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December 17, 1998


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Tough and uncompromising

Chakravarthy. Click for bigger pic!
Ch Sushil Rao

Chakravarthy is a rather odd actor. He's confident, uncompromising and tends to hold the odd grudge. That's the hood of Satya in real life.

Though he has drawn a great of attention following his performance in director Ramgopal Varma's film, Chakri, as he is called by friends, has not allowed himself to be swayed by all the appreciation that is coming his way.

Behaving as if Satya hadn't happened, Chakravarthy went on with his Telugu film that attracted attention because it went without a name.

The film directed by Ramana, a Ramgopal Varma protégé, generated more interest than many Telugu films have during the year. When the pressure for a name grew, Chakravarthy left it to the audiences to come up with a title for the film.

A fortnight after the film was released, nearly 800,000 people responded, suggesting a title. Out of them 80,000 viewers suggested the title Paape Na Praanam.

And immediately after this film, Chakravarthy became busy again, doing the lead role in Harishchandrudu of which he is a co-producer with cameraman-producer Srinivasa Reddy with whom he produced the untitled film.

His taciturn nature can be easily confused with pride but you could change your opinion once you speak to him. Chakravarthy is just the kind of person who does not go around trying to please people. Not even Ramgopal Varma, whom everyone takes to be his mentor. Chakravarthy himself denies having had any godfather.

It was about 10 years ago that Chakravarthy had his first invitation to join cinema. He'd gone to meet a friend at the Annapurna studios in Hyderabad. He saw a motley crowd of aspiring actors and skirting them ran into a young man clad in jeans who asked him if he wanted to act.

"Of course, yes!" Chakravarthy replied shortly, his tone suggesting that the question was absurd.

The man asked him what he was studying, Chakravarthy replied matter-of-factly, "I'm doing my engineering." Then he demanded, "What are you doing?"

"I've finished my engineering," the man replied before getting back to business.

"Act out something and show me," he asked. But Chakravarthy wasn't going to oblige so easily.

"Give me a scene and I will," he said.

"Do anything you can." "I can only if you give me a scene," Chakravarthy said stubbornly. He was given a scene but was asked to come back the next day for the screen test. And that went badly. But his sister Vyjayanthi cheered him up, telling him it was the film industry's bad luck if it didn't give him a chance.

When he went back the following day to find out what the interviewer had decided, this is how the conversation went:

Interviewer: "I decided not to give you a chance in my film."

Chakravarthy ( unruffled): "Then, may I take your leave now."

Interviewer: "But I changed my mind just half an hour before you came. There is depth in your expression. You will act in my film."

Chakravarthy (still emotionless): "Thank you. May I go now?"

With Meena. Click for bigger pic!
The interviewer was Ramgopal Verma, who was making his debut as a director in Shiva. And so popular did Chakravarthy's role as JD, the son of a 'don' in the film, become, that the name stuck to him. He's still known as J D Chakravarthy.

Though Shiva was a runaway hit, Chakravarthy did not do any film for two years.

"It's just that no role that I could enjoy came my way. All the roles that came were the Shiva kind," Chakravarthy says.

But even during the making of Shiva, Chakravarthy was fascinated by the way Ramgopal Varma functioned.

"I liked his technique and asked him if I could assist him," he recalls. From the next film that Varma made to the present Chakravarthy has been assisting him.

After Shiva, Chakravarthy earned attention for his role in Money. In that film, the protagonist, Brahmanandam, is a rowdy but the Chakravarthy character knows Brahmanandam is fascinated by film stars and wants to become one and extracts money from him. More films followed but not all were big successes.

Bombay Priyudu which he did with Rambha as the heroine was average and so was Egire Paavurama with Laila was the leading lady. Of course, it was the recent Satya that brought Chakravarthy into the national limelight. But ask him which of his films he is most disappointed with, and his answer surprises you.

"Satya," he says a little brusquely, as if everyone should have known the answer.

According to him, some actions of Satya, the central character, were not consistent with his character. For example, a person like Satya, he says, would be quite incapable of dance but in the film that's just what he does. And he goes on to cite some more examples.

"Even Ramu (Ramgopal Varma) agreed with me about this," he tells me. Since Ramgopal Varma has cropped once again in our conversation, I ask Chakravarthy if there was any truth in the story that some misunderstandings had cropped up between him and the director.

"There can be no misunderstandings with Ramu, simply because we primarily don't understand each other," he says curtly. He then charges the media with cooking up such stories about him and Ramu, especially after Ramu took a liking for Manoj Bajpai who also starred in Satya.

Having assisted Varma for nearly a decade, has the film-maker's influence rubbed off on him?

"Nobody can influence me. For that matter no one can influence anyone," Chakravarthy says with excessive certainty. For even he knows that his role in Satya cast a pall on him for months.

"Actually, I would say it was a hangover. I am a person who enjoys music and shaking a leg or two even involuntarily but, you see, Satya cannot dance. Because of the Satya hangover I could not even bring myself to enjoy music and dancing," Chakravarthy says, assuring you that the effect no longer lasts.

Chakravarthy had taken much pain to do the role authentically. Since Satya wasn't much of a talker, he spent much time observing reserved people. "I even ate pani puri on the streets of Bombay so that I could observe them," he says.

It wasn't just the common people who influenced him in acting out the role. "Ramu too talks less. The same applies to my mother but the way she expresses things even without speech is very intense. Mani Ratnam is another man whom I observed," Chakravarthy says.

Did he meet some gangsters to study them, as some reports have suggested? But Chakravarthy would rather not speak of that. So we inquire why, despite one successful movie, he isn't doing more Hindi films.

