Actor Venkatesh Daggubati calls ‘Narappa’ his most challenging film thus far and says it will be as raw and rustic as the original
“In my experience of having worked on more than 20 remakes, I have learnt that it is best not to spoil the original material,” says actor Venkatesh Daggubati, when we discuss his new Telugu film Narappa, directed by Srikanth Addala. Scheduled to stream on Amazon Prime Video on July 20, the film is a remake of the much-appreciated Tamil film Asuran (2019).
Asuran, directed by Vetri Maaran and starring Dhanush, was an adaptation of Poomani’s Tamil novel Vekkai (meaning heat/rage) and harks back to the 1968 massacre in Kilvenmani, Tamil Nadu. Narappa’s trailer hints at a faithful remake of the original, much like some of the other remakes that the actor starred in, Drushyam (remake of the Malayalam film Drishyam) and Gopala Gopala (Oh My God!) in recent years.
Speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of a media interaction at the Ramanaidu Studios, Hyderabad, the actor says it was imperative to stay true to the hard-hitting story of Asuran. He is not worried that a section of viewers might have seen the original film with subtitles on the same digital streaming platform. Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, the team decided to go for a digital release: “Vetri Maaran did a fine job and Dhanush was fantastic; he is among the best actors we have today in Indian cinema. Asuran is a raw, rustic film with strong emotions. Even those who didn’t understand Tamil had so much empathy for the character. If people can relate to the emotions, it wouldn’t matter even if they have seen the original.”
Haves and the have-nots
The story explores the clash between the haves and have-nots, of caste, and is a fight for survival and dignity. Asked if the film contextualises to refer to true incidents of social uprising that took place in Andhra Pradesh or Telangana, he says, “We preferred to keep it simple, as a battle between haves and have-nots. For a good half of the film, we see Narappa staying silent, suffering and wanting to protect his family more than anything else. His younger son, too, doesn’t understand him for a long time. The fact that what was rightfully his was taken away, and his struggle for survival is deep and strong enough for viewers to connect with.”
While Priyamani reprises Manju Warrier’s part, Karthik Rathnam plays the elder son and Rajeev Kanakala plays the brother-in-law, the Narappa team chose to retain Aadukalam Naren and Ammu Abirami from Asuran: “We really liked their work, and they fit in very well into Narappa,” says Venkatesh.
Narappa is a new terrain for director Srikanth Addala, known for feel-good family dramas. This is Venkatesh’s second collaboration with the director after Seethamma Vaakitlo Sirimalle Chettu and says it proved to be a challenging project for both the director and him: “Narappa is my most challenging film so far. I had to prepare, be it the body language or to portray those intense emotions. There were times I would feel so drained after a shot. In fact, I used to wear the same clothes in the hotel after the day’s shoot was over, just to be in that zone.”
Much of Narappa was filmed in early 2020. Venkatesh remembers, “We were in Madurai when we heard that a few COVID-19 cases had trickled into that region. We called off the shoot to safeguard the unit members. We returned to Hyderabad on March 18 and the nation went into lockdown in a few days. The remaining portions were filmed later.”
Drishyam 2 remake
In the later months of 2020, Venkatesh also worked on the Telugu remake of Drishyam 2 and lauds Mohanlal for his performance: “He was excellent in the film; there is so much he conveys with his eyes. Everything fell in place for the remake and I took it up as a new challenge.”
Meanwhile, the comedy F3 co-starring Varun Tej is also underway.
As someone who is known for his spiritual leanings in recent years, the actor says the pandemic brought with it lessons for everyone, some of which are quickly being forgotten as normalcy returns: “None of us was prepared for this. Fear brought out the weakness in all of us and we began caring even more for the health of our near and dear ones. We might forget about COVID-19 at night but we wake up to the reality each morning. Right now, the best we can do is follow safety protocols and encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”