Raja is the chocolate boy of Telugu cinema today with his cute looks. He made his debut with a hit film ‘O Chinnadana’. His character in the title role of Anand changed it all. Vennela was also another hit. His latest film Mayabazaar is due for the release in 2nd week of November. Here is an exclusive interview with this talented actor -
I was born in Vizag to a Christian mother from London and Brahmin father from Andhra. My grandfather was in the British army during pre-independence days and my mother grew up in India. Many tragic events happened in my family. When I was five, my mother died of uterine cancer. My father worked in the Gulf. He was ostracised from his family because he married a white lady. We had many unpleasant experiences. My father shifted us to Hyderabad and I studied here from 3rd standard to 10th class. In 1988, he had to leave his job and come to India to spend time with us. My father died of a cardiac arrest in December 1989. That was another turning point in our life. We had to go back to Vizag. We (my sister and me) worked at a young age to support our education. Life taught us many things but it also opened us new avenues. It made life less complicated.
During my college days, I worked for Sterling Holiday resorts. After graduation I worked with NEPC airlines for one and half years as public relations officer. Then I joined Lufthansa as a part of their cabin crew and flew with them for two years. Finally I wanted to do something much bigger in life.
My mother was stunningly beautiful and she was like goddess to me. I think some of her charm rubbed on to me. My mother wanted to be an actress. I went to USA and joined an acting school. All my friends thought it was a stupid idea but I believed in myself. As long as you are focused and willing to put your heart and soul into something you will definitely attain your goal but of course you must work hard. I was in Miami for three and half years and that gave me intense theatre experience. I worked with Broadway companies. I have done commercials in USA. One of my plays called Antigone by Sophocles won the Carbonnel award (a theatre award). I was the only Indian student from my academy to get nominated for this award. I developed tremendous respect for actors. Initially, cinema for me was only entertainment but after my stint at the academy my perspective changed.
I came to Hyderabad and approached a lot of production houses. Probably I was not so mature then. I had a strong Anglicized accent at that time as I hardly spoke Telugu since most of my friends spoke either English or Hindi. All the Lufthansa crew spoke either German or English. Then I started reading Telugu newspapers, watching old Telugu films and listening to old Telugu songs.
I went to Mumbai, as things didn’t look promising in Hyderabad. I had a cousin called Isaiah (who played the role of Guru in Pokiri) who won the Gladrags Supermodel title. I got my portfolio done in Mumbai and visited lots of production agencies and model coordinators. I have done about eighteen commercials so far. My first commercial was for a perfume and I was paid Rs 23,000 for that commercial. It was my first paycheck in Mumbai.
Then I did a music video for Pankaj Udhas’s album shot by Anubhav Sinha (director of Dus and Tum Bin). I worked with Rakesh Mehra for the ICICI Home Loans ad. I did Prudential, ICICI, Fair & Lovely, Fanta, Coke, egurukool.com, Baazi kiski and a lot of promotional videos of music channels. During this period, a gentleman asked me to play the lead role in a play titled ‘ask what father says’. The first show was at Secunderabad Club. All the local English dailies covered the event and gave good reviews. When they interviewed me, I spoke to them in Telugu. I got my first call from D Rama Naidu and the second call from Chandra Siddardha. I met Naresh and Rajesh in Bombay. I also met EVV Satyanarayana who came to Mumbai for selecting actors. He took an instant liking in me. Later on Rajesh called me and said that his cousin (E Sathibabu) was making a film and he was looking for a second male lead. I was selected for O Chinnadana film. After O Chinnadana, I never had to look back.
I did my second film Vijayam with D Rama Naidu. My third film Appudappudu with Chandra Siddardha gave me a lot of recognition in terms of wider reach. Kala was a disaster. Then the magic called Anand happened which changed my life for good. All the credit goes to Sekhar Kammula. My life is very happy now. I could not have asked for anything better.
Maya Bazaar will be my 14th film.
How do you select scripts?
I read the script 4-5 times. If I can relate to the script to at least 50% then I would love to do that project. But if I can’t relate to it, then I don’t accept it. I was also looking for characters played by Saif Ali Khan in films like Dil Chahta Hai and Kal Ho Na Ho. People misinterpret me to be a sober guy. But I am very bubbly. I have numerous friends and I want to show this extrovert side of me on screen. But people have seen me in ‘Ramudu Manchi Baludu’ kind of character. I always want to do something different.
How do you review your work in retrospective?
