The actor, whose ‘Valmiki’ is releasing this Friday, talked to TNM about reprising Bobby Simha’s role, breaking stereotypes, his love for sports dramas and more.

Need more realistic depictions of heroes in Telugu Varun Tej on Jigarthanda remake
Flix Interview Wednesday, September 18, 2019 - 18:34

It’s been a season of remakes for Telugu cinema. From Allu Sirish’s ABCD, a remake of the Malayalam movie by the same title, to the roaring success of Samantha’s Oh! Baby (remake of a Korean movie), actors and directors seem to be on a spree of adapting successful movies from industries around the world.

Joining the bandwagon is actor Varun Tej and director Harish Shankar whose Valmiki, a remake of the critically acclaimed Tamil movie Jigarthanda, will be hitting the screens on September 20. Varun Tej is excited to be reprising Bobby Simha’s role in the movie, the latter even winning a National Film Award for his portrayal of local goon ‘Assault Sethu’. Though Varun Tej bears no physical resemblance to the rugged appearance of Bobby Simha in Jigarthanda, it is a definitely a break for the actor who has so far been playing boy-next-door roles.

TNM caught up with Varun Tej who is actively engaged in promotions for Valmiki. In a candid chat, the actor talks about what made him choose to play the character of Gaddalakonda Ganesh, his successes and failures in the industry, his love for sports drama and much more.

Bobby Simha was a comparative newcomer in Jigarthanda so he came with no baggage of having to meet the audiences’ expectations. But in Telugu, you have already established yourself as a star, plus this being a remake would bring up comparisons. Considering these factors, what made you choose to play a local goon?

I watched Jigarthanda almost four years back and never did I think that the movie would be remade in Telugu. Honestly, in Telugu there is only a small section of people who have watched the movie. We’re not remaking a film and marketing it to an audience who have already watched it. For example, people who watched Dabbang also liked Gabbar Singh (also a Harish Shankar directorial). And that is what Harish Shankar is good at. In fact, a few scenes from Dabbang 2 were brought from Harish’s Telugu version. Jigarthanda was a sleeper hit. A year later, it was also dubbed into Telugu. Still, its reach in the Telugu states was quite limited.

Considering the difference in language and landscape, we have made necessary changes to the movie in Telugu. Harish has been particular about giving more meaning and definition to the film. In Jigarthanda, most of the scenes are set in Madurai. But here, we had to set up a location and create an artificial village called Gaddalakonda. I have tried my maximum not to do a Bobby Simha but instead bring my own mannerisms to the character.

How did you prepare for the role, to act convincingly, and with a whole lot of humour, as a person who doesn’t know the basics of acting?

I keep watching a lot of action dramas, be it English, Hindi or any of the south Indian languages. But I didn’t want to latch on to a particular film or a character to prepare for the role. Having said that, I had to do my own homework for the movie, especially getting familiar with the Telangana dialect, which I had also done for F2. However, this was more difficult as I had to get the rural slang correct compared to F2 which had more of an urbanised dialect.

We have chopped off some of the comic sequences to reduce the run-time because we have also added a flashback for Ganesh’s character. It was tough enacting a lot of scenes where I had to act dumb and pretend to be expressionless, but it was also equally challenging. Rather than playing something easy, there was a professional satisfaction in playing Ganesh. Somehow this was a role I have been wanting to play for a long time and I am quite happy about it.

There is the flashback you mentioned where Pooja Hegde appears in a cameo and this is an addition. Why do you think a flashback was necessary for Ganesh’s character?

There is a small flashback in Tamil too where Vijay Sethupathi plays a cameo. Like you said before, in Tamil Bobby Simha came with no baggage. But here people have seen me playing the good boy for a long time. And Harish thought it was necessary to let the audience know the circumstances which had turned Ganesh into a goon. No person is born evil, it’s situations that turn people into good or bad. The flashback is not for the sake of entertainment or to push in a heroine or to add a song but to tell audiences why Ganesh is the brutal person we see today.

Tell us about your association with director Harish Shankar.

I chose to work with Harish not because of the hit remakes he has delivered but purely because of his capability as a director. Despite having a number of hit films to his credit, he still works like a debutant on film sets. That zeal in him as a director has still not died down. He is very spontaneous – he doesn’t always believe in sticking to the script and comes up with one-liners in a flash. And they work quite well too. If given a chance, I would like to work with him again and again.

Telugu cinema has been seeing a lot of remakes in the past one year, many of which have tanked at the box-office. What do you think is special about Valmiki?

One thing I liked about Jigarthanda is that in Telugu we’re so used to watching heroes who are too idealistic and have their own set of problems. We have rarely tried to see things from the perspective of a bad guy or someone the society thinks is evil. Jigarthanda flips the idea of a hero. It tries to see emotion, humour and anger through the eyes of a goon. And that I think is something that the Telugu audience is not used to, in an industry where heroes are always the idealistic good men. Unlike a movie like Rakshasudu (remake of the Tamil movie Ratsasan), which is faithful to the original, we have made changes to Jigarthanda only to suit the sensibilities of the audiences here.

Is Valmiki a deliberate attempt to break your lover boy image?

I think I have reached that stage where I can now understand what role fits me and what doesn’t. There were a couple of films I rejected, suggested a different hero to the director which went on to become super hits. I didn’t want to do another Tholi Prema or FidaaValmiki wasn’t a deliberate attempt because I always wanted to do a character with grey shades. Why are heroes always such nice people? Telugu heroes are stereotyped and I think they are setting wrong examples (laughs). But we need to depict things more realistically because the world is such. Again, I was in search of the right story. And I thought Valmiki was something I could pull off.

Your films in the past 2-3 years have been a mixed bag. How have you been dealing with your failures and successes?

Antariksham was quite an ambitious project. But we didn’t have enough budget to get the CGI right. We had to make compromises and some parts had to be cut because the CGI wasn’t good. Having said that, there is always more to learn from failures. Because a film’s success is not just yours but of hundreds of people who work to give it a proper form. There is a lot of hero worship in the south, especially in the Telugu states. So when success comes your way, you can be happy about it but not have your head high. Failures give you ample chances to retrospect. And for the same reason, I have kept the space suit I wore in Antarikshamin in the lobby of my office. It is a good party prop (laughs) but also reminds me of that one mistake I should never be doing again in my movies.

There have been certain controversies regarding the title of the movie. What exactly does Valmiki signify here?

Valmiki, according to mythology, was a hunter who turned a sage. When I asked Harish about the title, he said it’s the best example of a change that can happen to a person, which is also what happens to the character of Bobby Simha in Jigarthanda. Valmiki is the best example of human transformation from bad to good. In Telugu, there are a lot of films whose titles have absolutely no connection to the story. Personally, even I have acted in a few (laughs).

Is there a particular role you would like to do next in Telugu?

I am doing a sports drama next. I see there is a vacuum in the industry when it comes to sports-oriented movies. I think cinema and sports are the biggest forms of entertainment in India. But we have very few sports-based films in Telugu. There have been a few but not as many as we see in Bollywood or even Tamil. The film’s script is almost in a good shape and we have tried keeping it as realistic as possible. I trained for the sport when Harish was writing the script for Valmiki. I don’t know how long the shooting is going to take, but we want to make it right and real.





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