In a chat with TNM, the actor, who has carved a niche for himself in Telugu cinema, opens up about his choices and how his acting career has evolved over the years.

Most intense character Ive portrayed Sree Vishnu on playing a DJ in Thippara MeesamFacebook: Sree Vishnu
Flix Tollywood Wednesday, October 30, 2019 - 11:37

Sree Vishnu is a man of his word. So, ahead of this conversation when he confesses, “Naaku chaala mohamatam” (I’m quite reticent), there’s nothing but the absolute truth in his statement. Call him shy, reticent or even reluctant to open up much about his films or his life in general, the actor has stuck to the belief that his work will speak for itself.

“I need to meet someone at least 2-3 times to strike a rapport with that person. Otherwise, due to my reticence, I keep thinking that I’ll end up wasting their time,” he says matter-of-factly. Ironically, it’s this trait that almost didn’t let his acting career take off when he landed in Hyderabad to try his luck in Telugu cinema.

“Back then, directors or assistant directors expected aspiring actors to be quite proactive. So, when I came across as a perennially shy person, I guess I didn’t quite stand out,” he smiles, rather gently. It’s a whole different story today, and his steady rise as an actor, thanks to the critical success of films like Needhi Naadhi Oke Katha, Mental Madhilo and Brochevarevarura, is proof enough of how far he has come in his career. But long before all this, he was, like every person with a head full of dreams, he was clueless about what he wanted to do in his life.

Passion since college

Back in 2005 when Sree Vishnu was studying in Vizag’s GITAM University, he used to take part in a lot of stage plays and at times, he wrote his own stories. “Every time I was on stage, I was able to perform without any inhibitions. I really wasn’t sure if I had it in me to become an actor, but I was eager to do something or the other, probably direct films, in the film industry. Today, cinema has a lot of respect among people, if someone from their family is in the film industry, they boast about it. However, 15 years ago, that really wasn’t the case. Outside the industry, there was no awareness about the various crafts involved in filmmaking. Then in 2006, I landed in Hyderabad to work for a company here and even joined a theatre group, Sutradhar, to continue my interest in theatre,” Vishnu recalls about his initial years in his career.

“I still remember the first play for Sutradhar I did, that too in Hindi, where I had to play a small character. I didn’t even know basic Hindi then, but when I was encouraged to take up the character, I got on the stage quite reluctantly. I was so nervous that I fumbled with my lines and ended up speaking in Telugu (laughs). Surprisingly, people liked my performance. That gave me a big boost. I ended up playing that role another 15-20 times. Soon after that, I went to my boss in the company where I was working and told him that I wanted to pursue a career in filmmaking. I kept all my certificates with them as a guarantee, and promised them that if I don’t make it even after 2-3 years then I’ll come back to do the same job. That hasn’t happened so far (smiles).”

For the next five years, until he got noticed for his performance in Pavan Sadineni’s Prema Ishq Kadhal in 2013, Sree Vishnu did what every other aspiring actor was required to do – visit every movie office to submit his photographs and hope that someone would take notice of him. “This was an era where we didn’t have WhatsApp or a proper channel to audition for roles. A lot of times, it takes years for people to get noticed by the right people who’ll do something good for their career. That’s the reason it takes so long to get your big break. Thankfully, I made a few friends in the industry who used to guide me and give me some minor roles in their films,” he reveals.

Allu Arjun’s career-defining advice

Earlier this decade when short films became a trend, Pavan Sadineni reached out to Sree Vishnu to make a short film, which was later turned into a feature film – Prema Ishq Kadhal. The actor was praised for his performance, but what happened after the film’s release changed the course of his acting career.

“Allu Arjun called us and praised the whole team of Prema Ishq Kadhal. He spoke at length about how much he liked my performance and told me something that I’ll never forget. He said I’ll get a lot of offers to do commercial roles since that’s the kind of impact my character had made in the film, but he advised me to not take up any of those films. His advice to me was to take up different films, the kind of stuff that Vijay Sethupathi and Sivakarthikeyan were doing in Tamil. Funny thing is, I didn’t even know who those actors were at that point of time. Allu Arjun was gracious enough to ask me to keep in touch with him and has been quite supportive ever since,” Sree Vishnu says.

