Basking in the success of Jathi Ratnalu, Naveen Polishetty talks about his newfound success from the US. The actor says he is not surprised by the uploading success.
Naveen, was surprised by the magnitude of success of Jathi Ratnalu(JR)?
Was I surprised? No, not really. We were supposed to release this film in the summer of 2020. The only reason we waited so long and not opted for the OTT option, was because we had complete faith in our product.
You mean you knew JR was a winner?
Yes, we knew once the film releases the audiences would laugh their heads off. This is why the producers took a risk and not released the film on OTT. They were confident of the content. What we were surprised by was the scale of the success. At this point in life, we were not sure people would come out of their homes during these times of the pandemic. Two days before the release the bookings were almost full. We knew we had success in hand. How big success, we couldn’t have guessed.
What was your reaction to the opening collections?
It was beyond anything we expected. At the theatres on an opening day, we couldn’t hear a word of the dialogues on screen. The audiences were that excited! They were dancing in even the multiplexes. They were laughing yelling …This is the kind of community experience in movie theatres that I had seen as a child. This what made me fall in love with cinema. This is what made me want to become an actor. People forget their worries for two and a half hours and just enjoy themselves. They laugh, they forgot their worries, they have a good time and they go back home. This to me is what cinema is all about.
What has the response been on a personal level?
Oh. I’ve received so many phone calls from distributors. In the small towns after a year, or why just one year, after four years, they are seeing Houseful boards. Friends and relatives are calling me for tickets. It’s been years since we experienced such excitement for a film. Why should we watch films in theatres? JR had provided the answer to that.
JR is crazily funny and smart. How did you become a part of it?
Well, the producer Nag Ashwini Sir called to tell me there’s a film that Anupdeep Sir is directing, and that he wanted me to be part of it. He said he could think of no one but me for the role. When I read the script I found it very satirical, very funny. I was shooting for my Hindi film Chhichhore when I was offered JR. I was looking to do an out-and-out comedy. I found it fitted that space perfectly. In my last Telugu film Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, I played a really intelligent detective. In JR I was offered the role of a really dumb guy. So it was a complete change of image for me.
Tell me about your camaraderie with your co-stars Priyadarshi and Rahul Ramakrishna in JR?
When I read the script I knew I had to do some kind of workshop or rehearsal to show that kind of closeness with them. Luckily when we met we hit it off instantly. So now when people say they haven’t seen this kind of bromance on screen in a long time it really feels good.
The dialogues of JR are crazily funny. How much of it was improvised?
Oh, lots! The director Anudeep gave us the freedom to improvise and we made full use of that freedom. For example, in the courtroom climax scene, Anudeep and I wrote it together. Once he decided he wanted a courtroom climax we sat down and he gave me the freedom to go crazy with all of that gibberish on global ‘warmation’ etc. The whole theatre is shaking with laughter in that sequence. If Anudeep had not allowed us to improvise the climax, or for that matter, the other funny scenes wouldn’t have been so funny.
How has JR changed your life?
Oh my God! It has changed my life completely. I come from a normal middle-class family with no connections in the film industry. And then I had the audacity to dream of becoming a lead actor in mainstream commercial cinema! It was a challenging journey. When a film like JR comes to you and it becomes a certified blockbuster despite the pandemic, then it’s time for me to feel some sense of achievement. In the US it is the only Indian film to have grossed more than a million dollars despite only 25 percent theatre occupancy. In India the box office numbers are insane. It released with 7 other films It still did 70 crores during pandemic times. To have your second feature film in Telugu create this kind of impact is a dream come true.
What does it prove to you?
It proves that we aspirants from the middle class have the right to dream big. More than just me it changes a lot of things for other dreamers from all over India who want to make it big in films and especially in cinema. Yes, we can do it! Now more producers will bet on outside talent. Thanks to the success of JR more aspirants will get a chance. All of us in JR—the actors, cinematographer, writers, music composer—are all young people with dreams.
You are currently in the US. What has the response been to your presence there?
Everywhere I go, it’s the same hysteria. I feel I am in a dream. This is the first time I have been mobbed on this scale, People have adopted me as one of their own. One member of the audience told me, ‘If someone asks you which family you belong to tell them you belong to my family.’ I am that hero whose family is the audience. Right now I am on a tour of America. People have driven down from Atlanta and Georgia to meet us. Will I get this kind of love again? This film motivates me to work even harder. In a way, the audience is the hero of this film. I feel I represent them on screen.
You started as a supporting actor in the Hindi film Chhichhore. How and when did you become such an important part of the Telugu film industry?
Well, I started on YouTube in Hindi before Chhichhore. I truly think of myself as a pan-India actor. When I do a Hindi film people think I’m from Uttar Pradesh. When I do a Telugu film they feel I am from Andhra or Telangana. I am now learning Tamil. I believe that it’s the story that works, not the language. When my first Telugu film Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya was offered to me I also ended becoming a part of its screenwriting team. When that became a hit more doors opened up for me. Right now I am working in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. That’s the great thing about cinema. You can tell a story in any language you want. A language is just a tool of expression. That’s why people were watching so many films in so many different languages during the Lockdown. With JR being such a blockbuster I am happy to be working in different languages.
Image source: Instagram/naveen.polishetty/Youtube/Amazon Prime Video India
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