I never appreciate my work. I always feel that I could have done better. But in Mayabazaar I felt that I had done a good job. The language was tough. Mayabazaar was a great experience for me and it fulfilled whatever I was looking for. Mayabazaar is a complete role for any actor.
What is your dream role?
I want experiment. I want to play a psychopath. I love to do murder mysteries, suspense thrillers and psychological thrillers. I don’t want to limit myself to anything. I want to expand my horizon.
Do you want to be an actor or star?
I always want to be an actor. Look at Naseer or Om Puri, they can do any kind of role.
What kind of fan mail do you get?
I get lots of letters from women. Recently, they formed the first women fans association in Andhra Pradesh for me. I have two women fans associations so far. Sometimes, I get naughty mails from some women but the men are more constructive even in their criticism.
What are your hobbies?
I learnt skating and participated at district levels. I am a very good swimmer. I play good table tennis and basketball. Horse riding is one of my favourites.
My newfound sport is bowling. I was among the top 10 in Hyderabad for a bowling championship. I will be participating in forthcoming competitions in Bangalore. If I get through that I can go for nationals.
Tell us about the heroines you worked with so far?
Gazala: She is very talkative and energetic. She is fun to work with. I did two films with her.
Sriya Reddy: Hyper is a small word for Sriya Reddy. She is a great woman. She is very well read and comes from a good family background. You can have an intelligent conversation with her.
Saloni: She is a very good actress. But unfortunately could not make it. I don’t know why.
Bhumika Chawla: She is a super refined actress. She can get under the skin of any character you give to her. She underplays a lot.
Shriya Reddy: She is constantly bubbling with laughter. I was shooting for MPOD. She would start giggling and it went on and on till the director cried halt till her giggles subsided. She would speak one line and burst into laughter again.
Kamalinee Mukherjee: She is a fine intense and fiery woman but somewhat temperamental. She is the first actress who made me feel like I had to compete with her. I never had that feeling before with anybody.
What are your future projects?
Right now I am doing a film by debutant director Jitendra. That is the only project I accepted.
When are you going to get married?
I may get married the next year.
Were there any moments that disturbed in your acting career?
I always had those upsetting moments. I get upset when my films flop. It hurts when people say I am not fit to be a hero. I proved it wrong and came back with vengeance.
Who are your favorite actors?
Chiranjeevi: Among the senior lot, it is Chiranjeevi. I have been following him for decades. I have seen all his films. It will be a great experience when I get to meet him.
Mahesh Babu: In my generation, I think Mahesh is the only hero who can carry the film on his shoulders. Mahesh Babu is the superstar of the current generation. I need not know how the film is. If Mahesh Babu is in it, I go and watch it. He has created something for himself. I had been his admirer for a long time and I felt fortunate when a role in Arjun was offered to me. Except Nani, I liked all Mahesh Babu’s films. Okkadu is his best film. I don’t even have to talk about Pokiri. I still feel he is not completely exploited as an actor. I am very excited about Mahesh because he is such a good-looking guy with great talent. He has everything in life going for him. He only needs one film where he can give it all. I am just waiting for that film.
What are your all time favorite films?
Maya Bazaar, Pathalabhairavi, Dana Veera Sura Karna, Missamma, Bhukailas, Gundama Katha and many more black and white films. I watched Dana Veera Sura Karna zillions of times.
I heard that you have jacked up your remuneration after Anand?
The producers are willing to pay me and I am taking it. There is always bargaining in any field and we all come to one final figure. They are happy and I am happy.
Do you want to say anything to the visitors of idlebrain?
Please do watch Mayabazaar. Keep me in your hearts and let the criticism flow good and bad. There is a saying – It is better to be criticised than ignored. Thank you for watching my films and supporting me.
Dega Deva Kumar Reddy (Producer)
Nidhi Prasad (Director)
Hema Chandra (Singer)
Vijay C Chakravarthy (Cinematographer)
VN Aditya (Director)
Sharrath Marar (Producer)
Ram Gopal Varma (Director)
K Satish (Director)
Siva Nageswara Rao (Director)
Ajay Varma (Hero)
Kamalinee Kukherjee (Heroine)
Sriya Reddy (Heroine)
Muruga Doss (Director)
Uday Kiran (Hero)
T Gopichand (Hero)
Kalyan Ram Nandamuri (Hero)
Siva Kumar (Director)
Rasool Ellore (Cinematographer & Director)