Bengaluru’s wildly popular radio and YouTube prankster Danish Sait may not have imagined that a prank he created for listeners on his show would one day come to life in a film. But, that is exactly what happened this week with the release of Humble Politician Nograj.
Even though it is Danish’s first film, movie-goers are familiar with ‘Nograj’, the self-serving politician protagonist. It is the same alter ego Danish played when he was making prank calls on radio or churning out videos on YouTube.
Speaking to TNM, Danish recalls how a prank call made to the Royal Challengers' Bengaluru office landed him a gig with the IPL team and made 'Nograj' even bigger.
Danish Sait while promoting 'Humble Politician Nograj' in August 2017
“Once I got the character in visual form (in RCB Insider), I had a feeling that this is a dream that could be achieved but only at the right moment and at the right time. Saad (Khan) and I wanted to make a film about two years ago but I wasn’t ready for it then. More than me being ready as a performer, I don’t think I had my market ready then. So, we timed it after the third season of RCB Insider,” he says.
From RJ to film star
‘Nagaraj’ a.k.a ‘Nagesh’ or 'Nograj' or ‘Asgar’ or ‘Chacko’ first appeared in prank calls made by Sait in which he "terrorised" Bengaluru residents in accents that varied between Kannada English, Tamil English and Malayalam English. And many international Englishes! His show on Fever 104 FM shot to popularity as he made Bengalurueans squirm with his outrageous prank calls.
It was one such prank call made to the Royal Challengers’ which saw ‘Nagaraj’ transform into ‘Mr. Nags’ in the ‘RCB Insider show’. He also made YouTube videos as ‘Nograj’, hilariously reacting to real-world events like demonetisation and the steel flyover protest in Bengaluru.
For Danish, Humble Politician Nograj is the culmination of a long journey, from being a radio jockey to writing and acting in a commercial film. Curiously, HPN is releasing in an election year, with Karnataka set to go to polls in May. But Danish, who is the grandson of Mysuru Congress man Aziz Sait, denies that the film tells viewers whom to vote for.
“In the film, we are not telling you whom to vote for but we are telling you whom not to vote for,” he quips.
Radio jockey, comedian and now film actor
After completing his education at St. Joseph’s College of Commerce, Danish hung around in Bengaluru, working for an advertising agency, a production house and an event management company. He then moved to Bahrain and later to Dubai before returning to Bengaluru around six years ago.
Since then he has made a breakthrough as a refreshingly humorous radio jockey in the city. His quick wit and ability to improvise opened new doors for him. He has appeared on The Improv, an improvisational comedy show which was started by Saad Khan in May 2012. He also started the RCB Insider show apart from continuing to make Bengalurueans laugh with his work on radio.
On the making of Humble Politician Nograj
Danish along with Saad Khan decided to make HPN a year ago when the duo was in the USA. Danish was learning improv in New York and Saad was shooting a film in New Orleans.
“When we came back, we immediately took off from Bengaluru to a hotel on the outskirts of the city and wrote the story in four days. We spoke to political consultants, asked them for their insights and then made comedy out of it,” explains Danish.
Along with Saad Khan who directed the film, Danish credits Vamsidhar Bhogaraju, a stand-up comedian he met on the circuit in Bengaluru, for the film.
Vamsi, who initially auditoned for a role in the film, ended up co-writing it along with Saad and Danish. The script was originally written in English and it was with Vamsi's help that they changed it to Kannada. While the storyline took five days to complete, the trio spent months bouncing dialogues off each other to come up with the final script. Vamsi’s knowledge of conversational Kannada added to the character, even as he mainly attempts to speak English in the film.
“When I was stuck (on a dialogue), Vamsi helped. When he was stuck, I helped. And when both of us were stuck, Saad helped us. So it was a collaborative effort by all three of us. We’ve been like a pack of wolves. We’ve been stuck in this together,” says Danish.
The pack of wolves only grew in number with Rakshit Shetty and Hemant Rao joining as producers.
The HPN team. From left: Rakshit Shetty, Puneet Rajkumar, Danish Sait, Pushkara Mallikarjunaiah, Hemanth Rao
Danish admits that his biggest skill set is improvised comedy.
“Saad is very good with screenplay and you will see it in the film that he’s really killed it. My biggest skill set is improv. I need situations and I will bring humour around it. In the film, we are in one world. We are not changing the world, as in, it's not as if the character was a politician at the start and became a super dancer at the end. He is a politician right through the film,” says Danish.
On satire and censorship
By making a political satire, Danish has explored a genre generally untouched in Kannada cinema. However, the actor says that he is not worried about facing censorship.
“If you’re going to take satire seriously and say, 'Oh we gotta remove this and we gotta remove that', then it reflects upon them and not on me or the producers. I think that equation is pretty clear. I am not worried to be honest. What’s the point of living in fear? You live in fear, you die every minute. Instead, let go and enjoy the process. I am genuinely happy and enjoying it,” says Danish.
Judging by the reactions to HPN so far, film enthusiasts in Karnataka appear to be doing just that with ‘Nograj’. So much that Danish is being asked about a sequel already.
“I’ve already been getting questions about a sequel even before people have watched the film. I'm taking things one at a time. I don’t want to count my eggs before they hatch or make a dish without knowing what ingredients I have,” says Danish.
“If it happens it happens,” he adds.