For the record, he says that he did watch the initial set of films that Vijay Sethupathi and Sivakarthikeyan had done, and that gave him a sense of direction. “I was certain that I had to pick different scripts if I have to make a name for myself, and I didn’t want to be a hero. I know that I can neither dance like most heroes do nor do I look dashing on screen. The only thing I can do is to choose a good script, even if it takes a long time to find one,” he says.

On choosing scripts

The clarity in his approach is rather obvious given the kind of films that he has done in recent years. In Appatlo Okadundevaadu, he played an aspiring cricketer who ends up being a criminal; in Needhi Naadhi Oke Katha, he breathed life into the role of a young man who struggles to impress his father; in Mental Madhilo, he was a confused man who isn’t sure which of the two girls he wants to marry; and in his most recent hit, Brochevarevarura, he played a boy-next-door who helps his friend fight back against sexual harassment.

Ask him if there’s a trick behind choosing good scripts, Sree Vishnu simply says, “Patience is the key. You never know who’s going to tell you a story that you fall in love with. Listening to a story is a tiresome process and unless you are totally involved with the story and its world, you can’t just make up your mind. There are some really good stories which are within the Rs 1-2 crore budget range, and given the kind of films that I’ve done in the recent past, I’m offered interesting stories. But my thumb rule is to never repeat a character that I’ve done in the past. Moreover, my next three films were locked back in 2017 and so far, people have been kind to me and helped me believe that I’m doing something right.”

In most of his films, his characterisation has come quite close to who he is in real life, and this, he says, helps a lot in playing the roles with ease. “After we worked together for Mental Madhilo, director Vivek Athreya wrote my character in Brochevarevarura based on how I behave and talk off-screen. I don’t really prepare much before starting a film. Through a series of conversations with the director, I understand what he has in mind and I make sure that we are on the same page. I’m so happy to have worked with directors like Pavan Sadineni, Vivek Athreya, Sagar Chandra and Venky Udugula,” he adds.

The actor points out that the audiences have changed a lot over the years and says that they like watching drama too nowadays. “Earlier, there was a lot of emphasis on entertainment and comedy, but today if you make a different film, people will encourage you. If I have earned some credibility that I choose different films, then that has to be a good sign. The budgets for my films is well within Rs 1-2 crore, but if you ask me if I have a market, I wouldn’t know what to say. I feel that it has to be a collective effort and to increase the market for more concept-based films, we need more A-list actors doing something on those lines. Then it’ll have a trickle-down effect and help actors like me too,” he replies.

On his upcoming Thippara Meesam

Currently, he’s eagerly awaiting the release of his next, Thippara Meesam, which he says is unlike anything he has done so far. Directed by Krishna Vijay, the film, which is also being released in Kannada, has him playing a DJ. The film is releasing on November 8.

“I have never played a character as intense as this in my career, and for the first few days of the shoot, I was constantly irritable. I play a guy who doesn’t like his family, and that’s not who I’m in real life. The story revolves around a conflict between a mother and her son, and I feel that we have got the emotion right. This is a film which I hope will also cater to the audiences in smaller towns and not just be restricted to multiplex audiences. Moreover, the entire film happens during night time and to shoot for almost 65 days was a tiresome process. My wife got scared about my behaviour (laughs). I used to wonder why actors keep saying that they couldn’t come out of a character long after completing the shoot. Now I know how that works!”

So, after all these years, are his friends and family members happy with the way things are progressing in his career? “Oh yes. They have been quite supportive. But there’s still a catch. The same people who used to wonder why I am never on screen long before my career took off, now ask me why am I never in the news and why there’s no gossip about me,” Sree Vishnu bursts out laughing.

Hemanth Kumar CR is a Hyderabad-based film journalist. He writes about Telugu cinema on most days, and when he doesn’t, one can find him talking about Game of Thrones, chai, books, and digging into all things related to history.

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