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Rana Daggubati. Image Credit: Supplied

Indian actor Rana Daggubati, who plays an eco-warrior in his new Man Vs Nature film ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, believes that working on the project made him prepared for COVID-19 and taught him that you don’t need creature comforts to lead a peaceful life.

“This movie prepared me for a new world order where you have to just learn to be one with nature and live with it peacefully,” said Daggubati over a video call over Zoom with Gulf News.

“Today, the biggest threat to us human race is climate change … It can just come and snatch you out of the window in one shot. Thanks to the lockdown, all of us have to understand that if nature decides and takes a toll, then we can’t do anything except sit at home quietly and not even meet the people we love … It has taught us restraint.”

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The actor is best known for playing the anti-hero in the hit fantasy franchise ‘Baahbubali’. Image Credit: Supplied

The towering actor, who’s best known for playing the anti-hero in the hit fantasy franchise ‘Baahbubali’, was keen to experiment with roles and this animal adventure presented him with that perfect opportunity.

“When you do a character that’s so iconic as mine in ‘Baahubali’, it’s hard for viewers to get that image out of their heads … But they can do it only if I look like someone else altogether. If you put these two characters next to each other, there’s no comparison. In ‘Baahubali’, I played a mean king and he’s the worst guy ever. But in ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, I play the best guy who’s so noble. The fun part of being an actor is that you can play roles that are poles apart,” said Dagubatti. His film tackles sticky issues such as land encroachment, capitalist greed and forest conservation.

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Rana Daggubati channels his inner Mowgli for 'Haathi Mere Saathi'. Image Credit: Supplied

As ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, which is out now in the UAE, here are seven things to know about his new film …

1. Directed by Prabhu Solomon, actor Rana Daggubati will channel his inner Mowgli and stoke your inner environmentalist in his new film where he plays a fierce eco-warrior who protects his beloved animals in the jungle.

In an interview with Gulf News, Daggubati describes his new venture as a movie that shines the spotlight on the importance of forest conservation and land encroachment fuelled by capitalist greed. So does he fear the jumbo-sized animals stealing his thunder?

“We have made a film about animals and it’s their story. I want their thunder to be heard and I am just riding the wheel here … We wanted to create a movie that’s animal-relevant and real …. We went right into the jungles and shot with 18 elephants in Thailand. What you see are real animals. There are no visual effects, but it’s the real deal,” said Daggubati.

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Image Credit: Supplied

2. The ‘Baahubali’ star shot extensively in real jungles of Thailand and Kerala in South India. But at first, he spent weeks getting to know the elephants in their habitats.

“Here’s what I have learnt. If you get close enough and train well enough around them, they would accept you as one of them and as a part of their jungle … I spent a good week spending small chunks of time — like an hour in the morning and later in the evening — at first to get to know them in the animal park. Then I increased it to half a day … We need to figure out we need to behave around them. It was a very difficult film to do. The jungles we shot in also had snakes, scorpions, and all that you can imagine. We were very cautious.”

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Image Credit: Supplied

3. Just getting to the location of the shoot in the jungle was a Herculean task. There were no fancy vanity vans parked or plush hotels that they could stay in.

“We stayed at a forest guesthouse and it took us an hour-plus drive to the location spot. The base camp is where I got ready to look like my character. Then our heads would wobble in a four-wheel drive for the next 45 minutes to get to the filming spot. We were mostly in mid-jungle during the shoot,” said Daggubati.

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Image Credit: Supplied

4. Dagubatti went through a dramatic transformation for this film.

“In ‘Baahubali’, I had to be huge because that character is the king of the biggest kingdom and he had to be bigger than anything that came his way. I had to look the part to feel and play it. I trained for five years just training, lifting weights and becoming bigger and bigger for ‘Baahubali’,” said Daggubati. ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’ was offered to him post-’Baahubali’s’ stupendous success.

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Image Credit: Supplied

5. He almost failed the look test for ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’.

“I am eager to put my reject ‘look-test’ for this film. Prabhu [director] took one look at me and said that I did not look like a guy who would stick in a jungle. In my head, I feared if he would take me out of the film after the daylong look test. Then, he showed me the picture of Charlton Heston in ‘The Ten Commandments’ in which he played Moses and told me if I become lean I might look like this guy. He had a clear vision of me looking like Moses from ‘The Ten Commandments’ … But during the look test, I looked like I was someone who ate eight meals a day,” said Daggubati with a laugh.

But the challenge of becoming lean didn’t faze Daggubati. He was always up for the challenge to dramatically transform himself for art.

“I push to extreme limits for a role … Now, that’s the fun part of being an actor. I don’t want to do the same thing again and again. With that big body and muscles, I will only get to do action stuff, holding guns and fancy weapons. And my range stops there. But I am up for doing versatile roles.”

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Daggubati says he is always up for the challenge to dramatically transform himself for art. Image Credit: IANS

6. ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’ says his transformation for the movie was all worth it and the film touched his heart in many ways.

“I realised that you don’t need a lot in life to be content and happy … Here’s me playing a man who has a great life, living in the jungles. He is with the animals, he eats what’s around him and is happy until a man encroaches his peaceful existence and tries to demolish his peace. Building concrete walls in a jungle isn’t the way to go … Every film of mine has taught me something. But this film changed me as a person,” he said.

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7. Daggubati claims ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, also starring Pulkit Samrat and Shriya Pilgaonkar, will take viewers on an animal adventure.

“We have tried to recreate the entire experience of a rainforest right like you would have earlier seen in documentaries … Imagine, you can witness 18 elephants in their habitat and all they want is for you to listen to their story. It’s a story from their point of view,” he said.

Don’t miss it!

‘Haathi Mere Saathi’ is out in UAE cinemas now.