Ever since he stepped into the world of cinema, Venkatesh has been defying clichés that go with being an actor. It’s been 29 years since his debut in Tollywood with Kaliyuga Pandavulu but he shows no signs of fatigue. Venky, as he is fondly addressed, has been a box office darling for a really long time earning him the prefix of Victory. Here, I make an earnest attempt to unravel the phenomenon.
When he holds forth on Ramana Maharshi and Swami Vivekananda, it’s hard to believe that you’re speaking to a superstar who makes women go moony every time he appears on the screen. His magic hasn’t waned a wee bit and most of his female fans and co stars still look at him as the ultimate husband. Stradding the worlds of spirituality and cinema with equal elan, here is one consummate human being who believes in living consciously. Right from his first film in 1986, Venky has held audiences captive, especially the fairer gender, with his convincing performances for close to 3 decades. His first hit Bobbili Raja established his stardom which remained untouched in the years that followed. It’s hard to believe he is in his mid 50s. He has kept himself in top shape as always. “I am blessed,” says the actor who doesn’t look a day older than 40, “Besides, I live a simple lifestyle. I’m a regular working person who goes home to his family, after a day’s work. Everything in moderation is the key to a good body. We need to pay equal attention to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects in our life. That ensures peace and well being.”
He is known as the most professional and non controversial actor and person. What gives? “When I completed my MBA in USA and returned home, I intended to get into production but destiny had other plans. Like I said earlier, I am a regular working person who looks forward to going home after work. Where is the need or time for anything else? My focus has always been on doing justice to my roles and ensuring that I entertain my audiences with my performances. I guess that’s what it is.”
For a man who is considered an ideal lover and dream husband on screen, Venky has never ever had even a whisper of a link up with any of his heroines. “I have always respected all my leading ladies immensely. Where is the question of anything else? All these are stupid questions,” he dismisses. Beginning from Sankranthi in which he played an elder brother of four siblings and Seethamma Vaakitlo Sirimalle Chettu in which he played Mahesh Babu’s elder brother to the recent Drishyam, looks like he is taking on characters that suit his age. “That’s true. I know I have matured in age now and I am consciously keeping that in mind when I’m approached to essay a role. Look at Hollywood. Heroes are in their prime in 40s and 50s, sometimes older too. Bottom line is, you should be convinced about your portrayal, only then your audiences will be.”
Father of 3 daughters and a son, Venky is a hands- on father doing normal things like helping his kids with their homework. “Ashrita is a natural athlete and has tremendous will power. She wanted one gold medal and she got it. She is very focussed. Sports give you discipline and you can’t ignore that. My second daughter Havya is calm and Bhavna is again inclined towards games. Arjun is growing up fast,” he says speaking about his kin.
An avid reader of philosophy and spirituality, Venky’s appetite for inspirational literature is voracious. “I read this book on Marlon Brando because I like him the most. I also like Robert Redford. I don’t read many books related to films or film personalities. I am a great follower of Ramana Maharshi. He opened up a lot in me. I grabbed the maximum knowledge from his works. I enjoy reading books by Ramana Maharshi. What he says makes so much sense.”
How has spirituality helped him in the world of glamour? “There was a stage in my life when I felt there was something amiss even though most of my films were hits. You see, basically I am a person without any goals and ambitions and when my films became huge hits, I didn’t know how to deal with success. I wasn’t really feeling on top of the world as I was expecting to. I wasn’t getting carried away. I remained totally unaffected. The calm and silence was confusing. That worried me. I felt that if I go off to Himalayas, I will be happier. And that’s what I did. My wife, my best friend and life partner stood by me and supported me at every step. The turning point came when I discovered Advaitic philosophy. Everything is within us. Once I resumed my work, I began dealing with uncertainities of life better. Prarabdha, super power and self effort are all interlinked. Realising and respecting that truth liberated me in a big way,” he explains.
How does he deal with failure? “My spiritual attitude helps me. Success and failure never bothered me. My reaction is balanced. Equanimity helps. I don’t go crazy in my head when I experience success, nor do I get disappointed or disheartened when faced with failure. I don’t identify myself as a hero. Life is just a drama. I’m playing my part in it. I believe is doing well so I prepare for my role as an actor well,” he elucidates.
How does he deal with being a producer and actor at the same time? “Monotony sets in when you’re not happy with what you’re doing. At one point, I would get irritated when things were not in order. I even lost my temper once. Also, some of my roles were so intense that they would drain me. That’s because I would walk into the sets as a producer. I would monitor wastage, peoples attendance etc. But as time progresses, you learn to accept things that you cannot change. Also, my own spiritual knowledge has helped me in that I don’t react anymore.”
How is religion different from spirituality? “Religion is more God fearing. It is more ritual oriented. We all have to pass that stage to arrive at Advaita. The truth is within ourselves. Truth is you. Each of us will find our own path according to our karma. I feel reborn again after I arrived at this knowledge.”
His wife Neeraja and he are looked up on as very grounded parents. Their children have been known and recognised for their lack of starry airs and abundant humility. Was such upbringing a conscious choice? “We have on our part ensured that they have as normal a life as possible. I have also instilled a certain sense of spiritual values in them. Consequently, they have no guile, no ego and they are open. Until they get married, I will do what I feel is right for them. After that everybody has to follow their own path,” he says.
Drishyam was a big hit and as usual he excelled in his part. What next? “I am looking at a few scripts. Let’s see,” he says thinking aloud. What does he attribute his long standing innings to? “I’ve been lucky that people have accepted me from the beginning. I was lucky to have succeeded even after taking a few risks. I have to thank all my writers, directors and sixth sense in helping me choose the right stories. It’s been a wonderful life.” Touch wood!