Nani on exploring the thriller genre in Telugu cinema with HIT: 'Would have felt guilty had I not produced the film'

Hemanth Kumar

Nearly two years after his maiden production venture, Awe!, actor and producer Nani is back with HIT, an intense mystery thriller, starring Vishwak Sen and Ruhani Sharma.

Directed by Dr Sailesh Kolanu, Nani can barely contain his excitement about the film, which he says, will set a new benchmark for thrillers in Telugu cinema. "Except for a select few films, Telugu cinema hasn't really explored thriller genre, and it's quite strange considering what a rage this genre is all over the world. So, when I got the opportunity to produce one such film, I couldn't let it go. Now that I have seen the film, I think I would have felt guilty had I not produced it," Nani says referring to HIT, which he produced along with Prashanti Tipirneni.

HIT, which stands for 'Homicide Intervention Team', follows the journey of Vikram Rudraraju, a cop who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and how he unravels the mystery behind a missing case. After introducing Prashant Varma as a director with Awe!, Nani is repeating a similar feat with HIT, which marks the foray of Dr Sailesh Kolanu to Telugu cinema. An associate lecturer from UNSW Australia, Sailesh has a PhD in Optometry, and Nani says that the newcomer surprised him with his knowledge about filmmaking.

"The best thing about Sailesh is that he's always willing to learn new things. His knowledge about the post-production process took me by surprise and quite rarely does one come across a newcomer like him who's well-versed with the filmmaking process. Years later, when I look back at my own career as a producer, I'll feel proud that I've introduced new talent to the industry and Sailesh is certainly a director to watch out for," Nani confesses, adding, "Prior to narrating HIT, Sailesh had also pitched a sci-fi film, which was terrific, but I wasn't sure if I could take it up immediately. But when he narrated HIT, it felt like a perfect film that I could put together and get him all the resources.

And soon after that, Vishwak Sen and Ruhani Sharma came onboard to play the lead roles. As much as I loved the script, I didn't want to play the lead role because then the expectations from the audience would be different. I didn't want to be a distraction."

Vishwak Sen, who had earlier played lead roles in Ee Nagariniki Emaindhi and Falaknuma Das, can barely his excitement and states that HIT will stand out as the best film in his career, so far.

"I don't want to boast too much before the release, but when I saw the final cut of the film, it just blew my mind. Sailesh has delivered more than what he promised and I can't wait to work with him soon," the actor says, adding that a week-long acting workshop helped him understand the character better. "It's the first time that I have played a character who suffers from PTSD, and it took me a while to understand the nuances and how the character should behave. Sailesh built the whole world of the film really well and he got into minute details in every scene, which enhanced my performance. Although I have directed a film in the past, I had to let it all go and just follow what Sailesh told me, because he had impeccable clarity about the screenplay and what he wanted from the cast and crew."

Talking about how demanding the character was, Vishwak says, "I think it took me a week to get into the character, and after that, I was on auto-pilot mode. Sailesh focused a lot on my eyes more than the dialogues itself, and the silence in the film will be louder than sound. On the last day of the film, I had to perform an intense scene, which is also the opening shot of the film. I lost my voice for more than a week after that. It took a huge physical and emotional toll on me, and I'm totally exhausted right now."

At the film's pre-release event, held in Hyderabad recently, Vishwak praised Nani for being a smart and intelligent actor. "He helped me a lot to get clarity about planning my career. At one point of time, I wanted to juggle between 2-3 films simultaneously, but Nani advised me to slow down and focus on one film at a time. After playing Vikram in HIT, I totally understood what he meant by that (laughs)."

Admittedly, both Nani and Sailesh Kolanu were keen to cast Vishwak in HIT, and the decision was made even before Falaknuma Das, (which saw Vishwak playing an angry young man), released. "After watching the film, I can confidently say that Vishwak will fit into any character," Nani said. Incidentally, even before the film's release, the team is planning to make a sequel. In an industry where actors and producers weigh a director's experience before even signing him up to make a film, Nani's decision to work with Sailesh again is nothing short of a pleasant surprise.

Ask Nani what makes him place so much trust on new talent, the actor says, "It's a gut feeling. I don't know if I can pinpoint one factor which made me trust directors like Sailesh or Prashant to produce their debut films. I started my journey in Telugu cinema as an assistant director before I became an actor, and I know how much they struggle to find their ground. Over the years, I've heard so many scripts, both as an actor and a producer, that I feel that I can judge them well now. Even when I decided to work with Gowtham Tinnanuri for Jersey, I didn't watch his debut film (Mallirava). I don't want to watch another film to validate my gut feeling. And when Sailesh told me his vision of HIT, I didn't have to think much. He'll go a long way."

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