Baahubali has become a part of us
With a surmounted position in the Telugu and Tamil film industry, and having garnered favourable reviews with his work in Bollywood, Rana Daggubati is one of the few Indian actors to have cracked the pan-Indian appeal. Baahubali, his latest film, sees Rana transform into a bulky, spirited warrior, which might not seem a far stretch for the naturally large-limbed actor. But one look at the visuals can leave you in awe with his exuberant physical transformation.
As he shuttles between Hyderabad, Mumbai and Chennai to foresee the release of the mega venture, Rana speaks to us at length about his three years of involvement with this opulent project.
You started out as a Telugu actor, and then of course did act in Hindi, whereas Baahubali has been shot in Telugu and Tamil, simultaneously. How was the experience shooting a bilingual? Did you learn Tamil for this film?
I was born in Chennai, so I speak Tamil. But this Tamil is Senth Tamil, a purer, older form that even I don’t understand. There is this writer called Madan Karki, son of Vairamuthu, a legendary lyricist. When he first sent me the dialogues, I didn’t even understand what they meant. So while writing the dialogues, he’d send me the line recorded on WhatsApp, and I’d write it down in Telugu or English to get the hang of it. So, Tamil got quite complicated for this film.
As a dubbed movie, Baahubali has garnered great response for the Hindi trailer. Do you somewhere regret that the movie wasn’t shot in Hindi, as it was in Telugu and Tamil?
It would have taken three extra years, that’s all! See, I finished dubbing for the movie in Telugu in five hours. As a set piece action film, there aren’t many dialogues in it. Many of the closeups, where there could be lip-sync issues with dubbing, were shot in Hindi so the dubbing is seamless. With Dharma onboard, they made it look like a Hindi film.
Did you dub in Hindi as well?
No, I dubbed in Tamil and Telugu. Had I done Hindi too, I would have only stayed in the dubbing studio!
What sort of physical training did you go through?
Firstly, it’s been a long time, three years, so I have to go back and recollect. When we were about to start this film, I was huge, 20-25 kilos heavier than what I am now. There was a vigorous bunch of bodybuilders who trained Prabhas and me. The fight master for this film is Peter Hein who had a few trainers come in from Vietnam and train me in Mixed Martial Arts for 5-6 months. At the same time, since all of us have seen many Asian war films, we were very careful about not duplicating those action sequences. We went into detail of designing the weapons. I hold a mace in the movie, and we made a chain mace out of it. And then, I learnt how to use it.
Did you have a body double?
We looked for a long time, for Prabhas and I, but we didn’t find one. Towards the end of the shoot, Prabhas finally found one. So the call would be for Prabhas’ body double and Rana to get on set.
You started your career with Shakhar Kammula’s Leader, who is known to be one of the few Telugu directors, who brings great content into his movies, something even S S Rajamouli, is known for. Do you feel that in Telugu movies, content often takes a backseat to style and superstar status?
Every year you have some interesting films. For example last year, we had Manam, which was Akkineni Nageswar Rao’s last movie, which did very well. Then there was Drishyam, which Ajay Devgn is a part of in the Hindi Remake. Similarly, OMG Oh My God! did very well in Telugu when it was remade as Gopala Gopala. So now, there is want for different content. There are people like Shekhar and Krish who are making interesting movies, but they take too long to make them. It’s a bigger star-centric industry. I mean, even Baahubali, for example, is an experimental movie but it’s still a hero’s journey. Not very offbeat. Telugu is a very mainstream industry.
This is something that we asked Rajamouli about as well. A film like Avengers has a worldwide reach, so the security of recovering the high budget is very much there. But Baahubali a regional language movie. Do you feel a certain pressure regarding the high budget?
