Lessons Friday Review

On a warrior mode

Actor Rana Daggubati

Actor Rana Daggubati   | Photo Credit: arranged

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Rana Daggubati talks about the challenges of acting in two historicals, the genre’s revival and lessons from his late grandfather.

A mainstream lead actor, one expects, wears the best clothes and shakes a leg, romances, indulges in comedy and does stunts. It’s been a little over two years, Rana Daggubati discloses, since he has done a comic sequence or sported smart trousers and shirt on screen. He’s been doing loads of action for two period films — Rudhramadevi and Baahubali. With his work for the former and the part one of the latter complete, he’s enjoying a breather before he begins shooting for the Tamil remake of the Malayalam hit Bangalore Days, in which he will reprise Fahad Faasil’s role. Rana chuckles, “I’ve been watching rom-coms to get out of this historical mode.”

On a leisurely, balmy afternoon at his residence, he talks about these much-awaited period films, where he stands after 10 years in the industry and lessons he learnt from his grandfather, late D. Ramanaidu.

In December 2012, soon after the release of Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum, Rana signed both Rudhramadevi and Baahubali. “In January 2013, I began training. For six to eight months, I was only training — I had to bulk up. We had fighters from Vietnam who came down and trained me, Prabhas and others. I could apply what I learnt — horse riding, chariot riding, fighting with swords and other weapons — to both films,” he says.

First up for release is Rudhramadevi by director Gunasekhar, which narrates the journey of a girl to a queen. “Two men played an important part in her life. One is Chalukya Veerabhadra (played by Rana), a prince of a neighbouring kingdom who falls in love with her, marries her, helps her in the war and reinstates her as the queen of the kingdom. The other is bandit Gona Ganna Reddy (Allu Arjun),” says Rana.

A piece of history

Rudhramadevi’s cast also includes Nithya Menen. “The reason why actors like me, Arjun or Nithya, who otherwise play main leads, are doing pivotal parts is because it’s a chapter from history. Rudhramadevi doesn’t deviate from the real story that took place in Warangal, whereas Rajamouli’s Baahubali is fiction,” he says.

Working on two period films at the same time had its benefits and challenges. If he could apply the physical training for both, he had to have different body language for the two characters. Chalukya Veerabhadra is a prince with a heart of gold, whereas Bhallala Devain Baahubali is menacing. To make things tricky, the Baahubali team was simultaneously shooting the Telugu and Tamil versions. “I can speak Tamil, but this film required us to speak ‘senthamizh’, staying true to the period. Writer Madan Karky helped us. We went by Rajamouli’s guidance for the Telugu version,” he recalls.

The team has completed part 1 of Baahubali and nearly 50 per cent of the second. “About 15 to 18 companies across the world are doing the visual effects. Shots are sent to Korea, US and China. If we don’t like how a shot is done, we ask them to redo it, which takes say, 20 more days. That’s why the release is taking time,” says Rana. The first part is expected later this summer.

For two years, Rana watched war films and brushed up on history. “We haven’t been making historicals, especially war films. I can only remember classics featuring NTR in Telugu and the ones featuring Sivaji Ganesan in Tamil, like Veerapandiya Kattabomman and Karna. We learnt history and mythology watching such films. Magadheera had some amount of that period look,” he says.

Growing up reading books on Mahabharata and tales narrated through Amar Chitra Katha, Rana rues, “Some of my younger cousins don’t know history even to the extent I know. They haven’t read these books. And mainstream cinema has done nothing on this front. I remember a song from Rajinikanth’s Kuselan which asks ‘how do we know what Veerapandiya Kattabomman or Krishna look like; we know because of films’. This is true. I don’t know how the real Alluri Sitarama Raju looked; I can remember actor Krishna in that role. When I think of lord Krishna, I can only imagine NTR,” says the actor, glad he is part of films that are reviving the historical genre.

He mulls over changing reading habits and confesses, “I used to seek out stuff and read. Today, when nearly everything is available online, I am not reading much. I wonder why.”

Once in a lifetime

In the prime of his career, when he could have done a bunch of films, did he ever wonder what he was doing in elaborate war costumes, dedicating 250 to 300 days for just the first part of Baahubali? “Of course, these thoughts came. But then, I doubt if a film like this will be made in the next 20 years. Baahubali has a budget of Rs. 180 to 200 crore and we aren’t even taking huge remuneration,” he says. All the actors went through intense workshops. “This helped us know what was required of us. In between we lost three to four months when Prabhas and me were injured,” he shares.

Rana feels these films will be gamechangers, each having war sequences with unique formations one has read only in books. The language, though, will not have lengthy monologues. “We kept in mind that we are speaking to a younger generation,” says Rana. The team also re-shot close-ups for Baahubali’s Hindi version to get the lipsync right.

Meanwhile, Rana sounds excited about Bangalore Days. “I loved the Malayalam film. Bhaskar ( Bommarillu) is directing the Tamil version and he understands these sensibilities. The original is 2 hours 45 minutes, we’ve trimmed it.” Rana is also listening to scripts. “For a while, writers and directors had forgotten about me and Prabhas because we were caught up with historicals. Now when I listen to scripts, I know I can’t get the high that I got through these films. If I come across an action film, I feel the action can’t get bigger than these films. It’s got to be a family drama or a romantic comedy,” he says. Rana refers to last year’s hits, diverse ones from Race Gurram to Karthikeya, Drishyam to Manam, and the recent Gopala Gopala and says, “It shows that people are tired of the standard template and there is acceptance for newer stories.”

He mentions that Patas was first offered to him. “I knew it would do well; but I was sporting beard and long hair and couldn’t suddenly cut my hair to look the part of a cop,” he says. Rana also featured in Neeraj Pandey’s Baby but says, “It wasn’t a light-hearted film and I had to play a tough character that speaks mostly in monologues.”

We mention that though it’s been only five years since he’s been an actor, he’s clocked in a decade in the industry, first as producer and then visual effects supervisor. “Gosh, has it been that long?” he asks, shocked, sits back and says, “I started at 19 and now I’m 30. So I’ve stuck on for a while. Not bad.”

Lessons from granddad

On the personal front, the passing away of his grandfather has been a blow and he’s still coming to terms with the loss. “We all live together and all my life, I haven’t seen death at close quarters to know how it would feel. Granddad was unwell so all of us made sure we were in town and not travelling. A day before he passed away, he went to office. When he went away, it was surreal,” recalls the actor.

For days, the house was filled with visitors paying homage to the legendary producer. “I learnt stories about him that I didn’t know before. A guy came, stood near granddad’s photo and cried. Each one at home thought the other knew him. Then my dad (Sureshbabu) learnt that he is a hockey player. When my granddad was an MP in the 90s, he had spotted this boy playing bare feet in Delhi, took him to a sports store and bought him shoes and hockey gear worth Rs. 9000. He also funded his education for many years. This hockey player, who was playing for a tournament in Malaysia, learnt of my grandfather’s death and came to pay respects. It’s remarkable how many such lives he might have touched.”

Rana mentions that he wakes up with dreams featuring Ramanaidu and still tip-toes across his room when he arrives late at night. “Then I realise he is not in the room any longer.”

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 8:09:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/rana-daggubati-on-a-warrior-mode/article7057707.ece

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