Click for bigger pic!
"I don't accept every offer that comes my way. I had accepted three more Hindi offers but now I have changed my mind. I have to make a choice between concentrating on Telugu films or working in both Hindi and Telugu. That isn't really possible. I have therefore decided in favour of Telugu films," Chakravarthy says.

In fact, Chakravarthy who has been keeping himself away from Bombay after Satya made a quick trip to the city just to make his intentions clear to Hindi film-makers who offered him roles. So why did he keep away from Bombay?

"It isn't just me. Ramu has also kept away from Bombay after Satya. It isn't good to be a friend or a foe of a policeman. It's the same with the underworld," he says, suggesting he would prefer to keep away from the dons of Bombay who could probably try to get in touch with him since they have reportedly like the film.

Why was he doing so few films though he claims he always wanted to be an actor, we inquire.

"My ambition in life was to become an actor. I realised it through Shiva. I consider whatever I am doing now as a bonus." And then gets around to discussing his childhood.

He was in class 6 or 7 in St George's Grammar School at Abids, Hyderabad, when he suddenly realised he wanted to become an actor. When his friends wrote doctor or engineer beside their names to indicate what they wanted to become, he wrote on his book -- Chakravarthy, actor.

When his mother Kovela Shanta saw this, Chakravarthy froze. But to his surprise she wasn't concerned.

"What's wrong in wanting to become an actor? If you indeed want to become one, do realise that it takes a lot of dedication and devotion," she told him. She didn't just give advice; she also made it a point to regularly bring him comics to read so that he could to learn the language of expression. She would bring him tapes of Hollywood films to watch and a book, Technique of acting by Stella Adler, Marlon Brando's teacher. His father and elder sister too encouraged him.

"I too was confident. Some call it over confidence but as for me I was just certain that producers and directors would want to cast me in their films if they saw me," he recalls. But that wasn't real life, he soon realised. But his pride still forbade him from approaching anyone directly for a role.

"I used to make my meetings with people from the film industry appear accidental. For instance, I met some of them during their morning jogs. I would show my face and indicate to them that I existed but I would never ask them for roles," he says.

When with the aim of landing in the film industry he went to Madras to join in a film institute where he was a little too certain of getting admission. He even bragged that his name would figure first on the list of those selected. Unfortunately ("not for me but for the institute") he was not even considered.

That made him even more determined to make it as an actor. He used to walk 14 km to the house of Chiranjeevi, stand in front of it and say, "Mr Chiranjeevi, watch out, I'm coming into the film industry." A little vengeful, he went to the film institute that rejected his application and told an official, "I'll come and shoot on your very premises." He finds it all a little embarrassing now and tries to play it down.

"I wasn't upset that the institute had rejected me. I only felt bad that it didn't have the good fortune of enrolling me," Chakravarthy chuckles.

Click for bigger pic!
"My sister and I used to bunk school everyday and watch a film," he recalls. Chakravarthy recalls seeing Vetagadu starring N T Rama Rao and Sridevi at least 17 times. "I could actually see Sridevi's thighs in one of the songs," he recollects a little lasciviously. But it wasn't only Sridevi's thighs that attracted Chakravarthy to movies. And he himself never cashes upon his heroines exposing to make a film succeed.

During the making of the untitled film aka Paape Na Praanam, actress Meena wore a see-through white saree for a certain scene.

Chakravarthy was aghast. He walked up to her and said, "Don't you have another saree? If you don't have one ready now, we'll pack up." He explains his decision:

"I do not want my film to run because of the heroine's sexy body. It is an insult to me if I have to expose my heroine," he says. Now that is an 'unusual' producer.

And though his first directorial venture, Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi was given up midway, he had always shown an inclination towards direction.

"I'd watch a film and narrate the story differently to my friends. When they finally saw the film, they preferred my version of the story to what they actually saw on screen," the bearded actor giggles. Chakravarthy, however, is in no hurry to become a director. Though he could have directed the film he produced recently, he chose to hand the job to Ramana.

But the urge to modify and manipulate is already there, for one often hears comments about him interfering with the work of the director.

"If the director likes my suggestion he calls it interference," he says, attempting to draw a line between interference and involvement.

We point out that the Telugu film industry is dominated by people belonging to a particular caste. So does he think he has lost out on more opportunities because he did not belong to the right caste?

"I haven't faced such a situation. If I've lost opportunities due to that, at least I don't know of them. In any case, it's their bad luck if they couldn't cast me in their movies," Chakravarthy says, brushing the matter aside.

Who were the actors he admired as a child?

"Everyone," he says flatly. "I used to watch so many films that there was not just one actor that I liked," he recalls.

Now that he is very popular, Chakravarthy guards his privacy even more zealously. If he spends a lot of time shooting for a film, he ensures he gets equal time to spend with his mother whom he is close to. At home, he either watches films with his mother or buries himself in a book.

But, being a bit of a looker, Chakravarthy had also to face controversies about his involvement with his heroines, among them Maheswari. One film glossy from Bombay even claimed something was brewing between him and Rani Mukherjee.

"I had never even met Rani. Simply because she was enquiring about me after seeing Satya they said we were having an affair," Chakravarthy says. But he wasn't as disgusted when some earlier rumours suggested he and Urmila were going steady.

"Urmila and I are good friends and we knew that our friendship would be taken to be an affair," he says.

So where does he go from here, we ask.

"Haven't I told you already that I have no big ambitions? I wanted to become an actor and I did with Shiva. I'm now enjoying the bonus, acting in more films and producing them."

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