When Naga Chaitanya received a call from the casting department for a role in Laal Singh Chaddha, the Telugu actor could not believe his luck. Although he had not been actively looking to do a Bollywood film, the official Hindi adaptation of the Hollywood blockbuster Forrest Gump was too big a deal to pass on. Plus, who would give up the chance of sharing screen space with Aamir Khan?
Learning from the best
“The script of Laal ticked all the boxes for me. It made me put in all that effort and make that transition to see how I fare here. It happened at the right time,” says the actor who has won several awards down South for his roles in movies such as Josh, Ye Maaya Chesave, 100% Love, Premam, and Shailaja Reddy Alludu. One of the biggest draws for him, of course, was the opportunity to observe the Bollywood superstar’s process and gain some insight into it.
Chaitanya plays the role of Laal Singh Chaddha’s best friend Balaraju Bodi in the movie, and got to spend a lot of time with him. “Working with Aamir sir has been a dream come true for me. Our off-camera moments will always be special—whether it was the rehearsals, sitting up till 3 am and chatting about movies, our early morning drives to the shoot location… all that time really gave me an insight into his process and how or why he does certain things. All these moments have definitely taught me a lot and I will always cherish them,” he adds.
Initially, it was Tamil superstar Vijay Sethupathi who had been confirmed for the role. However, things didn't work out and Chaitanya found himself giving his nod to it. If there were any apprehensions in his mind about doing the same, he does not show it. “I was just told that there was an issue with his dates,” says the actor, adding that his role has been completely redesigned since then. “I think when Vijay sir was a part of it, it was supposed to be a Tamilian man but when I came in, it was completely redesigned to be a Telugu person. It happened in a very clean way,” he says.
Although it happened organically, the actor—who is superstar Nagarjuna’s son—has another special connection with his Bollywood debut. His character was named Balaraju after deliberating over a number of names. Coincidentally, and much later, he got to know that Balaraju is also the name of one of his grandfather Akkineni Nageswara Rao’s films that came out in 1948 and was the first silver jubilee film of Telugu cinema. “It was a huge deal then and for me, this film is a huge deal. It’s my first film in Hindi and a chance to prove myself to a much larger audience. So sentimentally and emotionally, it felt magical to know about this connection,” he smiles.
Bollywood and more
Growing up in Chennai and Hyderabad, Chaitanya is proficient in Tamil and Telugu and it took him a couple of months to memorise the Hindi dialogues. “Fortunately, I had 6-7 months to prepare for my role. Advait sir (director Advait Chandan) took me through the lines and was my diction coach in a way. He was very patient with me,” he shares, adding that if he has time to prepare, then he can deliver well but he is yet to reach a stage where he can have an impromptu conversation in Hindi. “I’m still working on that,” he admits.
Ask Chaitanya if he aspires to do more work in Bollywood and he says that for now, he is waiting for August 11 to see the audience’s reaction to his performance. “I love the kind of cinema Bollywood puts out. I love the actors and directors here,” he says, adding that things will be clearer to him post the movie’s release. “An opportunity to be a part of a film of this scale, that too with Aamir sir does not come so easily. If it does well, it can really do wonders for you. So a lot depends on it,” he believes.
Next up, Chaitanya has wrapped up the shoot for a Telugu horror web series where he plays a journalist and will soon begin filming for a Tamil-Telugu bilingual film to be directed by filmmaker Venkat Prabhu.