SS Rajamouli
SS Rajamouli Image Credit: Phars Films

To the outside world, Indian auteur SS Rajamouli of colossal hit franchise ‘Baahubali’ fame appears to be the paragon of ambition and grit. His string of signature films that artfully blend fantasy, folklore and romance have only made that impression stronger. But in his own eyes, the maverick director, who has fuelled some of India’s biggest visually stunning epics, doesn’t identify with such broad strokes.

“I am constantly scared … I am scared if I will be able to get what I have in my mind and those pent-up emotions, exactly onto the big screen. I am constantly wondering if I am getting it right to the fullest extent or if I am giving it my 100 per cent or not. The fear is constantly there,” said Rajamouli in an interview with Gulf News.

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Prabhas and Anushka Shetty in ‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’. Image Credit: Supplied

This diminutive and soft-spoken director behind staggering epics claims it’s that innate fear that drives him forward.

“So brave is not the word for me either,” said Rajamouli with a laugh. Perhaps, we should go with the word ‘modest’ then?

Rajamouli, who is gearing up for his new film ‘RRR’ starring Ram Charan and Jr NTR, is undoubtedly one of India’s most innovative and inventive filmmakers. In his career’s most outlandish film ‘Eega’, Rajamouli made a movie about a housefly who wreaks havoc and vengeance on those who wronged him.

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A still from SS Rajamouli's 'Eega' Image Credit: Supplied

“When I made that film ‘Eega’ in Telugu, ‘Eecha’ in Malayalam, and ‘Makki’ in Hindi, it was a crazy film about a housefly … People were laughing at me back home. Nobody knew who I was back then and I was going from one place to the other trying to sell the movie … But taking my films to Indians across the world took years of hard work … With every film I was trying to push beyond the borders,” Rajamouli said. There was a time when his ideas were widely mocked and met with incredulity. But he learned to power through that phase too. With every film that he made, people began taking his vision seriously.

“I am now in a position where they will listen to me … I have created an audience who will listen to me, but that doesn’t mean they are going to like each and every film of mine. I had to work on every film like how I did with my first one … And, it’s not like one day you suddenly decide to make a Pan-India film either,” said Rajamouli.

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Director SS Rajamouli

While this Telugu-speaking filmmaker is stoically pragmatic, his movies are dreamy spectacles that are mammoth in scale and spirit. The first and second instalment of ‘Baahubali’, starring Prabhas, had a simple story at its core after you wade through the special-effects laden fantasy adventure and epic battle scenes. In an earlier interview with AFP, the filmmaker claimed it was a simple story of ‘a father who has been back-stabbed, a mother who has been enchained for no wrong of hers and the story of a son who takes revenge.’

“My films are mostly on universal emotions that connect to everyone … But it’s not like I am gravitating towards such big films in my mental space. I have always liked larger-than-life stories. They move and excite me emotionally and I want to give that excitement to my audiences.”

His good vs evil films are invariably steeped in Indian mythology where strong and scrupulous warriors take on evil emperors. There are also beautiful queens and princess’ tangents woven into his mythological adventures. If the West gets their superhero fix from Marvel, the movie-mad Indian have begun turning to Rajamouli for their fantasy adventure shot.

“There’s nothing wrong with doing what the West is doing, but as a storyteller I am comforted and excited by Indian culture, Indian emotions, and Indian way of storytelling … Everyone should choose their own path and do whatever that excites them,” he said. And he doesn’t let expectations or pressure get to him. After ‘Baahubali’s’ bombastic box-office earnings, all eyes are on his new film ‘RRR’, out in UAE cinemas on March 24. Rajamouli lets us in on a secret.

“Once my film is done, I try to completely delete it from my system and start afresh. The memories and that love for the film will remain, but I don’t carry the pressure of my previous film into my next film. The audience’s expectations strengthen me and they don’t pressurise me at all,” said Rajamouli.

‘RRR’ — which is tipped to be a battle of two superheroes with Alia Bhatt’s cameo as a genteel presence — is one of the biggest Indian movies to be rolled out after the COVID-19 pandemic struck the globe. According to the filmmaker, ‘RRR’ was 70 per cent complete before the first wave hit India. The multiple delays in release owing to the closure of cinemas to ensure safety amidst the pandemic didn’t frustrate him either.

A poster of RRR
A poster of RRR Image Credit: Supplied

“We need to learn our lessons from what happened. I feel it’s nature’s way of saying: ‘Hello boss, stop for a moment, check what you’re doing with your life, re-evaluate yourself and then move on! … We were almost through with the film but we had to stop when the entire world stopped.”

He used that time to fine-tune his film and unlike most filmmakers and stars he isn’t worried about his new film becoming outdated or irrelevant.

“If your film is based on emotions and human relations, it will always be relevant at any point in history or era … We are all human beings with emotions and that never changers even before or after the pandemic,” he said.

And what’s he like on the sets? Is he a notorious task master like Bollywood’s Sanjay Leela Bhansali?

“I tend to give instructions on what they need to do, how they have to move, how fast or how slow they need to move. I tell them what I want … so 80 per cent I will tell them what I need them to do,” he said. The rest he leaves it to his chosen talents and fate.

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Director Rajamouli on the sets of his movie

“The external circumstances like the pandemic is not in my hands … If I have an issue with CG [computer graphics] for example, I might get frustrated because it’s my job to get it right and I have to find solutions,” he added. “But I have learned not to get flustered by anything else.”

He isn’t worried about offending anyone either in today’s woke and cancel culture through his films.

“If someone gets offended by what we make then it is coming from that side. I don’t have any control over it. And my I don’t think anyone any filmmakers’ intention will be to hurt someone … It completely goes against the whole formula of entertainers. We just want to impress and not offend,” Rajamouli said.

The Karnataka-born director remembers how his love for storytelling was triggered when his father, veteran director and screenwriter Vijayendra Prasad, took him to his local library and ignited an interest in reading voraciously.

“My exposure came from the books that I read in my town library and when my father introduced me to Amarchitrakatha [Indian fables]. My creativity and my sense of drama originated from there.”

Don’t miss it!

‘RRR’ releases in UAE cinemas on March 24.