Over-expectation and pressure have been my worst enemies: Akhil Akkineni

The actor gets talking about the pressure to score a hit, the making of ‘Mr Majnu’, and how things have changed for him in the recent past.
Over-expectation and pressure have been my worst enemies: Akhil Akkineni
Over-expectation and pressure have been my worst enemies: Akhil Akkineni

Akhil Akkineni’s career trajectory, so far, has defied every prediction and expectation that people and the Telugu film industry have had on him. Being the younger son of Nagarjuna, and grandson of the Telugu cinema icon ANR, there’s a lot of privilege, and cushion, that comes with the family name. However, that hasn’t really helped him to deliver what matters the most in the film industry – success. His debut film Akhil, directed by VV Vinayak, tanked miserably at the box office and then his second film, Vikram Kumar’s Hello, too didn’t quite set the cash registers ringing. With this third film, Mr Majnu, slated for release now, the only question that’s looming large on everyone’s mind is – will he deliver this time?

Just days before the film’s release, when Akhil met the press in Hyderabad, he acknowledged the burden of pressure that’s on his shoulders. However, unlike the previous two films, he has an air of confidence that seems to be a result of his introspection about his career. He says, “Ever since I can remember, over-expectation and pressure have been my worst enemies. It’s my biggest fear too, to be honest. Maybe that’s also the reason why things haven’t worked for me. I think I was trying to be someone that I’m not. Right now, I’m finally in a space where I’m not trying to meet those expectations. Instead, I’m focusing all my energy on what I can do. There’s nothing wrong in starting all over again and taking it step-by-step. The problem is that, right from the beginning, there was this whole pressure that I’ve had to make it big. I don’t know if it’s my fault or if someone else created this atmosphere around me, but it’s been there. Mr Majnu is my way of saying that I’m trying to start off with the basics again.”

This change in his approach to his career, he admits, has come with a lot of experience and failures. “After the disastrous result of my debut film (Akhil), it took me a long time to come out of that sort of negativity. It’s difficult for a star to bounce back after a disaster, let alone a newcomer like me. My second film, Hello, was more about gaining back my confidence and the trust of the audience. And now, I’m starting from scratch again. As a matter of fact, Hello too didn’t do as well as we would have liked it to. I feel it’s a repercussion of my first film. Maybe we would have seen different numbers if it (Hello) was my debut film. It takes time to gain the trust of the audience no matter whose son you are or which family you come from. Family name isn’t going to bring the audiences again and again. It does help when you make your debut, but I failed with the first film,” Akhil adds.

Now, all eyes are on this third film, Mr Majnu, a love story directed by Venky Atluri, who made an impressive debut in 2018 with Tholi Prema. Apparently, Venky had pitched the story of Mr Majnu to Akhil even before the latter’s debut film had released. However, by then, it was already decided that Akhil’s second film will be produced by his father, Nagarjuna. So, both Akhil and Venky decided to collaborate at a later point of time after their first meeting.

“I loved the script of Mr Majnu the first time I heard it. It’s a character-driven film and it felt quite challenging for me as an actor. The love story in the film doesn’t take off immediately, and we had to spend ample time to establish my character (Vicky) convincingly. I’m 25 right now, and I feel that it’s the right time for me to do such a fun, romantic drama,” Akhil says, adding, “I’ve always wanted to do a film like Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Although Mr Majnu isn’t inspired from that film, Vicky is closer to Ranbir Kapoor’s characterisation in that film. Let me just say, this is Venky’s version of that character. However, he’s majorly inspired by Telugu film classics. There’s a lot of inspiration from ANR’s Premnagar too.”

Incidentally, it’s also the first time that Akhil has worked with a director whom he has known for a long time. “Venky and I have known each other for a while now, but we became close friends through the course of making this film. We were on the same page and both of us had the freedom to express our opinion without any hesitation. He’s a fabulous writer and it reflects in the way he has written the scenes and characterisations. Besides, we worked closely on moulding my body language. He wanted me to work on my diction, the way I move my jaw while delivering dialogues, and how I blink my eyes. Little changes like this made a lot of difference. When I shot for Hello, we had to plan a lot and somewhere we all felt that the film was necessary to reboot my career. However, I wasn’t under any such pressure while playing my part in Mr Majnu,” Akhil reveals.

The actor has already made up his mind to work on films back to back, and not take long gaps between his projects. “I’m planning to announce details about my next feature film in February and we will start shooting by mid-March,” he says. There’s a sports-based film too in the pipeline; however, he’s cautious about committing to it right away. Of late, there has been a surge in films with a sports backdrop. In April alone, there’s Nani starrer Jersey, and Naga Chaitanya-Samantha’s Majili that has a cricket backdrop.

Given Akhil’s passion for cricket, it might be quite tempting to believe that he’s going to do something similar. However, the actor reveals that he isn’t sure if he’ll do a cricket-based film anytime soon. “Even a film like MS Dhoni was primarily targeted at north Indian audiences, and I feel it’s a huge challenge to make a convincing film. But, at the same time, I’m really eager to see how both Majili and Jersey fare at the box office, and I hope they really work well. The biggest challenge is that you need to find an appropriate script, and also a director who knows that sport and its technicalities. A lot of things need to fall in place for a sports-based film,” he avers.

Apart from all this, he has also been approached for a couple of multi-starrers, although he hasn’t said yes to anything yet. “I would love to do a multi-starrer if I get a good script. Maybe a film like Expendables, where you’ve 6-7 actors coming together, will be a lot of fun,” Akhil says. But for now, all his focus is on planning for his next set of projects.

There’s no dearth of free advice that’s doled out to young actors, and Akhil too receives a lot from everyone around him about what he should be doing. “There’s too much of it all the time,” he laughs. “But you must have an intuition about choosing what’s right for you. I rely a lot on my father’s (Nagarjuna) advice when it comes to my career, because he knows the craft and cinema really well. My mother (Amala Akkineni) took a long gap from acting after I was born, but she’s a really strong person emotionally. She tells me a great deal of stuff about how I can channelise my emotions the right way when I’m facing the camera. They have been really supportive and are my best friends.”

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