After setting the box-office on fire, Naveen Polishetty's Jathi Ratnalu released on Amazon Prime Video a few days ago, charming new audiences across the world. The comedy, which is about three young men from Jogipet and their misadventures in Hyderabad, is a laugh riot that has become hugely popular with viewers. The film is directed by Anudeep.
In an interview, Naveen speaks about the response to the film, and how it has impacted his life.
Naveen, were you surprised by the magnitude of the success of Jathi Ratnalu?
Was I surprised? No, not really. We were supposed to release this film in the summer of 2020. The only reason we waited for so long and did not go for the OTT option was because we had complete faith in our product.
You mean you knew JR was a winner?
Yes, we knew that once the film releases, the audiences would laugh their heads off. This is why the producers took a risk and did not release the film on OTT. They were confident of the content. What we were surprised by was the scale of the success. At this point, we were not sure if people would come out of their homes during these times of the pandemic. Two days before the release, the advance bookings were almost full. We knew we had a success in hand. How big a success, we couldnâ€™t have guessed.
What was you reaction to the opening collections?
It was beyond anything we expected. On the opening day in theatres, we couldnâ€™t hear a word of the dialogues on screen. The audiences were that excited! They were dancing in even the multiplexes. They were laughing, yelling... This is the kind of community experience in movie theatres that I had seen as a child. This what we made me fall in love with cinema. This is what made me want to become an actor. People forget their worries for two-and-a-half hours and just enjoy themselves. They laugh, they forgot their worries, they have a good time and they go back home. This to me is what cinema is all about.
What are some of the responses you've heard personally?
Iâ€™ve received so many phone calls from distributors. In the small towns, after a year, or why just one year, after four years, they are seeing houseful boards. Friends and relatives are calling me for tickets. Itâ€™s been years since we experienced such excitement for a film. Why should we watch films in theatres? JR has provided the answer to that.
JR is crazily funny and smart. How did you become a part of it?
Well, the producer Nag Ashwin Sir called to tell me that thereâ€™s a film that Anudeep Sir is directing, and that he wanted me to be part of it. He said he could think of no one but me for the role. When I read the script, I found it very satirical, very funny. I was shooting for my Hindi film Chhichhore when I was offered JR. I was looking to do an out-and-out comedy. I found I fit that space perfectly. In my last Telugu film Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, I played a really intelligent detective. In JR I was offered the role of a really dumb guy. So it was a complete change of image for me.
Tell me about your camaraderie with your co-stars Priyadarshi and Rahul Ramakrishna in JR?
When I read the script I knew I had to do some kind of workshop or rehearsal to show that kind of closeness with them. Luckily when we met, we hit it off instantly. So now when people say they havenâ€™t seen this kind of bromance on screen in a long time, it really feels good.
Watch: Trailer of Jathi Ratnalu
The dialogues of JR are crazily funny. How much of it was improvised?
Oh lots! The director Anudeep gave us the freedom to improvise and we made full use of that freedom. For example, the courtroom climax scene, Anudeep and I wrote it together. Once he decided he wanted a courtroom climax, we sat down and he gave me the freedom to go crazy with all of that gibberish on global â€˜warmationâ€™ etc. The whole theatre was shaking with laughter in that sequence. If Anudeep had not allowed us to improvise the climax, or for that matter the other funny scenes, it wouldnâ€™t have been so funny.
How has JR changed your life?
Oh my God! It has changed my life completely. I come from a normal middleclass family with no connections in the film industry. And then I had the audacity to dream of becoming a lead actor in mainstream commercial cinema! It was a challenging journey. When a film like JR comes to you and it becomes a certified blockbuster in spite of the pandemic, then itâ€™s time for me to feel some sense of achievement. In the US, it is the only Indian film to have grossed more than a million dollars in spite of only 25% theatre occupancy. In India, the box-office numbers are insane. It released with seven other films, but it still did Rs 70 croreduring pandemic times. To have your second feature film in Telugu create this kind of an impact is a dream come true.
What does it prove to you?
It proves that we aspirants from the middle class have the right to dream big. More than just me, it changes a lot of things for other dreamers from all over India who want to make it big in films and specially in cinema. Yes we can do it! Now more producers will bet on outside talent. Thanks to the success of JR more aspirants will get a chance. All of us in JRâ€”the actors, cinematographer, writers, music composerâ€”are all young people with dreams.
You are currently in the US. What has the response been to your presence there?
Everywhere I go, itâ€™s the same hysteria. I feel like I am in a dream. This is the first time I have been mobbed on this scale. People have adopted me as one of their one. One member of the audience told me, â€˜If someone asks you which family you belong to tell them you belong to my family.â€™ I am that hero whose family is the audience. Right now I am on a tour of the US. People have driven down from Atlanta and Georgia to meet us. Will I get this kind of love again? This film motivates me to work even harder. In a way, the audience is the hero of this film. I feel I represent them on screen.
You started as a supporting actor in the Hindi film Chhichhore. How and when did you become such an important part of the Telugu film industry?
Well, I started on YouTube in Hindi before Chhichhore. I truly think of myself as a pan-India actor. When I do a Hindi film, people think Iâ€™m from Uttar Pradesh. When I do a Telugu film they feel I am from Andhra or Telangana. Iâ€™m now learning Tamil. I believe that itâ€™s the story that works, not the language. When my first Telugu film Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya was offered to me, I also ended becoming a part of its screenwriting team. When that became a hit, more doors opened up for me. Right now I am working in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. Thatâ€™s the great thing about cinema, you can tell a story in any language you want. Language is just a tool of expression. Thatâ€™s why people were watching so many films in so many different languages during the lockdown. With JR being such a blockbuster, Iâ€™m happy to be working in different languages.
Also read: How 'Jathi Ratnalu', a Telugu film without big stars, managed to draw in big crowds