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Southern Sojourn

Kiara Advani is all set to make her Tollywood debut with the Mahesh Babu-starrer Bharat Ane Nenu. The actress talks to Padma Iyer about her experience while working on the movie

How did you become part of Bharat Ane Nenu? Who approached you for the role?

Mahesh Babu’s wife Namrata had been in touch with me for a while but, at that time, I was busy doing a couple of Hindi films and I wasn’t ready yet to take on the challenge of doing a film in another language. But when this film came along, she called and said that the director would like to meet me, that it was a beautiful project and to hear it out. I had seen some of the works of the director, Koratala Sivagaru, so I knew the kind of film narration I would be getting.

He flew to Mumbai, where we did a little look-test. They wanted to see how I looked as a local, Hyderabadi girl. He narrated the film to me and it was just such a beautiful story, and to top it all I had Mahesh Babu as my co-star. I really had no difficulty accepting the film. I was waiting for, rather hoping that if I did debut in Telugu, it would be with something like this. I was just very fortunate and lucky that I got this as my first opportunity.

Telugu is a new language for you. How did you prepare to deal with the language barrier?

Honestly, it is a mindset. When we believe something is difficult, it becomes difficult. The minute you approach it with a certain sense of ease and preparation, it no longer is the nightmare of how I am going to say my lines.

A week before we started shooting, my director had sent an AD to Mumbai with the dialogues and my lines, to do them with me so that I would be comfortable before I arrived on the sets. In any case, I am the kind of person who likes to go prepared. So I knew I wanted to go there and do it myself and not be prompted. That’s how I did it and fortunately it worked out well.

It is very distracting for your co-actor when you have a prompter and I didn’t want that. It worked beautifully. And I have my crew to thank for helping me with the lines the previous night. Every time I needed them, they were just a WhatsApp message away. My director was very patient with me, to give me the dialogue in hand. Mahesh, of course, was very helpful. When you are new to a language, you need to understand which words to punctuate and how to improvise. He would help with that and give me the cues. It was very comfortable working with him.

Did you have any apprehensions about working with a huge star like Mahesh Babu, about whether your role would have enough screen time and space?

I choose to be in a film where my character contributes to the story. That is very important to me. It shouldn’t be there only for the glamour or completely irrelevant to the story. Screen time is not all that important to me; what is important is how much the character means to the screenplay and the narrative of the film. And in this film, the character went with that.

It was not like there should be a love interest, so let us have one. The role of the girl, the way her character adds to the story, is what I liked. The South industry is huge and they have their own market. For an artiste to be able to reach out to that many people and balance films in different languages is good. At the end of the day, we are one country and the audience would want to watch your films in other languages too.

What was your experience like working with Director Koratala Siva?
He has the ability to tell topical, relatable, contemporary stories in the most commercial and entertaining ways. I think that’s a unique quality and that’s why his movies have done so well. Fingers crossed that ours too will. He is such a wonderful person. I have never seen him shout on the sets, even with his own team. The mood of the entire cast on set depends on the director’s temperament. I was really blessed especially since this was all new for me.

What was it like to have Mahesh as a co-star?

Mahesh comes on the set so very focused on his work. He is very passionate about it. He is in no hurry to wrap the shoot. In fact, he would extend his shoot if required. There was this one day we all had to skip lunch and do a running lunch instead. In the South, they are very particular that everyone breaks for lunch. But when you love your work so much; I could see that in the technicians and the whole crew. It was something that doesn’t happen often. Still everyone just went with the flow. They were willing to do that because they loved what they were doing and it showed.

Mahesh is such a superstar but when there were crowds gathering to see him, he would very politely go off the set and click pictures with them. He was also such a team player. Even when he was not in the frame, he would stand behind the camera to encourage me. I would feed off his energy. I respect him for his professionalism and his love for cinema. It was such a pleasure working with him. I feel more confident as an artiste. Imagine working in a language you don’t understand and getting the emotions right, it was a challenge.

The music of Bharat Ane Nenu has created quite a buzz. What can you tell me about the music? And what was it like to lip sync to Telugu lyrics?

The music is amazing. DSP (Devi Sri Prasad) is an absolute rock star. You don’t need to understand the language. It is just the mood that the music creates. Automatically, your foot starts tapping and your fingers start snapping. This album has everything. Farhan (Akhtar) has also lent his voice to one of the songs. He has got the South twang so well and he is being appreciated for the song. Lip syncing to the songs was easier than doing my lines in Telugu. The two songs that I have lip synced to are peppy numbers and have been picturised beautifully.

What are your future projects? Any offers from the South?

I have just signed a movie with Ram Charan to be directed by Boyapati Seenu. This is a different movie, a completely commercial entertainer. It is a fun, action, romance, family drama. I am still taking it slow with the others. I want to balance it with the Hindi films. In Hindi, I have Lust Stories for Netflix. I am in the short directed by Karan Johar. I am really blessed to be working with so many big directors in the beginning of my career.

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