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Into the wild: Rana Daggubati on 'Kaadan' and running with herds of elephants

For nearly two years, actor-producer Rana Daggubati sported long beard and a lean look, and had stated that it was his look for his new film. Now that the trilingual — Haathi Mere Saathi in Hindi, Aranya in Telugu and Kaadan in Tamil — is up for release on April 2, the actor laughs and says, “Now you know why I looked like that,” referring to his role of a ‘jungle man’.

Directed by Prabhu Solomon who earlier tapped into the wilderness for his Tamil films Mynaa and Kumki, the new film is a fiction inspired by true incidents and people, particularly environment activist Jadav Payeng. The Padma Shri winner who hails from the ‘Mising’ tribe in Assam, converted more than 1300 acres of barren land into a reserve forest.

Into the wild: Rana Daggubati on 'Kaadan' and running with herds of elephants

Rana plays Bandev, the jungle man, who stands up against urbanisation encroaching into jungle corridors.

“We have meetings in conference rooms and are unaware about the larger world out there. Every animal, plant and insect plays a role in sustaining Earth. We don’t know enough about people living in proximity with the wild — the tribes, elephant trainers... When we have a problem, there are forums to complain. Where do the animals go when their homes are invaded? Bandev is their voice,” Rana explains.

The film talks about the threat to forests, geographically appropriating the regions for Hindi, Telugu and Tamil versions. “Prabhu knows the terrain and its problems thanks to his earlier films. In areas near Coimbatore, forest land is being converted to tea estates, Kaziranga in Assam and Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh have different issues,” says Rana.

Prabhu met Rana when the actor had completed Baahubali and was looking like “an amateur bodybuilder”. Prabhu narrated the story before he went on location recce to different places, including Kaziranga National Park. “When he returned, he told me something 20 times more detailed. Everything that was there in the story was layered further, with information about true incidents and people. Prabhu first described the jungle and its issues, and then detailed the character of Bandev — where he comes from and why he cares for the environment,” recalls the actor.

  • Acting for Baahubali required both Rana and Prabhas to bulk up and look like warriors. Rana then sported a lean, muscular look for Ghazi and now, a nearly-malnourished and lean look for Aranya. “When I was younger, I would go about these transformations crazily. Then I learnt there’s a scientific process and work with fitness trainers and nutritionists,” says Rana. He turned vegetarian and occasionally vegan to shed the Baahubali muscles. He admits that it’s ideal to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle for 20 to 25 years, adding, “But that’s not my job. There’s no fun if I don’t play unique characters and don’t look the part.”

Rana underwent a look test with a short beard and was almost tonsured. But Prabhu wasn’t convinced. “He said ‘ottalai’ (it doesn’t stick/gel with the character),” laughs Rana. The actor was asked to lose his heavy muscles and look lean, almost malnourished.

As he got leaner, Rana trained for 15 days with Kumki elephant trainers, cinematographer Ashok Kumar; the costume and makeup team also stepped in. This was like an orientation period before they would shoot for more than 100 days in six jungles, including deep forests of Kerala, Satara, Mahabaleshwar and Thailand.

The three languages have different supporting cast and Rana had to shoot each shot, each scene thrice. “Forest officers, tribes and trainers in south India would look very different from those in the North. So Prabhu would look at someone and say ‘ivara paatha Maharashtrian madiri irukkare’ (he looks like a Maharashtrian) and would change him for the Telugu version,” says Rana.

The first shooting schedule was the toughest. Rana shot for 30 days in the jungles, with no mobile connectivity and no co-stars. The disconnect from the outside world helped him get into the zone this film required. The silence of the jungle as well as the sounds that arise from the conversations between animals, made the experience surreal: “It’s magical when the sun goes down and you see things glittering in the dark.”

He listened to stories of forest rangers to understand their world and believes that cinema can be a big influence in highlighting the importance of ecological balance. “And we are doing it in a mainstream format,” Rana adds.

The team shot in the forests of Thailand with herds of elephants. Looking back, Rana says it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience: “Anything can happen when you run with a herd of 15 elephants.” The jungle was also peaceful, he remembers: “All that greenery makes you calm.”

It’s been 10 years since he debuted as an actor with Sekhar Kammula’s Leader and since then, has constantly sought the alternative space, not wanting to do the regular hero-worshipping Telugu films, “After Leader, very few people here told me the kind of stories I was looking for. So I went to Mumbai and then to Chennai since I liked the films that directors like Bala and Ameer were making. Now, I am glad we have more than a handful of Telugu filmmakers presenting different content so often.”

Summer 2020, he says, looks promising and cites Anushka Shetty’s Nishabdham and Ram’s Red, among others, for promising something new: “The millennials are doing something right,” he sums up with a laugh.

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 8:30:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/into-the-wild-rana-daggubati-on-kaadan-and-running-with-herds-of-elephants/article30963293.ece

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