Shri Tej as YS Rajasekhara Reddy
Shri Tej as N Chandrababu Naidu
When 29-year-old Shri Tej will finally hang up his boots as an actor, this is one story he would love to tell his grandchildren. How within a few months of each other, he got into the skin of the roles of the two tallest leaders in the political history of Andhra Pradesh. He played YSR in `NTR’, the two-part biopic on NT Rama Rao and then Naidu in Ram Gopal Varma’s `Lakshmi’s NTR’.
Shri Tej recalls the day, 6 December 2018, he got a call from Varma’s office asking him to send across some pictures. Varma wanted to check out if the actor can resemble a younger Naidu since the movie captured the incidents in the mid-1990s when NTR was overthrown in a palace coup by his son-in-law.
“I used Colgate toothpaste as a whitener to change my skin tone to resemble his. Since my skin is younger and Naidu was around 45 years old during that time, I had to use pencil dust to roughen up to make it a tanned skin. I looked at old pictures of Naidu to check out his hairstyle and my mother helped me set it accordingly. Within two minutes of my Whatsapping my photograph as Chandrababu Naidu to Ram Gopal Varma, he confirmed the role,” recalls Shri Tej.
A native of Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, Tej had worked both as assistant director and acted in about nine films before these big political roles landed in his lap. He seems to be comfortable playing politicians, having played prominent Andhra politician, the late Devineni Nehru in RGV’s `Vangaveeti’ before this.
But while YSR was not one of the most prominent characters in `NTR’, Naidu was the antagonist in `Lakshmi’s NTR’. This meant Shri Tej had to be spot on with his preparation for the role. More importantly, he had to forget he had been YSR given that the two leaders are poles apart in temperament, political ideology and approach to life.
“I would stand in front of the mirror and tell myself – You are Chandrababu Naidu. I had to do more of brain homework before doing body homework. I accessed over one thousand photographs of Naidu of that period. Like a student, I prepared for the role. How he will get out of bed, talk, walk, his gait, his body language, his daring, the way he will look into another person’s eyes, I had to be Chandrababu Naidu,” says Shri Tej.
The effort paid off and today he says a lot of appreciation has come his way. Though the movie focuses mainly on NTR’s last two years, the audience interest has been more in Chandrababu Naidu because of the present-day political context and because of his shades of grey.
Shri Tej was aware comparisons will be drawn with actor Rana Daggubati who played Naidu in `NTR’. Playing YSR, he and Rana had few scenes together in the movie.
“Rana’s Chandrababu Naidu was in the 1978-84 period and so younger, with no beard and his skin was glowing. My role was of Naidu a decade later by when there were changes in his skin tone and five years out of power had changed his body language,” points out Shri Tej.
`Lakshmi’s NTR’ released in the rest of the country on 29 March but was not allowed to be screened in Andhra because of objections raised by the then Naidu government. After much delay, the movie has finally seen the light of day in Shri Tej’s home territory.
The real Chandrababu Naidu has lost big time politically but the reel Chandrababu Naidu has hit the jackpot.
Categories: Chandrababu Naidu