Vijay Deverakonda’s Journey to Superstardom

Vijay Deverakonda in and as Liger. Photo: Hype PR

Vijay Deverakonda is a superstar.

Little doubt about that: he is, in fact, the only name that is a complete outsider in the Telugu film hierarchy when all other current superstars there are either related to each other or to big film families. Set to release Liger, his first pan-Indian film in five languages including Hindi and Telugu, the enterprising actor, who has also been a producer and contributed to society as a philanthropist, is as humble as most of his South Indian colleagues.

In a freewheeling chat, Vijay, who has been in the movie business for 11 years now, expounds on Liger, the highs of promoting the film pan-India, and his growing-up (in the industry!) pains. Excerpts from an interview follow.

What does Liger mean to you?

When I read the script, I was super-excited and knew I wanted to make it! The problem area was the stammer, but since it was a compulsion, I decided to work on it and finally enjoyed doing it! I also had to transform myself physically and grow my hair. All this involved two years of total discipline and my social life was as good as non-existent. I stayed off alcohol and sugar too. Liger was my hardest film, physically and mentally, but I looked forward to every day of shooting!

You got to co-star with Mike Tyson.

(Smiles) Yes, and laugh and talk with him!

How was your experience with him?

He’s an amazing man—sweet and scary at the same time! There are a handful of superstars who are known all over the world, like Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and I actually was getting to work and interact with one of them!

You know, Mike has this habit of not acknowledging what the director tells him, and we would wonder if we should repeat the brief, or whether he would be angry if we did! My anxiety was whether he would punch me by mistake during our fight sequences if he had not understood what he had to do! (Gesticulates to show details of how Mike was instructed) But once the camera rolled, he did each and every thing exactly as told! That showed how sharp he is! (Laughs)

And how was the promotional frenzy to you?

You know, on day one of the promotion, which was in Mumbai, I was not only scared of the city but also of meeting people, introducing myself and speaking in Hindi. But instead, I saw crowds saying “Vijay! Vijay!” and I realized that they knew me! So I had to change my mental approach and I relaxed, focusing on just enjoying the attention and love and chilling with them all rather than treating it as a film promotion. And promotions are fun, except for the traveling part, which is tiring!

That first night, in bed, I had still not grasped why all this was happening. But I decided that in return for all the love I will give back great cinema to them—it was my duty to do so. In any case, after Liger, I will be choosing only films and filmmakers with a vision to connect with the masses!

Ananya Panday, your Liger co-star, Janhavi Kapoor, Rashmika Mandanna—the grapevine has linked you with all of them. Does that bother you?

Not at all! I am comfortable with it, because I would rather be known, talked about and maybe gossiped about than be someone who nobody knows!

How was your journey in a milieu where film families rule among the actors?

It wasn’t easy at all! It was tough to find a platform where your voice is heard and you can be seen as an actor. I must confess that I used to think it was all my doing, spiritual but never believed in God and luck, but recently I have come to accept that a bigger hand is watching over me as some of the things that have happened cannot possibly be my doing!

I started out with theater, an area where one play would get me three more offers. When I announced that I wanted to do films, I thought that all the producers would also line up to sign me! But nothing like that happened and I had nowhere to go and no one to talk to! (Smiles) There is this website on which one has to register and can get a struggling actor calls for audition. I spent months accessing it thrice a day!

Then someone from one of my plays got me a minor role in Nuvilla (2011). After this, there was no work again for a year and then a second lead was offered to me. That film got great reviews and was a hit too. I thought I had arrived, but got only some second-lead offers. I turned them all down because I thought I was meant for something big!

You spent over four years like that…

Yes, finally Tharun Bhascker, an assistant director on one of my films, who wanted to make his own debut, and some other friends decided to pool in and make a small film with me as the lead. We decided to forgo our own remunerations unless there was a profit, raised Rs. 6 million and make a small film, Pelli Choopulu, a coming-of-age comedy. It made Rs. 3 billion and even got a National award!

And suddenly everyone knew you!

(Smiles broadly) Yes! I was paid Rs. 9 lakh and I did not know what to do with all that money! But I remember thinking that if I did two such films every year, my life would be set! And after that, I was offered Arjun Reddy. Since then, I have never been without work! (Grins) But now, I have to ensure that every film I do matters to my fans.

Are any Hindi films in the pipeline?

I would definitely want to do them. But no one has approached me yet.

What is your take on the debate that South Indian films are scoring over Hindi movies across the country?

(Shrugs) I think any debate is good, because everyone needs something to keep busy, to write and to talk about! Currently, the country is enjoying a certain kind of cinema and the South is making more of that kind, but it’s a cycle. Then people will get tired, because nothing is permanent. Too much of the same thing will bore them, so it is good to have a balance. It’s also about people who are watching films and why they are watching them. The environment has changed in a big way with OTT coming into our lives, the social media, and short format videos. Today, we are entertained by new things every five minutes, so we are all trying to understand what works, and in time everyone will figure it out.

You once stated that you want to do “review-proof” films. What did you mean?

One of my films, Dear Comrade, suffered from a lot of politicking. Some press members were paid to write bad stuff about it and the whole dynamic was out of my control. That bothered me and I decided that I don’t want anyone else in between the audience and the movie and me.








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