Starring in Nigerian comedy Christmas in Miami beside veteran Hollywood actor John Amos, Telugu actor Manoj Chandra feels he has found a befitting stepping stone to the entertainment industry. 

Film poster for ‘Christmas in Miami’.
Film poster for ‘Christmas in Miami’.

Christmas in Miami (CM), by the popular Nigerian director Robert O. Peters, was released across theatres on December 24 in Nigeria. Ayo Makun, the creator and executor of this film, has a massive fan following and box-office record in his country. We are hoping this fourth film of Ayo’s Akpos series will break the records of his previous three,” said Chandra in an interview with India Currents, just before the release. Makun’s first three movies in the Akpos series were: 30 Days in Atlanta, A Trip to Jamaica, and Ten Days in Suncity

Currently, CM is second to the reigning Spider-Man at the Nollywood theaters. Did you know that his first installment – 30 Days in Atlanta (2014) – broke the Guinness Book Records of highest domestic earnings ever made by a movie – earning more than Aamir Khan’s PK (2014) and the Star Wars (2015)? Or that his second installment (ATJ) broke his own record!” he adds, completely in awe with Makun’s talent at comedy.  

What is CM about? “It’s a comedy using the cultural background of six families from six different countries – Britain, India, Nigeria, Brazil, USA, and China. The characters of the movie are contenders to win a million dollars on a reality show set in Miami,” says Chandra, who plays the role of a Gujarati Roy Patel in the movie.  

Interestingly, Chandra bagged the offer through a Facebook post! “While visiting Miami in April 2021, I had added myself to various groups around that area, and actor requirements for this movie were posted on one of them! I wrote to them and soon enough heard back. The movie was shot between June-July itself. Nollywood movies are low-budget and quick that way,” shares Chandra, who also became an assistant director on this movie. 

The atmosphere during the shoot was energetic, given that Makun is a comedian and put everyone at ease around him, according to Chandra. But understanding the Nigerian English accent was difficult for Chandra, he admits. “Our language isn’t the same definitely. A lot was communicated through expressions and feelings too!”

Undoubtedly a big break for an actor hailing from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Chandra had done few and far between odd roles in Telugu short films, while being a data scientist in Hyderabad, India. Unsatisfied, he put his job on hold, got married to his love, and shifted base to the USA amid a pandemic in August 2020, seeking better prospects in the American entertainment industry.  “Being here for over a year, I have gained a not-so-easy membership at SAG-Aftra and bagged several commercials too. I’m not complaining,” says Chandra.

Manoj Chandra on the set of ‘Christmas in Miami’.
Manoj Chandra on the set of ‘Christmas in Miami’.

Thus, Chandra has either worked or tried hard to find work in four film industries so far. Our final question to him is: How is Nollywood (Nigerian film industry) or Hollywood different from Tollywood (Telugu film industry) and Bollywood? 

“As a newbie in the industry in Tollywood, I used to think – you work where you hail from. But then I found that prime Telugu roles would go to people who are from Tamil-speaking regions, and vice versa! But the hardest to crack among them all is Bollywood…because the way they reject you in Bollywood is very harsh. For example, once I’d gone for an audition for an Alia Bhatt advertisement for a scooty. The queue was obviously too long. After some time of being there, a guy simply turned up from inside, selected a few from the queue, and rejected all others as unfit! It was so rude! No other career or space you’d be rejected like that to your face,” says Chandra with a laugh.   

Here’s wishing that the audience laugh a lot too seeing this young Indian actor’s first-ever major role, rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of Nollywood and Hollywood!

“Am sure the film will soon find a deal with one of the OTT platforms as all previous Akpos movies have. Stay tuned!” signs off Chandra.

Suruchi Tulsyan is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India.