The pressure is of course there. Especially on the producers of the film. It started out as a 100 crore plus film. It was a very long film, earlier. And when we started shooting, we didn’t want to make such a long film, so we cut it into two parts. It’s a big tale to tell. Cutting it into parts made it crisper. And then obviously, it’s in Telugu and Tamil, so the security is slightly greater. And then once it releases, because of Dharma, it will have a big Hindi release, accompanied with a big Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam release. That’s four major industries in the country, plus, there is a part two following it. So, there is a certain security, but it’s also a big gamble at the largest level.
How was your experience shooting with Rajamouli?
He’s a very cool guy, to begin with. This movie was made in his head about six years back. One thing an actor always looks for is the brief from the director. This man is extremely precise with what he wants. With this film, it took a lot of rehearsals, almost six months of rehearsals. So we were really into it. I remember, Prabhas had a shoulder injury, during which I shot for Baby, and on the first day of the shoot, Director (Neeraj Pandey) asked me, “Why are you standing like that?”, and I realised that I was standing in a posture similar to how I stand in Baahubali. So it became a part of us.
How do you manage regional cinema with Hindi cinema?
No one can manage that. When I was younger, say five years back, I thought I could crack it. But I realised I can’t. I have to be in one town, in one place. I cannot leave Telugu. I cannot be here, or in Chennai fully either. So my search has changed. My next set of films are films that will cut across boundaries in terms of content.
You set up your own visual effects company, Spirit Media, which also won a National Award for a movie. Do you see movies like Baahubali having an animated version?
I just wish somebody had made Baahubali when I was into visual effects, I wouldn’t have left the business then. See, animation as a culture is slowly growing in India. Most of the animation films and television stuff in India needs a better packaging. There is a big gap between the consumer who is the child and the ones making it. Chota Bheem somewhere cracked it.
What is the feedback on Baahubali from the industry like?
The first person I showed the stills to was Mr. Bachchan. He saw it once, and asked me to play it again. And then he asked me where was the movie shot. And I said, ‘Sir, Hyderabad’! For a person of that stature to say that he hasn’t seen something like this in Indian cinema, is remarkable. I remember the first time I met Karan (Johar) with the film. There was nothing to show. So I got a bunch of images of the screenplay order with some visual effects. And I started narrating the story with the help of the images. By the time I got to the third still, he said, “This looks like Avatar”. Sold! So for someone to look at it like that! People are calling it the biggest motion picture. So Karan’s support just catapulted it to another level.
India has many tales from its history worth telling. Do you feel that the Indian audience hasn’t received it that well?
Any film that is made well will be received. In the Telugu industry, we had the great N. T. Rama Rao, who was a part of many of his own versions of the Mahabharata. And that’s what we learnt as kids. If you ask me how Lord Krishna looked, for us in Telugu, he looked like N. T. Rama Rao only. In Hindi, this has been a genre that has remained untouched. A, because it will be very expensive. B, you don’t know how many will connect to the story. Like, my nephew who didn’t know the Mahabharata, got really engrossed in the Amar Chitra Katha books I got him. There is a big generation who doesn’t know this. They know about what the Romans did, but not what Krishna did. And I have a problem with that. The same case with Hollywood as well. There was a movie called, The Fall of the Roman Empire, which didn’t do well and bankrupted four studios along with it. So people stopped making those kind of films until The Gladiator came about, after which you had 300 and so on. So hopefully, this film could start a trend.
When is Baahubali 2 expected to come out?
I don’t know. It’s the kind of movie you only drive into, not knowing when you will come out of it. Hopefully, the plan is to get it out in a year, by next summer. Around this time.
Was it frustrating shooting for it in such a long schedule?
Not really, the shooting was always fun. What was frustrating was the post production. Because you’re done shooting, yet you don’t have a film. But, you cannot change your look, in case some patchwork comes up. But otherwise, every day on the set was great fun.
After having been part of India’s most expensive film, would you consider working on a stripped-down, low-budget independent film?
I’d love to. I’d love to explore various genres. I’m chasing the kind of stories I want to be a part of. I just bought the rights of a Malayalam film that I’d like to work in. Plus, there is an Indian war film that’s happening. Now, I only sit with writers, not directors.