Pragya Jaiswal: I took up ‘Akhanda’ with the trust I have in director Boyapati Srinu

Actor Pragya Jaiswal talks about being part of director Boyapati Srinu and actor Nandamuri Balakrishna’s action entertainer ‘Akhanda’

In mid-November 2020, when actor Pragya Jaiswal received a call for a meeting with director Boyapati Srinu, she did not expect a month-long filming schedule soon after. She flew down from Mumbai to Hyderabad for a narration. Look tests and trials followed, after which she was part of a 33-day first schedule for Akhanda, the Telugu action entertainer that brings together Boyapati and actor Nandamuri Balakrishna for the third time, after Simha (2010) and Legend (2014).

As Akhanda gears up for theatrical release on December 2, Pragya reminisces the narration that took place amid a whole lot of prep work: “He (Boyapati Srinu) is an amazing storyteller. When he narrates a sequence of events with so much passion, you will tend to believe it,” she says. The director is known for his larger-than-life masala films that require suspension of disbelief, to give in to some sequences that might seem outlandish.

In Akhanda, Pragya is cast as an IAS officer. She does not divulge much, but asserts that having worked with Boyapati in Jaya Janaki Nayaka (2017), she reposed faith in the director: “I remember how he narrated that story. He went into minute details to explain every scene. I expected a similar narration for Akhanda, but then a lot was going on in his office since the team had already begun filming. I got a detailed narration of the first half; then he told me that I have to trust him and this is a film I would not regret.” Pragya went on to be a part of the schedule that was filmed in Hyderabad, Thiruvannamalai and Goa.

The trailer hints at a masala entertainer on the lines of Boyapati-Balakrishna’s earlier films. Pragya avers that she cannot reveal much about the story but says she enjoyed being a part of this larger-than-life universe. She has not seen the final cut yet but sounds confident: “Boyapati does not show his actors the final product until it is completely ready. He has a lot of clarity and knows the target audience he is catering to.”

Balakrishna and Pragya Jaiswal in the film

Akhanda was the first film she signed after the extended lockdown in 2020. She had tested positive for COVID-19 last year and again, in October 2021: “We are at a high risk since we cannot be masked during rehearsals or in front of the camera. Vaccination helps to a large extent but inevitably we let our guard down. Maybe I should have stepped up my immunity levels. At the end of a tiring schedule, I got affected. However, no one else in the unit tested positive. So I might have caught the virus while travelling. The virus is still around and we need to mask up as much as possible.”

She was symptomatic but bounced back in 10 days, “Luckily I had no work commitments during that time and it did not hamper any schedule.”

Pragya has completed seven years in cinema. At the mention of it, she pauses and says she took her time to find her groove in cinema, despite getting noticed in director Krish Jagalamudi’s Kanche (2015): “For a seven-year career, maybe I should have been elsewhere. But it is okay. I took my time to understand the work and where I am headed, and it does not feel like seven years. Also, not much work got done during the pandemic. The first lockdown turned out to be a time to reassess priorities. I think all of us realised how little we needed to survive.”

There were a few non-starter projects as well. She mentions a digital series that was pitched with a lot of promise but failed to take off. She shrugs it off saying, “Everything happens for a reason. I am open to both digital and big-screen projects. There is an overwhelming volume of content being made, but I want to take up only those projects that have a good story and come from a good team.”

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