New Telugu film superstar Naveen Polishetty talks about super-hit Jathi Ratnalu.
Naveen, were surprised by the scale of Jathi Ratnalu’s (JR) success?
Was I surprised? Not really. We were due to release this movie in the summer of 2020. The only reason we waited so long and didn’t go for the OTT option was because we had complete confidence in our product.
Do you mean you knew Jathi Ratnalu was a winner?
Yes, we knew that once the movie was released, audiences would be laughing their heads off. That’s why the producers took a risk and didn’t release the film on OTT. They were convinced of the content. What surprised us was the extent of the success. At this point in life, we weren’t sure people would leave their homes in these times of a pandemic. Two days before release, the advance reservation was almost complete. We knew we had success in hand. What a success, we could not have guessed.
What was your reaction to the opening of the collections?
It was beyond anything we expected. At the theaters on opening day, we didn’t hear a word of the on-screen dialogue. The audience was so excited! They even danced in multiplexes. They laughed and screamed. It was the kind of community experience in movie theaters that I had seen as a child. This is what made me fall in love with the cinema. That’s what made me want to become an actor. People forget their worries for two and a half hours and have fun. They laugh, they forget their worries, they have fun and go home. It is for me what cinema is.
What was the response on a personal level?
Oh, I got so many phone calls from distributors. In small towns after a year, or why just a year, after four years, they see boards at home. Friends and relatives call me for tickets. It’s been years since we’ve experienced such excitement for a movie. Why watch movies in cinemas? JR had provided the answer to that.
Jathi Ratnalu is insanely funny and intelligent. How did you become part of it?
Well, producer Nag Ashwini Sir called me to tell me this is a movie directed by Anupdeep Sir and he wanted me to be a part of it. He said he couldn’t think of anyone but me for the role. When I read the script, I found it very satirical, very funny. I was shooting for my movie in Hindi Chhichhore when I was offered Jathi Ratnalu. I was looking to make a comedy from start to finish. I found it perfectly suited to this space. In my last Telugu movie, Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, I played a really smart detective. In Jathi Ratnalu, I was offered the role of a really stupid 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 Jathi Ratnalu?
When I read the script, I knew I had to do some sort of workshop or rehearsal to show that kind of closeness to them. Fortunately, when we first met, we hit it off instantly. So now when people say they haven’t seen that kind of bromance on screen in a long time, it really feels good.
Jathi Ratnalu’s dialogues are insanely funny. To what extent has it been improvised?
Oh a lot! Director Anudeep gave us the freedom to improvise and we made full use of that freedom. For example, the courtroom climax scene, Anudeep and I wrote it together. Once he decided he wanted a climax in the courtroom, we sat down and he gave me the freedom to go crazy with all this “global warming” gibberish and the like. If Anudeep hadn’t allowed us to improvise the climax, or for that matter the other funny scenes wouldn’t have been so funny.
How has Jathi Ratnalu changed your life?
Oh my God! It has completely changed my life. I come from a normal middle class family with no connection to the film industry. And then I had the audacity to dream of becoming a main actor in a mainstream commercial cinema! It was a difficult journey. When a movie like Jathi Ratnalu comes to you and it becomes a certified blockbuster despite the pandemic, so it’s time for me to feel some sense of accomplishment. In the United States, it is the only Indian film to have grossed more than a million dollars despite only 25% occupancy of theaters. In India, the box office numbers are insane. He came out with 7 other films. It has consistently made Rs. 70 crore during times of pandemic. Having your second Telugu feature film create that kind of impact is a dream come true.
What does this prove to you?
It proves that we aspirants of the middle class have the right to dream big. More than me, it changes a lot of things for other dreamers from all over India who want to make it big in movies and especially in cinema. Yes we can do it! From now on, more producers will bet on outside talent. Thanks to JR’s success, more aspirants will have a chance. All of us at JR – actors, cinematographer, writers, music composers – are all young people with dreams.
You are currently in the United States. What was the response to your presence there?
Everywhere I go, it’s the same hysteria. I feel like I am in a dream. This is the first time that I have been attacked on this scale. People adopted me as one of their own. A member of the audience said to 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’m touring America. People came from Atlanta and Georgia to meet with us. Will I find 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 like I represent them on the screen.
You started out 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 really consider myself a pan-Indian actor. When I make a movie in Hindi, people think I’m from Uttar Pradesh. When I make a film in Telugu, they feel that I am from Andhra or Telangana. I am now learning Tamil. I believe it’s the story that works, not the language. When my first Telugu movie Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya was offered to me, I also finished being part of his team of writers. When it became a success, more doors opened for me. At the moment I am working in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. This is what is good about cinema. You can tell a story in the language of your choice. Language is only a tool of expression. This is why people were watching so many movies in so many different languages during the lockdown. With JR being such a blockbuster, I’m happy to work in different languages.
Also read: “The response to Jathi Ratnalu was beyond what we expected” – Naveen Polishetty
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