Siddharth returns to Telugu cinema after eight years with ‘Maha Samudram’, through which he hopes to break the lover boy image
In a lighter vein, during the course of this interview in Hyderabad, actor Siddharth remarks that Sharwanand is the primary star of director Ajay Bhupathi’s Telugu film Maha Samudram, releasing on October 14. With no box office pressure directly on his shoulders, Siddharth says he is happy to be part of the film for the love of its story and his character. Beneath that talk of how distributors look at the film is the fact that Maha Samudram marks Siddharth’s return to Telugu cinema after eight years.
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He was last seen in Telugu cinema in 2013 (Jabardasth and a cameo in Badshah), if one overlooks the films dubbed from Tamil. Ajay Bhupathi approached Siddharth for Maha Samudram in 2019, with a story set in Vizag and a large canvas that Siddharth compares to the mainstream films of the 1980s and 90s — “the sort of films Rahul Rawail, Subhash Ghai or Mukul Anand did in Hindi.”
The two trailers of Maha Samudram don’t give away the storyline, but offer glimpses of Sharwanand and Siddharth navigating different time periods, accompanied by Aditi Rao Hydari and Anu Emmanuel. Siddharth’s knowledge of port cities while working on other films and an on-ground understanding of Vizag held him in good stead for the film. “I spent a lot of time in Vizag, picking up its native slang and eating at some of the best places and trying street food. Someone asked me if I am the good guy or the bad guy in the film; I don’t have an answer to that. I liked the character’s complexities. It also gave me the opportunity to work with incredible actors like Rao Ramesh, Jagapathi Babu and Aditi Rao Hydari. This is Aditi’s film and she carries her part with dignity. Many mainstream films treat women as vanity props; this is not one of them.”
Rough and tough
Siddharth, Aditi Rao Hydari and Sharwanand in Maha Samudram
Siddharth is sure that Maha Samudram will reintroduce him to Telugu audiences while breaking the previous lover boy image. Ajay Bhupathi, he says, encouraged him to portray a “rough and tough guy”. “Ajay is Ram Gopal Varma’s protege and has that chutzpah, along with his own sensibilities. He is a hands-on director. I like to prepare before going to a scene, but Ajay liked an unrehearsed, fresh approach.”
In the mid 2000s, Siddharth had become a household name after blockbusters such as Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana and Bommarillu. Rom-coms and dramas followed, fetching him the tag ‘chocolate boy’. Did he move away from Telugu cinema to break free from that image? “A lot of things were happening in my life and career 10 years ago that I was clearly not satisfied with.”
Siddharth reflects on his journey since Boys (2003; the Tamil film was received better in Telugu) and subsequently enjoying stardom with memorable films in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi (Rang de Basanti) and English (Midnight’s Children): “I became a star at a young age. In Telugu, I came to be known for a certain kind of films. I could see the next 20 years flash before my eyes. Maybe I could have accepted the roles that were offered to me and made money. But, if job security is all that I wanted, I would have chosen a corporate career.”
Where’s the challenge?
On a whim, he decided to step back. “I wanted to prove that I could do films that don’t have me portraying the same kind of roles. I liked observing people; I felt intrigued by those who were broken, wanted to play characters with shades of grey… If I keep going to film sets without being challenged, what’s the point?”
In the years away from Telugu cinema, he has had highs such as Jigarthanda in Tamil and outings in Malayalam (Kammara Sambhavam). “I learnt and spoke Malayalam. Speaking a new language may not be a big deal for someone else, but it matters to me and challenges me. I didn’t know a word of Malayalam just as I didn’t know Telugu prior to Nuvvastanante…”
He turned producer and also co-wrote the horror film Aval (Gruham in Telugu). Post Maha Samudram, he is keen to announce his new films both in Tamil and Telugu. “I have always enjoyed doing what excites me rather than doing what others think I should do.”
In Telugu film circles, there used to be a joke that Siddharth can play a college student at any age and not look out of place. The actor, though, doesn’t think much of it: “I never considered myself as good looking. I didn’t look in the mirror before coming here for interviews. I don’t have a stylist to dress me up for interviews. I am wearing a t-shirt I bought from a label I spotted on Instagram, who were donating some of the proceeds for a cause. In this industry, you are not supposed to be wearing the same clothes twice, which I don’t understand.”
Siddharth observes that in the last few years, Telugu cinema has gone through a sea change, with the larger-than-life Baahubali at one end and emerging filmmakers with new voices at the other. He mentions Care of Kancharapalem (director Venkatesh Maha), Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi (Tharun Bhascker) and Brochevarevarura (Vivek Athreya) among the films he enjoyed watching. He is now keen to act in Telugu films or produce them, exploring new collaborations.
Apart from acting, writing and producing, Siddharth has been on a learning curve, studying music theory, revisiting Hindustani and Carnatic music, and reading Tamil literature: “I also learnt sound engineering. If I were to liaise with international technicians, I want to be in a space where I understand what they are talking about. As actors, we get paid well once we hit a certain bracket. So why not use that to further the craft?”
Away from cinema, he says he finds happiness in spending time with family and his pets. Siddharth’s tweets get discussed for being anti-establishment but the actor underlines that he has always spoken his mind: “I have been a public speaker since the age of eight. I spoke against the Tamil Nadu government when Kamal Haasan faced trouble at the time of releasing Vishwaroopam. I have always been against megalomaniac tendencies. I prefer to speak up and be hated for doing what I feel is right than the other way round. I have no black money, nothing to hide and I am not afraid.”