Ageless & timeless

Looking a million bucks, Telugu star Nagarjuna continues to defy age and rule the industry in his numerous outings, writes Nina C George

Telugu superstar Nagarjuna doesn’t look his age. The actor, who will be celebrating his 60th birthday on August 29, strongly believes that age is just a number.

“I want to feel young till I am 100,” Nagarjuna tells Sunday Herald, ahead of leaving the country to celebrate his birthday overseas. The popular action hero of the Telugu film industry also confesses that he would like to do less of action films and experiment with subjects that are entertaining and inspiring. One such attempt is his latest release, Manmadhudu 2, where he plays a casanova.

In a freewheeling interview, Nagarjuna talks about why he has become more choosy about his projects, his love for Kannada films and more.

We see a different you in ‘Manmadhudu 2’. What was the experience of shooting for that film like?

The film was designed for fun. You are taken through laughs and gags. After a long time, I have played a character like that.

You look nothing like your age. What is the secret?

Age is just a number and I think everybody should feel that way. The latest WHO statistics say that 50 is not middle age anymore and that one touches middle age only at 70. I want to feel young till I am 100 years old.

Have the kind of characters that you play become restricted over the years?

I can’t play the characters that I used to play before. As you grow older, the characters you play get restricted as people would have formed a certain image of you in their minds and expect you to play only characters that fit that image. I would like to play comic and negative roles, but as the years go by, you are stamped and you can’t move out. This is rather unfortunate. In Hollywood, European or Korean films, actors do all kinds of roles. Just like everything else, India polarises actors, too.

What kind of films suit your taste?

I like to work in films that are entertaining and inspiring. I don’t want to go to a film to get depressed. We see that happening in the news and in real life. Working on films is a stress-buster. I would like to work on projects that are centered around comedy and have inspiring themes. Even if it has a lot of action, it should not be serious and gut-wrenching. We should be able to watch it.

Will we see you doing a biopic someday?

All the popular biopics have been doing well. There are a lot of untold stories like Super 30, for instance. That story was never told. If something interesting like that comes my way, I will pick it up. You have to be very careful when you are doing a biopic because it is history and everybody knows about it. You can’t falter or even commercialise it in an attempt to make it interesting because people will say that never happened.

Is it challenging for your sons to match your skill?

Their challenge is being the children of a proven star or actor who has been around for quite some time. The comparison works in that sense but as far as scripts are concerned, their scripts are completely different from mine.

Could you tell us what you admire most about your sons Chaitanya and Akhil?

They are both focused and true to their work.Chaitanya is incredibly patient, and Akhil is a go-getter. I have absolutely no complaints about both of them.

How has the entry of Samantha changed the family?

She has always been a good friend of Chaitanya and I have worked in two films with her. Manam was a beautiful experience. That’s where I got to know her well. She’s a great influence on Chaitanya and both of them complement each other so well. I am very protective about her after she came into the family.

You and Amala have come a long way. What is the secret to your happy marriage?

We are good friends and we can talk to each other about anything. We also give each other that space to do what we want, and we have the freedom to express to each other what we like and dislike. We enjoy the liberty to discuss what works and what doesn’t work for us, both individually and together. Unconditional love and strong friendship are what we share.

How has Amala given you strength?

Even in my saddest moment, I know that she is there and that thought is enough for me to get through it. She analyses the situation well and doesn’t get fazed by anything. She is a very strong woman internally and that strength radiates outside.

How do you strike a balance between your acting and entrepreneurial activities?

I don’t do anything by myself. I work on films with newcomers and try new things. If young entrepreneurs come and give me an idea, I back them up. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I really don’t spend my time as an entrepreneur. My partners acknowledge the trust I put in them and act responsibly.

Who is your favourite Kannada star?

Shivarajkumar — Shivanna, as he is known to many — is a good friend of mine. From his younger age to now, I admire how well he has transformed and retained his character and image in his films. It is very difficult for a senior star to do that. Sudeep is an intense actor and I love his films. And most recently, I loved Yash’s work in KGF, an incredible film. I know a lot of people here, but I converse the most with Shivanna.

Why haven’t we seen you in a Kannada film?

Nobody offered me a role (laughs).

Kannada film industry won 12 National awards this year. Your thoughts on that?

Kannada film industry has come a long way. It is the cosmopolitan culture of Karnataka that has made it withstand films from all languages. Kannada is always known for its drama and theatre. That’s where all the good quality comes from.

How do you usually celebrate your birthday?

No particular way. This year, both my boys have organised something for me and my immediate family overseas.
We are going out of the country. I wanted to spend my 60th birthday with my family because that’s where I belong.

Are you scared of loneliness?

I am not scared of loneliness, but I am scared of not being able to work.

Your worst fear...

Not having work will drive me crazy.

A few favourite books...

Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. As a youngster, that book left a lasting impression on me, and after that, no other book has left that kind of an impression on me. Another book that got me thinking for a long time is God Is An Astronaut by Alyson Foster. 

Three musicians whose music you can’t get enough of...

I can’t get enough of A R Rahaman and Ilayaraja, and both the Burmans. The older songs are incredible. It’s hard to pick one or two because there’s no end to it. 

Your must-eat superfood...

Anything that is not fried in oil and doused in masala is superfood for me. Your body tells you what you want and don’t want. Listen to your body.

Do you follow a strict diet?

It is a big myth that I don’t eat anything. I eat and burn it out. I keep to a certain timing and steer clear of fried food.

Three things that you avoid... 

I don’t like arrogant and rude people.

I avoid unhealthy showing off of wealth. I find that very callous.

I also avoid making instant decisions. I sleep over it and make a decision in the morning.

Do you travel to Bengaluru often?

As the city is crowded, we can’t shoot here anymore. I have earlier shot a lot in Cubbon Park, Bangalore Palace, M G Road, and Brigade Road. Now, I shoot a lot in Mysuru. It’s a beautiful city with some of the best locations.

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