Nagarjuna opens up on his upcoming film Wild Dog: It's one of the strongest roles of my career

Nagarjuna opens up on his upcoming film Wild Dog: It's one of the strongest roles of my career

Nagarjuna opens up on his upcoming film Wild Dog: It's one of the strongest roles of my career

In October, 2020, Telugu actor Nagarjuna Akkineni joined the team of his latest film, Wild Dog, to shoot in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. Almost six months later, recalling that precise moment, Nagarjuna says, “After being under lockdown for nearly four months, when we finally landed in Manali to shoot Wild Dog, it felt so liberating just to get out of home. The moment I took off my mask, in that wilderness overlooking snow-capped mountains, I had tears of joy. The emotion was so strong, and I will never forget the sense of freedom I experienced. COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill and taught each one of us how dispensable we are. It taught me the value of work and how important it is to love what we do.”

Directed by Ahishor Solomon, Wild Dog tells the story of an undercover operation, headed by an NIA officer, ACP Vijay Varma, following the serial blasts that rocked Hyderabad in 2007. It’s inspired from a true story, and Nagarjuna is all praise for Solomon for writing an intense character like Vijay for him. “It’s one of the strongest roles I’ve played in my career. ACP Vijay Varma is a fearless man. He is a loving husband and a fantastic team leader. He’ll do anything for the sake of what he loves. And Vijay loves his country. I would like to believe that I’m like him in real-life too. Perhaps, that’s why I felt such a strong connection with the character and the film,” the actor explains.

Nagarjuna in a still from Wild Dog

It’s one of Nagarjuna’s most intense roles over the years and a physically demanding one, by the actor’s own admission. Under the aegis of Hollywood action choreographer David Ismalone and Major Ravi, the team underwent rigorous training in combat postures and holding the guns in a proper way, among other things to prepare for the action sequences. Nagarjuna acknowledges that he relied mostly on Solomon’s research and interpretation to pull off the role. “He would explain how NIA officers would talk and the kind of missions they would undertake. And we dramatised all that to make it look exciting on screen. It was an incredibly challenging and physically demanding film to shoot because of extreme weather conditions. Besides, when you are running in the mountains, the terrain isn’t flat or smooth. There’s always a danger of you twisting your ankle and if that happens, the whole shoot goes haywire. You’ve to be extremely careful and follow the instructions of the director and action choreographers.”

The trailers of Wild Dog have made it quite evident that it’s an intense action drama with a strong dose of patriotism. Over the years, Nagarjuna has appeared in films like Rajanna, LOC Kargil, among a few others, where his characters are filled with patriotic fervour. In fact, one of the most memorable moments from his 1997 film, Rakshakudu, is when he bashes a cricket bookie for betting against India. And now, he’s taking it a notch higher with Wild Dog. Ask him if he gravitates towards such films, he says, “I’m a patriot at heart. I feel upset when people criticise the country just for the sake of it. Yes, we have our share of ups and downs, and not everything is perfect. But I do believe in India. It’s my home and I feel very strongly about it.”

In his career spanning 35 years, Nagarjuna has worked with nearly 40 debut directors, an impressive feat by any yardstick. His choices and willingness to work with newcomers have earned him a moniker of being a ‘risk-taker’, but the actor has a different take on what risk means to him. “I don’t know what people mean when they talk about me taking risks. It’s comforting to be in a safe zone, but that’s not my attitude or temperament. I’ve always liked exploring new things, be it when I’m travelling or acting in films. Working with new actors and directors ensures that the journey is different each time. That’s what I crave for,” he says.

A still from Wild Dog

So, does he role become much more than an actor when he works with a new director? Does he see himself mentoring them? “Honestly, it’s good enough if they deliver what they promise while narrating the script. The moment you think about mentoring people it becomes a more difficult job and you’ve more responsibility on your shoulders. So, when I’m on a movie set, I stick to my job in front of the camera.”

Almost everyone who has worked with Nagarjuna over the years, and people who have known him closely, speak volumes about the way he lives his life. He confesses that he has never let his work, be it acting or producing films, become a burden. For someone who has been in the industry for three-and-a-half decades, he probably knows a trick or two to get over self-doubt at different points of his life. “I am not someone who carries baggage in my head. If something looks hard, you just accept that it is what it is, and try to get out of that situation. Thankfully, I’ve a great support system in the form of my family and friends. It’s natural to go through phases of self-doubt. I tend to look at the worst case scenario and that becomes my starting point. Anything that I achieve after that feels like a bonus. You learn from your mistakes and move ahead. That’s my way of life,” Nagarjuna confesses.

Of late, there’s been a lot of buzz about Nagarjuna’s 100th movie, and rumours are rife that he might work along with his son, Akhil, in this film. However, the actor refuses to spill any beans about this project and says, “I’m thinking only about Wild Dog at the moment. We put the same effort for every film. But then, a 100th film does have a nice ring to it in terms of marketing it.”