The two reigning heavyweights of the Telugu film industry – Nagarjuna and Venkatesh – are among the most charming men I have ever met. Unfailingly courteous, ever smiling, there is no star persona clutter or unnecessary ensemble accompanying them whenever they step out. Other heroes may come and go; younger blood such as Pawan Kalyan (Chiranjeevi’s younger brother) Mahesh Babu, Siddharth, Rana Daggubati (Venky’s nephew) etc may think they’ve taken over the mantle but the title of ‘The Last of the Gentlemen’ remains with Nag and Venky. Strangely, both the men have careers that run parallel to each other and both failed to make a mark in Bollywood in spite of being paired with the top heroines of the day.
A long time ago, there was some bad blood between the duo on account of Nag, divorcing Venky’s sister Lakshmi (they have a son, Chaitanya, also an actor today) to marry Amala, however, that’s all water under the bridge now. Apart from the fact that everybody in the Telugu industry is related to somebody, the Daggubatis are too refined a family to air their dirty laundry in public.
Venky’s father, D. Rama Naidu, is a cultured man and all Bollywood actors love working with him. He pampers his stars like there’s no tomorrow! When they are shooting in Hyderabad, food from his home is sent to them every day. On completion of the movie, all of them receive expensive ‘thank you’ gifts; the ladies get some fantastic jewellery while Anil Kapoor once famously received a Bentley! Venky’s older brother, Suresh Babu (Rana’s father) is a soft-spoken, unassuming man who exudes quiet power, running the family production house single-handed.
Leaving his brother free to act. A tall, well-built man with clean-cut features, Venky is painfully shy. It would be easier to wring water from a stone than get him to utter a word! I went to his home which is extremely unpretentious, where his lovely wife Neeraja played the gracious hostess and Venky begged off from the interview; “interview my brother, we can just talk, no, you already know me!” he pleaded. If pushed to it, he does attend functions and events where he stands around amicably silent, holding a glass of some soft drink in his hand. No whiff of scandal has ever touched Venky; he is content with his wife and four children and the rest of his family.
I am on friendly terms with both of them, but I do confess to having a soft spot for Nag. With curls bouncing and eyes twinkling, he is so friendly and warmly affectionate that you can feel it emanating off him in waves, where Amala is infinitely more reserved. While both the men have elephantine memories and remember me even if we meet after a gap of a few years, with Nag it’s like one picks off where one left off and the time in between had no meaning at all. Even his home exudes this casual bonhomie. He used to have this space that he would share with son Akhil where they would play video games and that was cheerfully cluttered much as your home or mine would be.
The box office roulette wheel does not diminish his easy good humour one little bit. “Up and down, up and down….but when it pays off, people say ‘path-breaking movie’,” he grins wickedly.
Even though Nag has this easy air about him, he never makes an attempt to hog the limelight. At a party once with him and Venky, both the guys hugged a corner, quite at ease with each other rather than be out there in the crowd. Eventually, Shilpa Reddy (Mrs India 2004) and I ended up in the corner with them too and we spent the night cracking jokes.
Nag is self-deprecating when it comes to work: “I don’t have complete freedom as an artiste. How many scripts are there; the same six songs, family sentiments – at the most, I can change my hairstyle or my clothes!” He is also a dignified man who can be terrifically emotional. He has been linked for years now with Tabu and the rumour mills went into overdrive when she decided to shift residence from Mumbai to Hyderabad. Gossip does bother him, but he’s learnt to take it in his stride:” The Bombay press has written more and the Deccan Chronicle lifts it from there!” he says philosophically. So, is it easier when one is married to someone from the same profession, I ask? “I think any intelligent, secure person should understand. Only if they’re not happy or don’t have trust do all these problems come up. I’ve seen lots of families where the couple may be from different professions but they find a balance somewhere and are secure in their relationship. Emotions never mature…they remain the same,” he says softly.