'It was difficult to get into an industry where nepotism rules': Priyadarshi to TNM

In this interview, Priyadarshi opens up about the roles he'd like to do, how Telugu cinema treats women characters, and his personal life.
'It was difficult to get into an industry where nepotism rules': Priyadarshi to TNM
'It was difficult to get into an industry where nepotism rules': Priyadarshi to TNM
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More than Priyadarshi Pullikonda, the memory of Kaushik from Pelli Choopulu still manages to leave his viewers in splits with his lucid humour in the film. Shuttling between locations to marrying the love of his life, this unassuming guy-next-door from Hyderabad’s Chandanagar says that a lot has changed in life after the phenomenal box-office success of Pelli Choopulu in 2016.

Working on a handful of movies, Priyadarshi believes he is finally in the path of "renaissance" where he is playing roles that would not remind the audience of Kaushik anymore. Donning major roles in upcoming movies like Mithai and the Telugu remake of the Bollywood film 2 States, the actor says he is somewhere between being the guy-next-door and a funny "I-don’t-care" chap.

“It’s an identity crisis I can't escape. But if you ask me what I prefer, I would liked to be called a character artiste who can pull off multiple characters. I am not just the funny guy Kaushik from Pelli Choopulu but also the terrorist in Satish Kasetty’s Terror,” Priyadarshi gently reminds.

“Kaushik gave me the break I needed. It was a story everybody wanted to be told. But the monotony in doing such roles has set a typecast. I am exploring options that would keep me going in the world of a hundred other Kaushiks,” the actor adds.

Still from Pelli Choopulu

From Pelli Choopulu to Awe

From Pelli Choopulu to Awe, the journey has been one of learning and unlearning, says Priyadarshi. If the former saw him as an easy-going young chap with a precise timing on humour, Awe had Priyadarshi playing the role of a chef, keeping company of two non-human living things: a tree and a fish.

Awe for me was a process of self-learning. I was surprised when I read the script. The whole idea of talking to non-human characters that would not respond to my dialogues in real life was unnerving. I hate monotony and Awe was exactly the push that brought me out of the niche I had created for myself with Pelli Choopulu,” Priyadarshi says.

The selfish actor

Talking about the growing popularity of Telugu movies outside the state, Priyadarshi says his characters have received love from multiple and unexpected quarters and that he is selfish enough to keep this love intact.

“Tollywood has a wide, fragmented audience. Recently, when I went to Ahmedabad for the shooting of an upcoming movie starring Mahesh Babu, we saw crowds thronging the sets to get a glimpse of the star. I was surprised because such fandom comes simply from the dubbed versions of Telugu movies telecast in Hindi that cater to a mass audience. In that way, I am a selfish actor who would like to work on good scripts but at the same time cater to multiple sections of the audience.”

Making statements through movies

“I do not say movies should be preachy. If I am playing the role of a sexual harasser, it is up to the conscience of the audience to decide the morality of my character. I am only a performer that can show them the good and the bad,” says Priyadarshi.

Having worked in films like Pelli Choopulu that had strong female lead characters like Chitra (played by Ritu Varma), Priyadarshi says he doesn’t believe in propagating stereotypes through movies.

“Women characters in Telugu cinema are reduced to background props who would barely have a dialogue or two in the script. Many a times, we have requested the directors to give more screen time to women artistes with a stronger script. If women characters do not sync with the movie’s mood, it is difficult to act opposite them, delivering punch dialogues,” the actor says.

Priyadarshi in his upcoming movie Mithai

Not screen time, characters matter

After the box-office success of Pelli Choopulu in 2016, the actor was seen playing the role of a Tamil refugee in Iraq, who is stuck in the ISIS war, in the Malayalam movie Take Off. Talking about the very few minutes he spent on screen, Priyadarshi says he doesn't care about the screen time, but that good characters do matter.

“I donned a different hat in Manasukha Machindi very similar to the one in Awe. But the role never clicked with the audience. In Take Off, the crew was on the look-out for someone who could speak Tamil and I fit in well. And I am glad that the Malayalam audience remember me for the role, despite the few minutes I spent on screen,” says Priyadarshi.

Finding cinema and love

Armed with a postgraduate in Mass Communication from the University of Hyderabad, Priyadarshi went for acting classes conducted by Aruna Bikshu.

He shares, “I was seven when I saw Sagara Sangamam and decided to be an actor. It was a paradigm shift for me. I am a big fan of Kamal Haasan and Chiranjeevi. I saw many films by K. Balachander, K. Vishwanath and Singeetam Srinivasa Rao. Aruna Bikshu taught me how to learn and unlearn, and then I gained experience from short films.”

“It was difficult to get into movies in a industry where nepotism rules with just a couple of short films in your kitty. With no definite directions, University was the best place I went to which opened world of theatre to me,” Priyadarshi says.

Priyadarshi fell in love with Richa, a writer, who was his senior at the University of Hyderabad and the couple got married in February 2018.

Priyadarshi and Richa

“Cinema is my life but not my love. I have found the perfect balance of happiness and pragmatism in Richa who is currently busy meeting publishers for her upcoming fictional work," he says.

On a path of reinvention, Priyadarshi says that he is happy with the turn of events in life and does not aspire to do multiple things at once. “I am no Superman. And I have learnt it the hard way. As of now, I am in search of stories that come from our hearts and ones that the audiences like to be told. Yes, like Pelli Choopulu,” the actor affirms.

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