The teaser of the Telugu film Extra-Ordinary Man, which introduced its protagonist Nithiin as a junior artiste or an ‘extra’ who features as the seventh person in the sixth row among the crowd that sings ‘Dandalayya’ in Baahubali – the Conclusionturned out to be an instant hit and a meme material. The comedy written and directed by Vakkantham Vamsi, who has in the past written entertainers such as Kick and Race Gurram, releases in theatres on December 8.
In an interview with The Hindu at Annapurna Studios, Hyderabad, actor Nithiin is a picture of confidence when he says this is the best character offered to him in his 21-year career. “Apart from the hilarious situations in the film, my character goes through three different looks and phases and I think the graph has brought out the best in me as an actor.”
The film that stars Sreeleela, Rao Ramesh, Sampath Raj (“for a change he has not been cast as a cop or the father,” says Nithin), Rohini and Dr. Rajashekhar in what is said to be a surprise character, is projected as an all-out entertainer. “I don’t think anyone will watch if we narrate a story of the troubles faced by junior artistes,” says Nithiin.
Over the years, he has noticed how junior artistes hope for a few seconds of attention on camera but often have to stay content with being in the background. “Vamsi garu came to me with the idea of a comedy involving a junior artiste and his relationship with his father (Rao Ramesh) and I instantly liked it,” says Nithiin.
The ever-evolving script
The film is produced by his father Sudhakar Reddy and sister Nikhita Reddy. That, he says, took the stress off his shoulders. Vamsi had written several drafts and the screenplay went through changes even while filming. At one point, Nithiin felt it would be best to pause the shooting for a few weeks and take a fresh look at the script. “As he came up with fresh ideas and it seemed as though each one was turning out to be better than the earlier version, I thought we needed to step back to look at it objectively. For a few days, we did not talk about the script. When we revisited it about a fortnight or a month later, we were sure of what we wanted to do. I don’t think I could have taken this time had it been another producer.”
Extra-Ordinary Man is Nithiin’s 32nd film. Reflecting on his career, he says that the entertainers he has done have fared better than the experimental ones such as Lie and Check, for instance. “I’d like to be a part of different kinds of cinema. Maestro (a remake of Andhadhun) received some good reviews. Since it was a direct digital release during the pandemic, I have no way of judging how it might have fared in theatres.” At the moment, he is inclined towards entertainers: “I don’t mean mass action films, but more of family entertainers.”
In his two-decade career, he has been through highs and lows. “There were phases in which nothing seemed to work,” he says. “We sign a film in good faith and there is a lot of difference as to how a story is translated on screen. On sets, I would know in the initial week if things are going in the right direction. There has never been a case when my gut instinct or judgement has been proven otherwise.” In such situations, he says he has shared his apprehensions with the director and the team. “Sometimes, they would convince me why they think otherwise. The director is the one in control and one has to have faith. Of course, there have been times when you know things will never work, but have to take the film to its finishing line because it is a commitment.”
Flair for comedy
Before going to the sets for Extra-Ordinary Man, he had listened to Vamsi’s narration over and over and had a fair idea of what was required to pull off the comedy. The several repartees between him and Rao Ramesh in the situational comedy, he recalls, would be done in one or two takes. “Comedy will begin to look mechanical if we do not get it right at the earliest. We need to let go of our inhibition and a lot depends on the rapport we establish with our co-stars; the timing has to be in sync.” He and Rao Ramesh would interact a lot and the friendly vibe translated on screen.
While many of his contemporaries are looking to expand their footprint by releasing their films in multiple languages, Nithiin says he is content to entertain the Telugu audience at the moment. This interview happens hours before he leaves to the USA to promote his film. The US market has grown exponentially in recent years with the younger Telugu-speaking audiences patronising not only the big films, but also small and medium-budget entertainers. “My films such as A.. Aa… and Bheeshma have ldone well overseas. There is a big market out there and I am eager to reach out to the young US audience.”