Actor Priyadarshi Pulikonda, fondly called Priyadarshi or Darshi, is a household name in the Telugu-speaking states. It’s been six years since he debuted in Tollywood (with Terror in 2016). Today, he has over 45 films and three web series to his credit.
Tharun Bhascker’s Pelli Choopulu (2016) might have put him in the limelight for his comic timing and Telangana dialect, but he has won laurels for his acting skills with every character he has essayed in subsequent films. That’s perhaps why he was chosen to play a protagonist in several projects, despite his popularity as a comedian.
Films like Mallesham (2019), Mithai (2019), and Mail (2021), besides web series like Loser (Zee 5) and In the Name of God (Aha), in which he played the lead role, won him critical acclaim for his subtle and nuanced performances. They also turned him into one of the most sought-after actors in the Telugu film industry.
“I always wanted to tell the stories that I’m telling you right now. These are all the stories I wanted to be part of,” Priyadarshi told South First.
“I never considered myself a comedian. Per se, the definition of a comedian in Telugu cinema is different. For me, Brahmanandam and Vennela Kishore are true comedians. But in my case, I played a villain in my debut film Terror and then became a comedian in Pelli Choopulu, which I consider a great phenomenon,” he quipped.
The 33-year-old actor believes that the fear that he was only an “alleged comedian” in the Telugu film industry helped him play it right in Mallesham. Directed by Raj R, Mallesham is a biopic on the life of Chintakindi Mallesham who invented the Asu machine that reduced the manual efforts of weavers in Pochampally.
While Mallesham was awarded Padma Shri in 2017 for his incredible invention, the film bagged several awards for delivering what it promised.
“I could do the protagonist in Mallesham or Loser only because I played a comedian in these many films. This transformation is something I wanted. My choices define me. They helped me be who I am and where I am,” Priyadarshi said, oozing confidence.
‘Entering OTT space was a natural transition’
Ask him what inspired him to venture into the OTT space and pat comes the reply: “I really liked the story of Loser and the way Abhilash Reddy narrated it. I also liked his conviction. My entry into the OTT space was a natural transition and nothing else. Indeed, the short films I did before entering filmdom helped me in the transition.”
Priyadarshi recently won the Emerging OTT Star Award instituted by Hindustan Times and OTT Play for his outstanding performances in Unheard (streaming on Disney+ Hotstar since 2021) and Loser2 (2022).
Loser, directed by Abhilash, was a sports drama, while In The Name of God, directed by debutant Vidyasagar Muthukumar, was a crime series, and Unheard, directed by debutant Aditya KV for Disney+ Hotstar, was a conversational historical fiction drama.
“When Loser came my way, I felt convinced by the plot and the team. I had no reason to say “no”. That was the case with In The Name of God. I trusted the team, but I couldn’t deliver what I wanted. It was a failure and we couldn’t foresee it. But the failure taught me so much.”
“Even the success through the Loser series and Aditya’s Unheard helped me learn and unlearn so much. All these stories were kind of barter, where I invested in them and they offered me a lot. It was rewarding in many ways,” the actor told South First.
Guess what? Priyadarshi finds no major difference between acting in films and web series. “A web series is nothing but a long-format story. We end up shooting for 200- or 300-plus minutes for a series. Yes, the approach to the story will be different in web series and films. But it’s all the same.”
On ‘unapologetic audiences’
Now that the OTT market has turned into a booming business, the actor asserts that the future of OTT is as bright as the future of theatres. “Actors like Satyadev, Suhaas, Thiruveer and I, among others, could carve a niche for ourselves in the OTT space because talent is equally appreciated here, just like in the cinema. Also, we get to do a variety of stories on OTT platforms.”
Defining today’s audiences as unapologetic, he admitted that the viewers are leaning toward content-driven stories, performances and narratives. “I often watch the audience leave the theatres or just sit while listening to music in headphones. If they like something, they’re watching in cinema halls or on OTT.”
He believes this is meant to happen and Covid-19 just accelerated this change. “This has happened in the US and many other countries. We Indians recognised and understood this only during the lockdowns. It looks like a new fad but, no, it’s always been like this.”
“The audiences are shapeless. I don’t know what kind of size, shape and desire they come with. So, I want to do it my way and that is my understanding. Hence, I want to be there in those spaces where I can selfishly cater to the audiences because they’re fragmented,” he shrugs.
‘Want to do more content-driven films’
But isn’t he afraid of getting stereotyped after a few years? “Actors do get stereotyped and compartmentalised. But it’s time we break those notions and redefine or create a new definition for actors and stories,” Priyadarshi said.
“The Telugu industry has great actors like Satyadev and Suhaas who have done varied works. Suhaas, who is otherwise known for his comedy, could do Colour Photo because Sandeep Raj trusted him. I delivered Mallesham because Raj trusted me. I’m lucky to have found writers who could see my potential,” he said.
The actor is currently basking in the success of his latest release Oke Oka Jeevitham starring Sharwanand, Vennela Kishore and Amala Akkineni. The Telugu-Tamil bilingual is a sci-fi drama on time travelling and has drawn a warm response from all and sundry.
“Sometimes I walk up to the theatres and see people coming out with moist eyes and feeling emotional. They say ‘Thank You’ and that is what I’m enjoying right now.”
Priyadarshi is looking forward to doing more content-driven movies. “The ‘story’ landscape is changing very dynamically. Things are changing drastically and technology is shaping our cinema story-telling. And I just selfishly want to be part of all of this. Life is too short to watch or do bad content,” he signed off.