Bendangmeren Ozukum, known for his iconic portrayal as “Boss Meren,” recently appeared in the record-breaking Telugu-language epic science fiction film Kalki 2898 AD, directed by Nag Ashwin and produced by Vyjayanthi Movies. The star-studded cast includes Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Prabhas, Deepika Padukone, and Disha Patani.

Boss meren Kalki 2898 AD
A screen grab of Bendangmeren Ozukum from the Telugu film Kalki 2898 AD

While Ozukum’s role was initially minor, it represents a significant milestone in his career. Originally slated for a background role alongside six others from Nagaland, his profile was later elevated when directors reassigned him to a soldier’s role, allowing him to share the screen with the main cast for a brief moment.

In an interview with MT, the Nagamese film actor highlighted the challenges faced by the Nagamese film industry over the years.

“Nagaland faces a major challenge. Frankly speaking, our Naga audience is accustomed to Hollywood movies, K-dramas, and OTT series. When they switch to watching our local Nagamese productions, they often judge them against international standards and dismissively comment, ‘cringe ase’ (it’s cringy). How can we move forward under these circumstances?” Ozukum expressed.

“Secondly, film theaters are scarce. In all of Nagaland, there is only one functional theater, in Dimapur, Fun cinema. Thirdly, those selected from the government side in this field are often chosen based on connections rather than talent or experience. Even so, what are they doing for our Naga film industry after returning home with all their exposure?” Ozukum asked.

He then highlighted Nagaland’s population of about 20 lakhs stating that Naga youths on YouTube platforms receive support even from outside to reach a million subscribers.

“So, in that respect, what should we do for our film industry? Network outside the state humbly and target other markets besides just Nagaland,” he suggested.

Ozukum also acknowledged how casting teams from outside now come to Nagaland for OTTs and mainstream films. However, Nagaland lacks a unified platform or established industry (private or government), hindering the recognition of local talent.

“I hope my words haven’t offended anyone’s sentiments. If they have, forgive me. I spoke out of concern for our people. I look to the future with hope, as our people slowly but surely make progress in this field despite hardships and infrastructure challenges.”

Speaking about opportunities for actors from Nagaland, Ozukum honestly noted that there are limited opportunities for Naga actors in the mainstream film industry.

“They mostly scout Northeast/Naga actors to play Chinese/Japanese roles or as extras. Besides that, language remains a barrier. No matter how talented Naga actors are, fluency in Hindi, Telugu, and other Indian languages is essential. However, there are many opportunities for Naga youth in the production team, behind the camera. So, we should definitely aim for those roles—cinematography, costume design, set design, stunt direction, etc. The scope is vast, and the earning potential is good,” he emphasized.

When asked what advice he would like to give to the aspiring actors and actresses of North East India, he said, “I want to answer this directly to our Naga aspiring actors only because other Northeast states like Assam and Manipur have an established film industry as well as theater for their actors (I have also worked in an Assamese film recently and it will be releasing shortly this year itself) and they are doing good on their own with the support of their people and Government even without venturing into the mainstream film industry. We don’t have that, right?”

Reflecting on his journey to the National School of Drama in 2002, Ozukum stressed the importance of theater arts and drama as foundations for breaking into the film industry.

“To enter the film industry, Naga actors need training in drama schools or universities. Build a strong portfolio, network within the industry, and continue self-improvement without giving up. Age is no barrier in this industry—Big B is still acting, and I also got my opportunity after turning 45 years old,” Ozukum said.

Sharing on his casting process for the film Kalki 2898 AD, Ozukum shared the details of how he landed his role. The casting directors for the film were actively seeking actors and models from Northeast India when Allan Alley and Longkumerx of Wildflower Artist Management approached Ozukum, recommended by photographer Keyi Putlang. Having noticed Ozukum’s Instagram photos, he was shortlisted for a small background role, which he accepted, leading to his involvement in the sets of Kalki.

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Theatrical release poster

Ozukum revealed that six individuals from Nagaland were initially selected, although he was unaware of the others’ recruitment by different casting directors or coordinators. Originally slated to appear in the background dressed in traditional Naga attire, Ozukum’s role evolved after the first day of shooting. The production team reassigned him to the role of a soldier for the remainder of the shoot, where he had the opportunity to meet Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone.

Following this initial stint, Ozukum was called back for a second shoot after a few months, spanning four days.

Ozukum plays the role of that of a soldier of Shambhala in the film.

Speaking about his experience working on Kalki sets, Ozukum expressed profound gratitude for the opportunity to be part of such a monumental production.

“To begin with, more than the role I played, the experience of working under such a big production like Vyjayanthi Movies and on a high-budget project—Kalki 2898 AD being the highest budget movie in Indian cinema history to date, with a budget of 600 crores—was truly an eye-opener. It provided me with a huge learning opportunity and the best exposure I could have asked for. Coming from humble beginnings, being able to participate in a groundbreaking movie where top talents from different countries worked with the latest technology and equipment was a privilege. Lastly, the highlight for me was meeting the Bollywood legend, Big B (Amitabh Bachchan).

Yes! Finally, my dream of meeting him came true. I am honestly elated right now,” Ozukum shared.

Ozukum also spoke highly of Director Nag Ashwin, describing the experience as enjoyable.

“He is a very calm and gentle person who knows exactly what he wants from his artists and how to bring it out of them. There was no pressure, just gentle guidance in the right direction. Despite not having any lines, there were numerous action scenes and expressions through which he adeptly guided us. Standing alongside Big B and Deepika was nerve-wracking, but the entire cast was friendly, supportive, and respectful towards each other. I had the best time. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to share screen space with Prabhas,” Ozukum added.

MT

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