so inspired by that film or kicked about that film.