'I am ecstatic to portray Ramanujan on screen'
Twenty-nine-year-old Abhinay Vaddi plays the mathematics genius Srinivasa Ramanujan in National award winning director Gnana Rajasekharan's forthcoming film Ramanujan.
As the grandson of legendary actors Gemini Ganesan and Savithri, Abhinay has an impeccable pedigree.
In this email interview, Abhinay, a former national table tennis champion, talks about his grandparents, his career and acting as Ramanujan.
When did you realise that your grandparents were legendary actors?
Pretty early, when I was still a kid. I was and am an avid movie watcher and all the movies I watched were of my grandparents. I was in awe of the emotions they portrayed with such ease. It was always a treat to watch them both on screen.
What made me realise the effect they had on people/fans was, when their fans used to visit us on their birthdays and anniversary to show their love. And they still come.
What do you remember about your grandfather, Gemini Ganesan? Did you spend time with him?
Champion is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of him. He always used to encourage everyone at home to do what he or she likes, and also gave a lot of importance to education.
He was a sports enthusiast and encouraged me a lot in my table tennis, which made me a national champion.
He always stressed the fact that whatever path we choose, there is no substitute for hard work and diligence.
Image: Abhinay Vaddi in Ramanujan
'I was brought up in a very non-filmy atmosphere'
Were you interested in films when you were young?
Yes, very much. The interest was there (not just to be an actor but to be part of the industry in some way). But I never really got into it as I was a sports professional. So, it took some time.
I knew when the time was right, it would surely happen.
In what kind of atmosphere did you grow up?
I was brought up in a very non-filmy atmosphere. We were never forced to get into the film industry. My grandparents and parents felt that I should be allowed to do what I like and enjoy doing. Of course, the importance of movies was there but it was always restricted to watching films.
Your first film was in Telugu. How did that happen?
I was in the UK when I heard that there was an audition happening for Dr Dasari Narayana Rao's movie Young India, in Telugu. Considering the relationship and the respect he had for my grandmother and the reputation he has as a director, I was tempted to give it a go.
I came down to Hyderabad and took the audition. There were about 35,000 people who had applied for it.
There were many screen tests and photo shoots to finalise the top 10 among the thousands of applicants. I participated in this without revealing my lineage.
During our last interview and screen test, I revealed to the director that I am Mahanati Savitri's grandson. He was elated and decided that I deserved being at the top which I, anyway, proved during the auditions. I was asked to play the lead in the film.
Image: A scene from Ramanujan
'I had to read a lot about Ramanujan and his family to prepare for my role'
What was your reaction when you were chosen to portray Ramanujan?
Elated, ecstatic! What else can I say especially when I kept reading in the papers that more experienced actors actually were in the running to do this film?
What kind of preparation did you do before you started shooting?
I had to read a lot about Ramanujan and his family to get accustomed to the period I am getting into.
Sadly, there is not much material with regards to his appearance and his character in general. I had to fix a particular characteristic, walk, smile, and blend myself with him.
The director had given me his inputs of the genius too and this helped.
Director Gnana Rajasekharan said it was your eyes and nose that made him choose you for the role of Ramanujan, as he wanted someone whose eyes would express the intelligence of Ramanujan.
Similarity in physical appearance is very important when it comes to movies like these.
Yes, he did mention that my eyes were what drew his attention initially. After the screen test, he was very happy and satisfied with the intensity and emotions that I emoted.
Image: A scene from Ramanujan
'The eccentricity is what gave me scope to perform better'
Did you read up about Ramanujan's life and his mathematics too?
I did research quite a bit about him and also his mathematics which made me understand the depth of his genius and his thought process.
I had to understand his mathematics first for me to understand in what way his mind used to think, and how he solved all those mathematical problems. This helped me build the character.
He was an eccentric genius. Was it tough to portray such a personality?
Any character is tough to play, especially real life ones. And, if he is a genius, it is all the more tough.
The eccentricity is what gave me scope to perform better. I love pushing and challenging myself. It was as if this movie and the character was what I was waiting for all my life.
Image: A scene from Ramanujan
'I shaved my head 29 times while shooting for the film'
How did you feel when you shaved your hair to be Ramanujan?
Happy, scared, emotional; it was a mix of feelings. Each one having its own reason. I shaved my head 29 times during the entire length of filming.
You were in London shooting Ramanujan's days with the mathematician G H Hardy. How was that experience?
Shooting in the UK was a great experience and to shoot in all the actual locations in particular was a great honour.
Kevin McGowan (who plays Hardy) was a thorough professional and you saw him as Hardy whether he had a scene to shoot or not.
His dedication to the role of Hardy inspired me in many ways, and the relationship we shared off screen made it easier for us to perform on screen. It is great to work with actors like him.
Image: Abhinay Vaddi