Veteran performer

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Veteran performer

This 56-year-old Telugu actor is also a writer, poet, playwright and director with over 29 years of experience in the film industry. With over 600 films in his kitty, he recently made his directorial debut with Midhunam, that has received rave reviews from audiences and critics alike.

Meet Telugu film thespian Bharani Tanikella, who will soon be seen portraying an investigative journalist’s role in the Telugu version of Apoorva Lakhia’s Zanjeer remake starring Ram Charan Teja, Priyanka Chopra and Prakash Raj.

In spite of his lofty achievements, this multiple-award-winning actor is completely grounded and has no trace of any ego that one tends to associate with artistes from the film industry.

As I was talking to a veteran, the first question I ask him, most naturally, is if he always wanted to be an actor. “I never thought of acting while growing up. I was born and brought up in a railway colony in Secunderabad, and my father used to work for the railways. The first art form that I got exposed to was the traditional Harikatha, an individual one man show where the artiste does everything from dancing to narrating. This used to happen at a temple close to the railway quarters and I would invariably come home and imitate the same. When in college, I started leaning towards plays and even wrote a play in which I performed, that was ultimately selected as the best play. I was not really great in studies or sports, but plays gave me a lot of recognition.”

Armed with a PG Diploma in Theatre Arts, he did several stage plays in the mid-70s and it was during this time that he met Guru Rallapalli, a Tollywood actor with whom he performed onstage several times. “I used to write playlets. A producer saw one of my plays and asked me to write. He showed me Enter The Dragon and asked me to do a better job than that,” he laughs.

“But, being from theatre, I could not suit myself to movies and decided to go back to my plays. It was again popular director Vamshi who asked me to write, and the movie Ladies Tailor became a huge hit. My other break as an actor was with Ram Gopal Varma’s Shiva, in which I play the character Nanaji. My acting career took off after I played a role in Yamaleela, directed by Krishna Reddy.”

Working on over 20 movies a year, he has done a variety of roles. He has also won over 25 awards as best writer, and over 50 awards as best actor in theatre. Being a devotee of Lord Shiva, he has penned several songs and poems which have also been translated into Kannada. Speaking about his favourite character, he says he likes Shakuni from the Mahabharata. “I am very interested in negative characters since the level of performance, expressions and diction can be well layered.

There is scope for performance in these kinds of characters since there is a psychological aspect that can be explored,” says the actor who counts S V Ranga Rao and Savithri among his favourites.
In spite of tasting commercial success, his heart, however, was always in parallel cinema. “I finally started Grahanam with a small group of likeminded producers. Directed by Indraganti Mohan Krishna, the film won critical acclaim and also the National Film Award for the Best First Film of a Director. The success of this film egged him to do more and he started directing international short films like Blue Cross, The Last Farmer and Key. His film Sira, The Ink that described the anguish of a poet over global terrorism, won him the Best Debut Director Award at the Hyderabad International Film Festival as well as the Best Antiterrorism Message Award at the Idaho Panhandle International Film Festival.

However, the closest to his heart right now is Midhunam, a heart-warming tale of an ageing couple, that has been a runaway success at the box-office. Based on the marital relationship of the couple, the movie has only two characters, essayed by veterans S P Balasubrahmanyam and Lakshmi.

“I never made this film with the motive of making money. When I saw grandparents watching this movie in theatres with their grandchildren, it felt very fulfilling.” Made with a budget of a mere 1.25 crore, Midhunam will soon head to Cannes and other international film fests. Quiz him if we will ever see him directing a potboiler and he says, “Please don’t wish that for me, ever. While I appreciate what other filmmakers do, I believe each one has his own style.” He says he would like to enjoy the success of Midhunam this year, before taking the next step. Something he certainly deserves.

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