Interview
In this interview with TNM, Priyadarshi speaks on his upcoming films 'Mithai' and 'Mallesham', and why he prefers being called an actor to a comedian.

Priyadarshi Pullikonda has come a long way after the phenomenal success of Pelli Choopulu at the box-office in 2016. Despite his brief appearances in many movies thereafter, Darshi has managed to leave an indelible mark on the young and elderly audience alike.

He now enjoys an incredible space and fame in the industry and it seems like Tollywood has finally decided to reward the actor for talent. Three years later, Darshi is all excited about his two big releases, in which he says he won't remind the audience of the guy-next-door Kaushik from Pelli Choopulu, but would rather be playing meaty roles that will finally mark his transition from being a ‘comedy artiste’ to an ‘actor’.

In a conversation with TNM, actor Priyadarshi Pullikonda opens up about his upcoming movies Mithai and Mallesham, on being a comedy artiste and an actor, his future projects and much more.

You are over 20 films old post the success of Pelli Choopulu in 2016. How has your choice of films changed over the years and where do you a strike a balance?

After three years, I think my choice of films has definitely gotten better. Though the Telugu film industry provides a lot of quantity in terms of work, choosing films that will give you the right space and help you grow as an actor is always a tricky option because you hardly know what works and what doesn’t.

But as an actor, I have begun choosing films that cling to my heart. It would be a scene, a dialogue or a single line in the whole film. Director, crew, script, production house—these are all factors that I wouldn’t sideline at the same time.

Mithai, in which you play the hero, is due to release on Friday. You have called the film ‘a dark comedy’. Can you tell us more about the film and about your character in the movie?

Dark comedy as a genre is popular across the world. But there have been very few attempts to bring this genre into the Telugu film industry and Mithai would be one such. The story itself pans between Sai and Jaani (Rahul Ramakrishna and Priyadarshi), the principal characters.

There are also characters like the ‘dude’, ‘the girl with no name’, and then detective Deepthi, who also parallelly drives the film forward to develop the narrative. My character Jaani is again the free-spirited, ambitionless, carefree guy, a role I have played in many of my previous films. Yes, you may take references of characters that I have played previously. But my approach to each aspect of this character has been entirely different and that’s what makes Jaani special.

You and Rahul Ramakrishna are two of the finest character artistes we have in the industry today. And you both have been friends for a long time. Where did the journey begin and how has your equation with each other evolved over the years on and off screen?

Our friendship goes back to almost ten years, somewhere in 2009-10. We met through common friends and ever since, Vivek Sagar Studios has been our common adda. We all used to hang out, discuss movies, books, music and basically everything under the sun. We evolved, yes, as people, and our lives have changed drastically after Pelli Choopulu and Arjun Reddy respectively. We have become busy but our friendship is still intact, we catch up, travel and do everything else possible. This off screen relationship has definitely helped in the cross-pollination of characters we do on-screen and it certainly has enhanced our chemistry in Mithai.

You and Rahul came as a breath of fresh air for the comedy scene in Telugu. What do you think struck a chord with the audience about your performances?

I believe it’s the nativity that we bring in that popularised our characters. The Telangana nuances that we brought on screen - certain words and usages that we have colloqualised- and also maybe our faces or appearances that made us like look any other ‘Joe’ on the street. We could be the guy you meet on the street, or your colleague at office or doing normal things like any other ordinary person.

Also I think, over a period of time, the language in Telugu cinema has predominantly shifted to the Guntur-Krishna district dialect. We started speaking the Telangana dialect which till then wasn’t much explored and I think it’s this familiarity with the language that helped us to etch out a space in the minds and hearts of the Telugu audience.

You have a very big film at hand, Mallesham, where you play the role of the Padma Shri awardee and handloom weaver Chintakindi Mallesham. Needless to say, this is a role in which we haven’t seen you before. How did you bag the role and how have you been preparing for it?

Raj, the director-producer, after buying the rights of the film, was very particular about keeping intact the nuances and nativity of the character. Raj was impressed with my body of work and he approached me for the role. To get into the skin of the character, I learnt the tricks of weaving and even learnt a new dialect. I adopted a new style of walking and you can pick up on a lot more when you watch the movie.

Priyadarshi in Mallesham

I watched an entire body of work on Mallesham Gaaru before meeting him in person at his village. We talked over chai and samosa and the sheer passion he has for machines, to learn and do something for humanity left me awestruck. It’s a story not told before and I hope it works the same way for the audience too.

You have said in many interviews in the past that you prefer to be called an ‘actor’ and not a ‘comedy artiste’. How do you define both the terms?

Comedy is a serious business. I have always been a guy who does a lot of dialogues, but if you look at Brahmanandam, he does everything to make people laugh-- the movement of eyes, the way he looks, the way he walks or even makes faces. When I look at the work of Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Relangi or Vennela Kishore, I don’t believe I have worked on par with these talented people. I feel I am intellectually bankrupt and I don’t believe I am a comic artiste per se.

I began my career in the industry as a villain. I had a very different approach to acting when I started off but Pelli Choopulu put in me in a totally different genre of acting. Even onstage, people always look for the Pelli Choopulu vibe and expect me to be hilarious. I have been trying to break the ice with films like AweWife of RamOnnu Okatte Zindagi or even Majnu. This is where I want to see myself as an actor. You may call me a comedian, but am I doing enough work to qualify as one? This is a question I always ask myself.

A still from Mallesham

What is the kind of films you are focusing on right now? Films that are commercially viable like F2, Mister, Majnu or films that are rich in content? Also, as an actor, are there are any dos and don’ts you follow when you pick a character?

Different directors have different approach to cinema. Kishore Tirumala, Kalyanakrishnan, Anil Ravipudi—all these directors have a different approach to comedy. With Mallesham, there is a totally different arena that opens up. So my focus is to strike a balance between both because my talent from both commercial and artsy films have made me what I am today.

Coming to being a social influencer while doing films, I leave it to people to decide what to take home from my characters. I try to polish my characters but I do it with moderation and with the director’s permission. It’s easy to be a Kaushik and you can’t always be a Kaushik. I personally would never support sexist lines on screen but if my character has a negative shade, it’s up to the audience to decide the worth of the character.  

Can you tell us about your future projects?

I am looking forward to Mallesham and Brochevarevarura. I am yet to dub for Brochevarevarura and we are getting the sound work done for Mallesham. And there is another untitled project I am doing for director Ramesh Samala. Let’s see what’s in store.