One of Telugu cinema’s foremost actors, Adivi Shesh, has been striving hard to break the glass ceiling. His association, and not just as an actor, with game-changing Telugu films like Kshanam and Goodachri and yes, Baahubali (Adivi starred in that too) has made this new-age actor popular all over the country. Adivi now plays Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, the NSG commando who rescued many hostages during the 26/11 terror attack at the Taj hotel and perished in his valorous mission. Adivi spoke to us about this dream role and how he is preparing to play a soldier so heroic.
Excerpts from the interview…
How did this ‘dream role’ come your way?
Yes, dream role is right. You’ll find this hard to believe. But I lived with the dream of playing Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan for eleven years. Even when I was living in San Francisco, I was completely taken up by his grit. I felt he was my brother. Mujhe lagta hai who mere bhai hain. That’s how close I feel to him.
So playing him on screen is just a logical culmination of your dream?
You could say that. When Mahesh Babu, who is a co-producer on this project, and his wife Namrata Shirodkar approached me with this offer it felt unreal. How could I be offered a chance to play a character that I have lived with for so many years?
Do you feel a special affiliation to Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan because he is a South Indian like you?
Well, I can’t deny the fact that we both belong to the same region, and that does heighten the sense of kinship. But I’d be just as happy and comfortable playing a war hero from Punjab. I think playing a hero of this stature goes beyond cultural considerations. How Gujarati was Ben Kingsley who played Mahatma Gandhi?
How much research is being done for the film and your character? Do you intend to meet the Major’s family?
I have been interacting with Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s parents for quite a while now. And I won’t be wrong in saying that I am very close to Uncle and Aunty. I wouldn’t like to dwell on my closeness to them, as this would seem like a ploy to attract attention to our film.
But surely you did reach out to them because of this film?
Yes, of course. There’s no denying my selfish motive for getting to know them. Having known them closely for some time, now I can confidently say our relationship has gone beyond the film. Uncle and Aunty have enriched my life. I would’ve been poorer had I not known them.
So many biopics on army heroes are being made. Does playing a real-life character means an added responsibility for the actor?
Of course! It does for me. I can’t speak for others. This is the first time I’m playing a real-life character and that too one someone who is taught as a subject in numerous textbooks in Karnataka, Andhra and Telangana. It is a responsibility and one that I am taking very seriously. I am writing the film myself.
Why aren’t you directing it?
It would not be possible for me to play the Major, write the film, and also direct it. I trust the director Shashikiran Tikka completely. He directed me in Goodachari. I like working with a closely-knit team. The process of creativity becomes so much easier when you are working with the people you trust.
Of late, films on the theme of national heroes and patriotism have almost become a formula. Isn’t that a dangerous development?
Cinema is a reflection of society at large. I am a proud Indian and happy to see a surge of patriotism in our country Movies on true national heroes is most welcome for the actor as much as the audience. The important thing is to stay on the right side of the line dividing patriotism from jingoism.