The rain is in no mood to relent, alternating between steady downpours and drizzles. Despite the rain-soaked morning, Rana Daggubati’s office at Ramanaidu Studios is a scene of action. This interview, followed by a shoot and some dubbing… it’s a packed day. A varied one at that. Variety is a word Rana Daggubati is becoming synonymous with. He can be the mean Bhallaladeva, a purpose-driven navy officer ( Ghazi ), and then the colourful Jogendra (forthcoming Nene Raju Nene Mantri ). Between all this, he’s a talk show host ( No. 1Yaari ) and when you least expect it, shows up in Augmented Reality (AR) promotions, popping up from posters along with Kajal Aggarwal.
Rana brims with enthusiasm when he talks about AR (see box). “I entered the industry with a technical edge and that has, in turn, had many people coming to me to show different things,” he says, referencing his early days as visual effects supervisor. Each time he witnessed something new, he kept thinking if it would be applicable to cinema. “For example, we know that big builders use AR to visualise how the final interiors would look. I don’t know if anyone has used AR for similar film promotions,” he says.
This AR application is developed by Avantari Technologies backed by filmmaker Mani Shankar, who worked on hologram-driven campaigns for Narendra Modi and Devendra Fadnavis. The whole exercise can be cynically brushed aside as promotional tactics but there’s a deeper experiment at work to enhance the audience connect.
“We see many posters and standees at cinema halls and some catch attention. But these posters are soon forgotten. Taking a picture with the actors, enabled by AR, helps record a memory,” says Rana. The possibilities are endless. Imagine an AR-enabled video where you enact a scene from the film along with the actors. “We don’t know if we can arrive at that by the time Nene Raju … hits theatres on August 11. If it happens, it will be cool,” says Rana.
Beyond edgy promotions, at the heart of Nene Raju Nene Mantri is a confident Rana. “I completely enjoyed myself. This is a character-driven film,” he affirms. Director Teja conceived the character of Jogendra, around which the story shaped up. The film has resonances of real incidents from around the world. “When you see it, you feel that this could happen. It’s not far fetched. It felt like being a part of something like The Wolf of Wall Street and at the same time, following classical storytelling formats like in Citizen Kane or Nayagan .”
It might look like a leap of faith to do a film with director Teja who hasn’t had hits in recent years. For Rana, it didn’t matter. “Teja has come up the tough way, working at different levels before he became a DoP and then a director. He’s well versed with Indian and international cinema of different eras. He’s so informed about anything for that matter. My dad (Suresh Babu) and I had a great time quizzing him on different things. While answering them, Teja would find solutions to problems in the script,” says Rana.
The actor describes Nene Raju … as a slice-of-life drama of a moneylender, Jogendra, who stands by farmers and is devoted to his wife. Power play upsets his life and he’s sucked into a vicious game.
“It’s the kind of story that shows what someone can do when pushed to the brink. Jogendra is different from the character I played in my first film, Leader . There, the protagonist was a young lad returning from the US and wanting to clean the system,” recalls the actor.
Looking back, Rana feels he cannot recreate the innocence he had during Leader .
It’s been a memorable journey leading up to the on-screen confidence we see today. He concedes that he would still do films like Leader and Dum Maro Dum , which are up his alley, but may not choose Naa Ishtam or Nenu Naa Rakshasi (NNR) . “In Naa Ishtam , though I couldn’t relate to it I went with the director’s vision. NNR started off as a dark film and then tapered down to include supposedly crowd-pleasing segments. Over time, I decided to take up only those stories I love.”
Ghazi was a risk that paid off and Rana feels he’s in a unique position after Baahubali , free to do spectacle-like films or smaller niche films in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi or Malayalam. “This is what I always wanted. I didn’t set out to be a regular hero,” he says.
Did that approach also come from the realisation that he may not fit the bill of a conventional hero? “Initially, a few people who couldn’t get Prabhas on board would approach me because we both have that tall physique. These stories were formulaic, not what I was looking for.”
Street theatre, history, myth inspired fantasy, a submarine war film, political thriller… he has tested a few genres and says he doesn’t want to be repetitive.
Over to 1945
Next up is director Sathyasiva’s Tamil-Telugu period film Madai Thiranthu ( 1945 in Telugu), a love story that blooms in the turbulent time when Subhash Chandra Bose was believed to be dead and members of Indian National Army were without a leader, but filled with rebellious angst: “Building around the love story, we’re going into as many details as we can. In the days of Madras Presidency, for instance, what was the connection with Burma that Tamilians and Telugus had? It was fascinating to learn through this story,” he says.
As we wind up, Rana reiterates, “Give me something new and I’ll do it with all my heart.”
(Look out for Nene Raju Nene Mantri 3D Augmented Reality (AR) posters in cinema halls. Download ‘Appstar’ application, scan the barcode on the poster and see Rana and Kajal come alive in front of you. Take a picture with the actors. Soon, new posters with the actors in different costumes will come up.)