There is an innate sense of self-assurance that emanates from Telugu star Vijay Deverakonda that on any other actor would have easily been mistaken for impudence. It’s there in that artless statement of his, when over the course of our interview he says in a pretty matter-of-fact tone, “If you are someone who’s fond of me, you are going to love the film (Liger).”
The fan frenzy surrounding the freshly anointed Pan-Indian heartthrob and the all-India promotional blitzkrieg of veteran director Puri Jagannadh’s action thriller Liger is such that one would easily be mistaken for assuming Deverakonda is a newly minted star. Arjun Reddy fans would, of course, beg to differ as would die-hard Telugu cinema viewers already familiar with that artlessly dishevelled look and the heart-stopping smile they have grown accustomed to ever since he made his debut in 2011 with Nuvvila.
WATCH: VIJAY DEVERAKONDA, ANANYA PANDAY CHAT WITH CT
The World Famous Lover (2020) actor marks his Bollywood debut with Liger that also stars Ananya Panday (Gehraiyaan), Ramya Krishna, Ronit Roy, Vishnu Reddy and boasts a cameo by the inimitable Mike Tyson.
Liger, out in UAE theatres on August 25, sees Deverakonda play an underdog MMA boxer who has to fight his way to victory in a typical larger-than-life drama. Excerpts from a Zoom interview with lead stars Deverakonda and Panday.
There’s a notion that Bollywood and the South Indian film industry have different cinematic sensibilities. As such, where does Liger, as a crossbreed, fit in?
Vijay: I think it fits perfectly into the Indian entertainment space. You could be in any part of India but if you are an Indian film lover, you will connect to the film. You will connect to the heroism, the entertainment, the emotions; it is very rooted in how we all are brought up, our relationships with our mothers, our dreams of making it big in life, making a name for ourselves, making money and the drama that comes with it.
It is a mass entertainer, larger than life and it will be a great theatre experience. There will be lots of moments to hoot and shout and cheer, it’s that kind of film. It’s not the kind of film where you can sit quietly and watch; it’s more the cheer out loud type of film.
Ananya, when we spoke to you last for Gehraiyaan, you told us you were attracted to “strong, complex, powerful female characters”. What is it about your character in Liger that attracted you to sign on for it?
The same reasons. She is strong; she says what she feels, she says what comes to her mind, she is very proud of who she is, she fights for what she loves… She’s not just a damsel in distress or that typical, arm candy sort of character. She has a mind of her own. She is actually calling the shots and causing a lot of trouble in Liger’s life. She has a very pivotal part to play. I think she’s made me a lot more confident as a person and an actor as well.
Vijay, did you ever consider that all the attention and fan frenzy coming your way could overpower the movie?
(With a laugh) This is a new thought you are putting in my head! (Ananya interrupts, “Don’t stress him out the night before release!”) I hope it translates to them wanting to watch the film and loving it because I’ve given this film everything. If you are someone who’s fond of me, you are going to love the film. You are going to love every frame of the film because it is me at my full beast mode; he’s dancing, he’s fighting, he’s in love, he’s in pain. You see the whole plethora of emotions and in a larger than life space. So anybody who has any sort of love for me is going to be completely blown by the film. So I hope this love means that they will watch it and enjoy.
You have fearlessly stood up against the boycott trend. But do you get disheartened by all the trolling and hatred considering the effort you have put into the movie?
Vijay: I don’t know what is the right thing to do or what’s the wrong thing to do. I’m a boy with dreams, and I want to make cinema and I will fight for my cinema.
We give three years of our life to it (the film); I know how I’ve pushed my body, I’ve pushed my mind. I know how much our families depend on this, so many people depend on this.
I know for my producer and director, everything is on the line with this film. And I know that each one of us has given it our everything and we do it out of love and we do it to spread love and give people a moment to cheer for in their lives. Just two hours where you can go watch a film, cheer for and feel better and maybe learn something from it, so that’s all.
And I will continue to do this irrespective of whatever external circumstances are there. I will continue to do what I want to do with full passion. I feel like when I’m right, I have nothing to fear. So I don’t entertain these thoughts.
Ananya, did you have any qualms signing on for Liger, since in Bollywood, sports dramas tend to revolve around the male character?
It’s actually not a sports drama, it is a mass masala entertainer. It has a bit of everything in it. Sports is an aspect of it, but it’s not the entirety of the film. It’s about the relationship between the mother and son and my character and Vijay’s character. Of course, MMA is a part of it, but there’s a lot of comedy and drama and romance as well. So I did not think, oh, where would my character fit into it because the way she is integrated into the plot is very interesting and I was actually very surprised at the way her arc goes in the film.
Movie making is a learning experience, so what did you pick from each other that you’d carry forward in your respective lives?
Ananya: What appealed to me about Vijay and what I hope to carry forward is his fearlessness in everything. He really fights for what he believes in. He gives everything he does a 100 per cent. It’s all or nothing when he does something. That’s something that I hope to have as well.
Vijay: At 23 I don’t think I was mentally ready or capable of being an actor and handling the huge amount of opinions… even when you get overwhelming love, it can move you a particular way, and make you feel you are some sort of superpower. Or if you get a lot of negative opinions, you can feel like s**t and worthless. But to be able to balance and stay true to yourself is something I admire her for doing at her age. Because it has been overwhelming for her, I can see, and she handles it well. She’s still full of love and sensitive, so that’s something that I admire about her.
Vijay, lastly, where do you get your refreshing sense of self-confidence from?
I get my confidence from just making things happen for myself. ... I’ve never received a favour… when I meet a director I’d be like, I offer you something... I have the talent to do this; you give me a great script and we will make a good film.
When you come from nothing and make everything happen by yourself, then you feel like you can do this all over again. And I can do this in any other field; if not for this I can start something from scratch and still make it happen. So that’s where your confidence comes from; self-belief in your ability to do stuff.
Liger is out in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil in the UAE from August 25
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