Rana Daggubati strikes you as an unlikely movie star, completely uninhibited and very real. Be it his debut in “Leader”, or his performance in “Dum Maaro Dum”, he has won acclaim for his work in both Telugu and Hindi films. Yet, he doesn’t sign many. Currently, he is occupied with the super grand “Bahubali” and “Mahabali” epic films, and promoting “Baby”. He talks to Pinkvilla on his love for action thrillers, and being a part of India’s first war movie.
You made an interesting start in Hindi films with “Dum Maaro Dum” but you have been selective about Hindi films that you do. Why pick “Baby”?
For the past 3 years, I have been working on one film, “Bahubali”, which has meant that I have had a gap between releases. “Bahubali” will release in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil together. Yet I have wanted to do a film that brings me back into circulation, so to speak.
I have been looking for a role that is in a space I am comfortable with, and I like working in. While other films have been offered, I didn’t want to break the workflow on “Bahubali” for those.
When they called me for “Baby”, it was just that role. It’s a great team, and a great space-that of an action thriller with a great story. So I decided to take it up.
Neeraj Pandey is known to put in background research in his plots and stories. Did you have a reference point in real life? How did you prepare?
There is no reference point. Neeraj wrote out the character in great detail. I play Jai Singh Rathod, a secret service agent, who is no nonsense. He just gets in and gets the job done. In this film, he enters at a crucial point where the last part of the mission is left to do, and has to finish an important task. It’s a realistic thriller, so the action feels very authentic.
Speaking of “Bahubali”, you’ve been working on it for a while. It is highly anticipated and has been in the making for some time. Could you tell us about the film?
It’s an epic action drama. The action is being planned in a scale that hasn’t been seen in India so far. It’s a war movie. Its fiction and is based on the story of two brothers who fight for a kingdom. Prabhas and I play the two brothers. It’s huge; we’ve shot the war for about 120 days. Its 120 days of just shooting action for the first part of “Bahubali”.
I spoke at Comic Con this year, and have been put out the making videos of the action sequences. They’ve got some 20 lakh hits in a short span of time online. So there’s great buzz around the film. We are making it in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu simultaneously.
A section of South Indian cinema seems to be one step ahead in terms of innovation of film technology, editing and shooting techniques of Bollywood. Why do you think that happens?
That happens because there are a handful of guys who are willing to take that risk. I had a very interesting conversation with an established Bollywood filmmaker once. He said, so you and Prabhas don’t have a film planned for release for two years, and have shot for over 280 days already. He sounded quite surprised. I said we actually have 200 more to go (smiles). He was shocked, and said, “There’s no actor in Bollywood who will give that sort of time here.”
For us, it is pretty normal to do that, when you commit to a project of that scale. We didn’t even think of the number of days or years. For us, it’s a super kick ass film that we are making. It’s a combination of factors here – perhaps no actor is willing to risk so much time, no director wants to take up something so big, and no producer is willing to risk that much money.
Both Prabhas and me are reasonably successful stars. But between us, we are nowhere close to an insane number like 200 crores. Yet “Bahubali” is a 170 crores. It’s our “Lord of the Rings” or “Gladiator”.
In South Indian cinema, films of that scale are accepted. Distributors also buy them.
A second factor that separates large South Indian films from Bollywood are the marketing blitzes. Aamir Khan has said during “PK” that promotions can only take a film so far, if content isn’t strong. South Indian films, on the other hand, don’t have highbrow promotions – look at “I” for instance. Do you think huge promotions are essential?
I am not used to such promotions (Smiles). Promotions for Bollywood become more important. Telugu cinema is regional and we target only one state and one pocket of NRI audience. For Hindi films, they need to reach out to an entire country, and many different NRI audiences and foreign audiences too! So it becomes all the more crucial.
Dates for promotions are something we don’t even figure in our schedules (smiles). We just about do enough to put it out to the audience that the film is releasing. Many of my colleagues down South think I overdo promotions when I step out for a week. I want to bring them down here, and show them how it really works!
Do you have a wish list of directors or leading ladies that you would want to work with in Bollywood?
My wish lists never involve people. For me, it was always a story to tell. For instance, when I took up “Dum Maaro Dum”, I had just played a young politician in “Leader” – it was a huge hit. In “Dum Maaro Dum”, I was offered the role of a Goan musician. The milieu was niche, with drugs, music & crime, yet the film had a mainstream approach. I got excited and took it up. I hadn’t watched “Bluffmaster” and was only barely familiar with Abhishek Bachchan’s work.
One director I got excited to work with was Ramu (Ram Gopal Verma). It didn’t do very well. But (smiles) I grew up on his films. We have all grown up watching “Satya”, “Company” and his work. So I didn’t even think of the story, and that’s where things fizzled out. But I learnt a lot – I got a chance to work with Amitabh Bachchan. I also worked with Sanjay Dutt. Very few actors get a chance to work with them at such an early stage. And Ramu is like a bag full of ideas.
Have you watched any recent Hindi films? Which ones did you like?
I watched “PK” recently. I loved it. I liked it better the second time. Initially, I went with a whole lot of expectations. “3 Idiots” is one of my all-time favorite films so I went in to see it like a crazy fan. And then, I was a bit like ‘is that it’? But when I watched it for a second time, I really enjoyed it.