Ahead of the release of Wild Dog, Nagarjuna speaks to Baradwaj Rangan about his preparation for the role (there’s even a specific way a commando holds a gun), how action has evolved in our films, and the point when he felt that debut director Ashishor Solomon would pull the film off successfully.
Wild Dog is directed by newcomer Ashishor Solomon. Of course, your legendary film, Shiva, was with then newcomer Ram Gopal Varma. There’s always a difference between thinking ‘this guy can do this,’ versus being on the set and saying ‘this guy can do this.’ At what point in Wild Dog did that happen?
Right on day one; by the evening I thought ‘he can pull this off.’ He’s clear about what he wants and that is very important. Right from the beginning, the producer, Solomon and I surrounded ourselves with good technicians. Once you have good technicians, it’s about the visual language, which they take care of, anyway.
You have so much experience in the movies and would have instincts about what would work or not. On the sets do you ever become more than an actor and suggest to the director ‘maybe try it this way?’
No, I never get into the director’s part. The most I’d ask is: can I do it like this?
One way actors say that they become the audience is by preferring to listen to the director’s narration of the script, rather than reading it. What kind of person are you?
I need a narration. I need to look into the eyes of the guy and see how confident he is. If he comes in front of me and reads the script, I’m not okay with that. I need him to narrate to me. The script has to be aside. He needs to know it and be clear.
Let’s talk about Manmadhudu 2. It didn’t do too well. The director, Rahul Ravindran, said something interesting after the movie’s release: ‘After the release, Nagarjuna sir called me and gave me a pep talk.He said working in this movie created months of good memories and we should not let one bad Friday spoil it.’ But how do you deal with failure? Who gives you a pep talk?
Not really, I have short term memory loss (laughs). I work hard, but over years I realised this is the way it is. I don’t blame anybody but myself. I move out of that space quite fast. It happened over the years.
Was there any movie that when it failed you went ‘oh my God!’
Yes, there were two movies: Geethanjali and Annamayya. It took fifteen days for people to accept these films. When Geethanjali released, my father and I thought it was a brilliant film. It played very well in theatres in Hyderabad and Vizag. Rural areas just demolished it. I was in tears for a while.
I had other directors and colleagues saying, “it’s okay, you tried, don’t worry about it, this is an English film, it’s not going to work for us, and how can a girl use ‘lech pothama,’ a girl can’t say that in our culture, a boy can.” In my mind I was like, “shut up, you don’t need to tell me this, I’m already traumatised.”
In those days, movies played for days, and after a while it became a cult film. It was the same thing with Annamayya. I don’t know, they just didn’t accept it for ten days.
They were going to pull it off theatres?
They were going to pull it off. There was only five to ten percent occupancy. I don’t know what happened on the eleventh day. From that day, it was housefull. Something happened at a critical point and it took off. Both these films brought me a lot of appreciation.
Do you believe in a larger force controlling our destinies? I’m not asking about religion necessarily, but there’s something that’s out of our hands.
The larger force is the force of collective thinking.
Of the people?
Of the people. It becomes the larger force and it becomes God to some people. That’s how I look at it. They’re regular film goers who visit theatres for the first week, but it took that long a time for all film goers to come — they don’t go to judge, but to see whether they like the film or not. They don’t say “it’s good till the first half” or things like that. They say, “film is good.” They don’t even point out what is good about the film. So, it took time to reach that collective force, that tipping point.
From the trailer of Wild Dog it looks different from the earlier action films that you’ve done. You’ve played a commando in Gaganam for instance. What would you say is different about the way Wild Dog shows action?
We got this vocabulary from David over a year ago. He’s got good experience in Hollywood as an assistant, and he did his own action in this film. He has done some combat films and he’s an expert in them. We wanted to show the NIA, how they go on an undercover mission, what they do and how they talk to each other, how they hold their guns…
How do you hold a gun? Is that really a thing?
Yes, there are six or seven people moving and if you don’t hold it low you could accidentally shoot your partner. The gun comes up only for shots. It’s also how the eyes keep moving around, there’s rhythm. All of these came though in the movie because we went through a week’s training which helped the gun feel natural in my hand.
These kinds of things never happened in the earlier days right? You just mimicked.
You just mimicked the stunt director. But thanks to the pandemic, people are exposed to a lot of foreign cinema. Now, if you don’t get it right they ask ‘why are you making a fool out of yourself?’