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April 4, 1997


The Southern Supernova

Chiranjeevi In Andhra Pradesh, the people see Chiranjeevi as larger than life, almost a demi-god. Shobha Warrier expected him to be haughty and unapproachable but found, to her pleasant surprise, that it is pretty easy to reach the superstar if you petition his wife, one of the most co-operative of star wives.

It was the friendly and unassuming Surekha who organised everything, from the appointment to collecting his photographs and stills from movies to greeting Warrier when she visited Chiranjeevi's home. Daughter of a veteran Tamil and Telugu actor, Surekha dislikes family photographs in magazines. The Net is different though since the whole family is hooked onto it.

Far from the delirious cries of his fans, Chiranjeevi lives a quiet existence in a big house in a bylane of T Nagar in Madras with only a few guards outside the house to show that a famous star lives within.

Chiranjeevi was lying low for some time after a series of flops. Then came the Telugu version of one of last year's successes in Malayalam, Hitler. Now Chiranjeevi is back in the reckoning, and all his critics stand silenced now that without depending on dances or fights, he had made a commercial success.

Naturally, , it was a satisfied and content Chiranjeevi who sauntered into the room. Excerpts from the conversation:

Quite a few of your last movies were declared flops. But your recent film, Hitler, is a hit. Have you reached a stage that hits and flops do not matter to you?

Hits and flops matter to me very much. See, more than the hits, flops will have an impact on my career. In fact, flops helped me shape my career. They made me look at things from a different angle.

Do you try to analyse your films, I mean, the flops, and yourself after such a thing happens?

Exactly. I try to analyse each and every film of mine. I have to find out why it became a flop and why people did not like it. Naturally, all of us expect all films to be hits before their release. So, after a film flops, we analyse and finally conclude that these are the factors in the film that was unacceptable to people. We try to see that such mistakes are not committed again in future. We select a different subject next time and hope it will be acceptable to them.

Does that mean that you give more importance to the taste of the viewers than your own personal satisfaction?

ChiranjeeviYes. It so happens that after a certain stage, we have to give in to the wishes of the people rather than your own satisfaction. I look at it as my responsibility to satisfy the wishes of the people more than mine. Personally I prefer working in realistic movies. I love such movies. But people like to see me in electrifying dances, thrilling fights and action. They want only dynamic characters from me. This is my image, the image of a superman. People might get satisfaction watching me in these get-ups, but I feel bored doing these monotonous characters again and again. And I wanted to take a break from these characters, but they did not allow me to change. Ultimately, Hitler has given me a good break. The character is very realistic, and the movie too, except for a couple of dances and one fight in the climax scene.

Don't you feel disillusioned sometimes? Other than feeling bored, that is?

There was a battle going on inside me all these years. But what can I do? I have to give what people want from me. As a star, I have to abide by the wishes of the people, but I cannot forget my own satisfaction too. But for the purpose, I cannot gamble another producer's money. So, I established a company called Anjana Productions and, long back, I made a movie (Rudraveena) with K Balachander as the director. I was at the height of my commercial success then, but I wanted to change my course.

Did that movie give you much satisfaction?

A lot. Both as a maker and as an actor... I was fighting against drinking and advocating for prohibition in that film. As the producer, I got the National Integration award. But commercially it did not do well.. But I have no regrets at all. Do you know one thing? What I wanted to happen in all villages, what I depicted in the film, is happening in Andhra Pradesh now.

I also worked with K Vishwanath in Apar Bandhavaru, but that too did not do well at the box office. But I got many awards for the characterisation, including the state Nandi award for the best actor.

See, I am trying... I am trying. I like to portray such characters which give you some challenge as an actor. I am really fed up of doing the other kind of cliched roles. What saddens me is, nobody is encouraging me, nobody else is coming forward to make such movies. I do not blame the moviegoers for this state of affairs. They are given only these kinds of movies. If we feed them proper subjects slowly, one by one, their taste also will change. To create an awareness about my plight among my producers, directors and story writers, I took a break from movies for nearly eight months last year.

I have read that you went into hibernation.

It was not hibernation (laughs). Those magazines unnecessarily tried to extract something from me. ChiranjeeviEvery superstar will have a sluggish period. I decided then not to accept an role unless it was very, very different. No one came forward with a good subject. So, I myself imposed a gap. It was not a matter of money or anything like that. It was a matter of satisfaction. Then, somebody told me about Hitler and I liked the subject. But the producers had their reservations. They felt that if somebody else, some other actor or actress dominates in a movie, other than Chiranjeevi, people would not accept it. So, they were not prepared to make family movies.

Who are the real culprits in this scenario?

(Laughs) No one. Time, may be. When you have this mega-image, you are forced to do these things, I think.

How did the self-imposed break change you considering you had been working non-stop for such a long time?

It is as simple as the school summer holidays. I left nothing except the feeling of elation a child feels when he gets ready to go to the next class.

All your fan following is in Andhra Pradesh, but you stay here in Madras, far away from them. How do you communicate with your fans? Through letters? Or do you meet them?

Through letters. We also meet and talk...

How accessible are you to your fans?

Very much. My brothers and brother-in-law are there as links between me and my fans. They come here for my birthday, muhurat, etc. No one comes to me first; they know that they have to approach either my brother or brother-on-law first.

Do you have a lot of fan clubs in Andhra Pradesh?

A lot. In every village and every town, there are fan clubs. They do a lot of good work also. Recently, after the cyclone, they helped those affected. I myself arranged for doctors. On good occasions, they organise eye camps, heart camps, etc.

ChiranjeeviHow responsible is an artist towards society? In your case, for example, you have got so much fan following. Does that make you more responsible to them?

Yes... It is a very powerful medium and its impact is tremendous. Yes, an artist's responsibility is a lot. I can't deny and escape from the responsibility. You have to be very guarded about your personal behaviour, future plans, etc. I feel that we should also have a check on the amount of violence and sex in the movies.

Were you aware of your responsibilities earlier itself, even before you became a super hero?

Yes. I don't smoke on screen unless it is absolutely essential for the portrayal of the character. But I can't be like MGR who abstained from smoking on screen (laughs). But in totality, I take care not be a bad influence on youngsters.

Because you feel you have a responsibility towards society since so many people idolise you, does it put a lot of restrictions on you as an artist?

I don't feel that away.

Don't you think the standards of the present day Telugu films have come down? Once it used to dominate every the Hindi film industry.

Yes, it has come down. There are some restrictions now. The government is giving some incentives but the restriction is that we are not supposed to make our films outside the state. Under such circumstances, how can you have beautiful films? These days, people prefer films in other languages to those in Telugu because they find them more visually appealing. We should not restrict such a visual and powerful medium to a particular state alone.

Chiranjeevi, continued