One does not realise how good-looking Allu Sirish is till you meet him in person. Often unfairly compared to his brother Allu Arjun, Sirish oozes charm and has a wonderfully playful personality that puts everyone around him at ease. Speaking to him while we shot this cover at the Park Hyatt Hyderabad, we discovered several adorable sides to this young actor who is at an important place in his career.

“People often typecast me as a lover boy because of my films, but I think that is unfair. I have done films with other roles too. I’ve done two films which are love stories. I find them relatable. When I was younger, I would always look up to the love stories made at that time. Hum Tum, Love Aaj Kal and Minnalé… I really enjoyed going on dates and watching such films. I really like love stories and I do agree that even if my film is not a love story, I try to include a strong romantic track. I like that space. I like being in it. But, that said, I have done films from other genres including sci-fi,” opens Allu Sirish.

So is love something that you hold close to your heart? “Absolutely! I am a total romantic. I’ve never concealed any of my relationships. But I feel that there’s no need to flaunt it either. It’s like my happy space and I must admit there’s a lot of drama happening in that space, so it’s better kept away from the public eye. It’s not a conscious move. In our society we’re not open about our relationships because we’re always worried about society. I am absolutely single now and teaching myself to love myself too — that’s a form of love too, right?”

But is that the only reason why celebs keep their real-life love stories under cover? “No, no… I think one of the bigger reasons is the fact that women pay the price for a broken relationship far more severely than men do in our society. If the relationship doesn’t end in marriage, the girl has to live with that baggage. For a guy, you are allowed; you are encouraged and sometimes even ridiculed till you move on. The girl, on the other hand is forced to live with it. This is one of the reasons why I tend to keep my romantic life very private. I think it’s good that way. It works for everyone.”

We break into a few laughs and Sirish needs to get into the next look for his shoot. A few minutes later he returns in a gorgeous animal-print shirt and we resume our conversation. Shifting topics to the #MeToo movement in Tollywood, we ask him what his views are on women speaking up about abuse and harassment in the industry.

“There are two sides to this story. I think a lot more stories are coming from the film industry because it is under a constant spotlight. People have put actors and directors on a higher pedestal. They are expected to behave with higher ethical standards and some of them have failed. And they are celebrities, so everybody is interested in what the famous person is up to. If it’s somebody on the road, nobody seems interested. That has given a magnifying effect and suddenly it feels like it’s common practice in the whole industry. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. I was a little unaware of it. I didn’t know it happened in the upper crust of the industry too. It’s not visible to us (as actors who have been brought up in the industry). I thought it happens only in small tacky films. I was a little shocked when I first heard about it a few years ago. Some of the accusations might not be entirely true and some are true and the victims have come out and I am happy that they did. It has to start somewhere and the good thing about them speaking about this is, it causes fear. If you tell them (abusive men in the industry): ‘oh please be nice to the women, don’t exploit them,’ nobody is going to listen. If they have the fear that if they misbehave their name is going to be tarnished, their careers are going to come to an end, then people will behave. So the good thing about this movement is that it has instilled fear that makes people think before they abuse their power,” he says.

Change is definitely hitting the film industry in Hyderabad, but can this change be seen even in terms of content? “Compared to where we were in the past 3-4 years in terms of subjects, the variety… we’ve had scripts about RAW agents, we had a few about love stories, we had something very mainstream like Geetha Govindam, something really hard hitting like Arjun Reddy — we’ve had a lot of variety in terms of family dramas, Bahubali, Ghazi… if you’ve seen the variety, it’s now at its creative peak. We’ve grown a lot… we’re not just making masala films and family dramas. Earlier, we were just that. Now, I think we’ve evolved and it’s a good change,” quips Sirish.

And what about love and the way it is portrayed in Telugu cinema? “I’d say that redefining love is something that I see a lot more in Malayalam cinema. I’ve not yet seen much representation of the LGBTQIA+ in non-comic roles in Telugu. Because it is a more conservative society, it takes time to open up, but I am sure in the coming days the community will be shown in a more positive and acceptable manner. Now that the government has legalised it and it’s not something you need to be hush about… that’s what I am looking forward to,” enthuses the actor.

