Naveen talks to TNM about his upcoming Telugu movie ‘Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya’, his viral comedy videos and his Bollywood debut with director Nitesh Tiwari.

Mine is a 12-year overnight success story Actor Naveen Polishetty to TNMNaveen Polishetty/Facebook
Flix Interview Thursday, December 27, 2018 - 14:55

Naveen Polishetty is the poster boy for every actor who has struggled his way from scratch up to the higher echelons of the entertainment industry. An engineering graduate and a native of Hyderabad, Naveen left his job to try his luck in films and after exactly 1,500 auditions (yes, he is sure about the number), he has now grabbed the lead role in the upcoming Telugu flick Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya. But even before he caught the attention of Tollywood audiences, Naveen was famous as the ‘viral actor’ after his Honest Engineering video series from All India Bakchod (AIB) went super viral on all digital media platforms a little over a year ago. Having made a mark in the comedy scene up north, Naveen is now all set to tickle the funny bone of Telugu audiences. Naveen talks to TNM about attaining fame after 8 years of struggle, his viral videos and about his experience as a writer-cum-actor for Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya.

Even before one sees the trailer of Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, the name itself is quite unusual and seems a clear indication of the comedy entertainer that it’s touted to be. So how different is this agent from the other goofy detectives we have already seen on screen?

Usually when people think of detectives, stylish names like James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Jason Bourne come to mind. Sai Srinivasa Athreya is a name that you’re likely to associate with an IITian more than an agent. So, we thought why not swap that world with that of a detective’s!

After my AIB videos went viral, I got a lot of offers for films but was waiting for the right movie where my character would have great potential. So when director Swaroop RSJ approached me for the movie, I really liked the character and when I first heard the story, I realised there is so much more we can do with the screenplay. So I decided to join him as a co-writer and for over a year and a half, we rewrote the story and that’s why more than as an actor, I am better connected to the story as a writer. And if you ask me what is special about this character, Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya is not your usual detective who will travel around the globe, do stunts or chase or shoot down people. He operates from behind a shutter in the small town of Nellore. And even outside, the board says ‘FBI Nellore, we do not have any branches in America’. He operates as a detective in a place where many don’t even know what a detective is. I think it’s the uniqueness of the character that made me choose the movie.

You are already a known name in the comedy scene in the north. You have also acted in Anil Kapoor’s 24, not to mention the French web series you’ve been a part of. Despite such success, what is it that makes you do a movie on your home turf after so many long years?

I am a greedy entertainer. There is nothing in my life that I love more than entertaining people. I speak Hindi, Telugu and Tamil, and because I speak multiple languages, I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to reach a wider audience. I would love to be a multi-lingual actor and speak to the audience in a language that is close to their heart. So language is something that I have not thought about yet. If I speak German, I would love to do a German film as well.

After your AIB videos went viral, you became an internet sensation overnight. Would you say it was too much of fame to handle all at once?

No, it wasn’t. I would rather say I am a 12-year overnight success story. When the videos went viral, people were like ‘Oh, here comes a new guy’. But no, I wasn’t a new guy. I have been doing theatre for 12-15 years now. Ever since I got out of school, I have been eyeing the entertainment industry. I don’t work thinking people should recognise me when I am at a restaurant. Yes, the videos did give me fame, but that was just the consequence of my work. My job is not to be famous; in fact, it’s the audiences’ job to make an actor famous. My job is to act well. I wouldn’t like to do their job. (chuckles)

From the Honest wedding series

In your TED talk, you mention that you would work hard till the day producers feel that yes, this is the guy viewers would love to watch on the silver screen. So now that your movie is coming up, do you think you have reached that level of success where you are confident of entertaining the viewers for three straight hours?

Along with Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, I am also working on my Bollywood debut, and I think it’s the audience who will come out of the theatres after watching these two movies who will decide my level of success. When a viewer goes to the theatre to buy the ticket for a movie of any actor, they are indirectly telling the distributor and the producer that ‘Hey! I’m ready to pay for this guy’. So if an actor can make money that way, the producer will be willing to cast the actor on a higher budget in his next movie because it’s all a business at the end of the day. So whether my name is viable or not for a producer, it all depends on whom the audience is willing to spend money on a given Friday.

So if you knew acting was your forte, why engineering?

Because there is no better place to learn acting than an engineering college. That’s the best four years of your life to learn acting! You act like you understand mechanics, you act like you’re in class, you act like you’re not cheating in an exam, you go drunk to a viva and you act like you’re not drunk. There is a lot of acting there, trust me.

How different is it to be an actor on the internet and in a movie theatre?

On the internet, your career stops the moment your router stops working! (Laughs) And most importantly, your content has to be extra tight because the attention span of audiences is very less. In a theatre, people have paid the money and they will most probably end up watching the whole movie. Even if the first half sucks and the next 20 minutes are engaging, the viewers are there along with you. I think there is some really good stuff on the internet that is pushing even filmmakers to come up with better content. So in terms of audience consumption and technicalities, both the mediums are different. But for me as an actor, things do not change whatever the medium is. My job at the end of the day is to act.

What are your other upcoming projects?

I have the Bollywood movie Chhichhore with Nitesh Tiwari, the director of Dangal. We have been shooting in Mumbai for the past 2-3 months along with Sushant Singh Rajput and Shraddha Kapoor. The movie will be releasing in August 2019. I’m excited about both my Telugu and Hindi ventures.

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