We break into conversations about LGBTQIA+ portrayals in Tollywood and soon our focus switches to heteronormative relationships and the way they are portrayed in Telugu cinema.

“Love stories between a boy and a girl are quite normal in Telugu cinema, but I’m looking for more coming of age, realistic love stories. That said, one of the stories which I really liked last year, which I really felt was very honest, very relatable, was Ninnukori. We always think that our exes are hung up on us, but that film was a revelation, even for me. I thought, okay, maybe the women in our lives aren’t really that hung up on us. Maybe, it’s just in our imagination. People move on. Most women can actually move on well, whereas most men tend to always hold on. Outwardly men might say: I’ve broken up, I’m single, and I’m chill. But somewhere we tend to hold on to our baggage a lot. It’s not healthy and it’s nothing to brag about. I would like to see films that show us such realities and I hope such scripts come my way too,” says Sirish.

To interact with someone who represents a more ‘woke’ generation in Tollywood is refreshing and the fact that Allu Sirish doesn’t hold his opinions to himself, makes him someone you could have a never-ending conversation with. He leaves us for a bit again as he changes into his third look and when he returns, we begin wrapping up the interview.

So, what can we expect from you next? “In 2019, I’ll most probably be signing a Tamil film. I’ve been speaking to a few directors and we’ve been trying to figure what works, because everybody wants to do a bilingual. A film that can release in Telugu (because they want to access the market), since I’m from here, and also in Tamil. It gets hard because we need to pick a subject which is really universal and would work in both the languages. In Kollywood, with me as a newcomer and here, in Tollywood, where I am slightly more established. I’m sure in 2019 I am going to crack it. I am pretty excited to work in the Tamil industry because incidentally, my first film, Gouravam, was bilingual. I shot it in Tamil and Telugu. After that, since that film flopped, somehow I was not able to build my career in the Tamil industry… but, now I think I am ready and it’s a good time for me to make my come back. I’m right now shooting for this film, ABCD: American Born Confused Desi. It’s a remake of a Malayalam film starring Dulquer Salman. It is a drama and a love story. It’s got a lot of entertainment and fun and these are the films I like. My previous hit Srirasthu Subhamastu was also a drama and a love story, lot of fun, romance and all that. My last release Okkakshanam was a little more sci-fi, serious. It was a great film but it didn’t do as well as I thought it would. In this film, I feel like I am back in home territory, that’s why I am not tensed. Before that film, I was so tensed: I don’t know, I am trying something new, will it work? This one, however, I know that this is our zone — it has to work. ABCD is out on March 1, 2019. It will be releasing in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad and across major cities in India.”

Before we finally let Allu Sirish go, our final question is about growing up in his brother’s shadow. How was it to be Allu Arjun’s little brother? “I enjoyed fame more as Allu Arjun’s brother than as Allu Sirish. When I was younger, people knew that I was his brother just by looking at my face. You go to a club, you get an entry. You can jump queues. There’s no responsibility involved. You don’t have to open a film. You don’t have to carry a film on your shoulders, deliver box office returns or look a certain way. The fame was much lesser but it was easier… I never worked hard for it. But now, when you are on your own, trying to make your own name… you have to live up to it, you have to rise to the occasion, etc. That way, it was more fun being a younger sibling. Honestly, it also makes it easier. The opportunities… I think a lot of them have cast me because I come from a lineage and there’s a built-in audience. So, as much as I believe I am good, I also know that I am very lucky to have been able to get this opportunity, which many people would have taken much longer to achieve or probably wouldn’t have ever got. It’s mostly been only positive. Of course, there is a comparison. There are some expectations to match. But for me, I believe the benefits outweigh the downsides. I’m happy being Allu Arjun’s little brother,” the actor concludes.

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PHOTOGRAPHER: Vasanth Paul | @vasanthpaulb
STYLING: Preetham Jukalker | @jukalker
WARDROBE: Shirt—Zara | @zara + Suit—Raamz | @raamzofficial + Pants—Calvin Klein | @calvinklein
HAIR: Akshay Sannayila | @mr.hairdresserr (Toni&Guy | @toniandguyindia)
MAKE-UP: Ronan Mili | @ronan_mili
LOCATION: The Park Hyatt, Hyderabad | @parkhyatthyderabad