Telugu superstars NT Rama Rao Jr and Ram Charan were acutely aware that if ‘Baahubali’ director SS Rajamouli were to direct them, then they have to submit body and soul to his vision.
There’s no middle-path, but they claim that they had no reservations on that front and were happy to surrender to Rajamouli.
This dynamic trio go a long way back and have immense faith and respect in each other. In 2001, NT Rama Rao Jr starred in Rajamouli’s feature debut ‘Student Number 1’, which was a stupendous success, while Ram Charan’s warrior epic ‘Magadheera’ in 2009 led by Rajamouli as a first-time director put Charan on the map as a formidable actor.
“When you work with a director like Rajamouli, you are pretty committed in your head … Imagine you have to delegate 65 nights straight for a 20-25 minute scene just before the interval … And that’s the commitment an actor needs to make for him,” said Rao Jr at a press conference in Dubai earlier this week. This is his 29th film, but ‘RRR’ meant that he had to undergo acting and training workshops for the first time in his career.
But at no point did they regret being a part of ‘RRR’, a multilingual epic about two mighty revolutionaries, out in UAE cinemas on March 24.
“We were very clear in our heads that we were going to be a part of something phenomenal called ‘RRR’! And we will be remembered for bringing back the lost glory of multi-starrers in Indian cinema,” said Rao Jr.
Extraordinary locations, arresting visual effects and gravity-defying stunt sequence also elevate the star vehicle.
Actor Ram Charan, son of legendary matinee idol Chiranjeevi, agrees and claims that he didn’t even listen to the script before jumping aboard the ‘RRR’ vehicle since he adored the director and had blind faith in him.
“It was a real honour working with Rajamouli. Working in a movie like ‘RRR’ is an once-in-a-lifetime experience and we all knew it,” said Charan.
A tale of two rebels with a worthy cause:
In the film, Charan and Rao Jr play larger-than-life freedom fighters Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem. Their rebellious journey against the colonial British and Nizam of Hyderabad are romanticised and juxtaposed in this visual spectacle. Their quest for liberty, their heightened social conscience, and their need to emancipate the downtrodden emanates from every pore of ‘RRR’.
Bollywood actors Alia Bhatt and Ajay Devgn are on call for an extended cameo, making it a Pan-India feature. Bhatt plays the role of an angelic Sita with fierce inner strength, while Devgn plays a valiant character. But how did Rajamouli manage to juggle all these actors and their notoriously fragile egos?
Ask any filmmaker and they will agree that shepherding a multi-starrer with actors of similar influence, talent, and star-power is a tough feat.
Most directors and producers shy away from multiple hero projects since balancing the actors’ ego, their screen-time, and their roles has to be dealt with delicately. But director Rajamouli, whose credit includes the box office monster hit ‘Baahubali’ franchise that crossed $330 million, didn’t shirk from the responsibility.
“I was fascinated by the idea of making a multi-starrer where you see two big heroes together on the screen … It was an exciting thought for a long time. After ‘Baahubali’ happened, it suddenly struck me that if I can bring two stars and two friends together, it will be a joy for the audience to watch. These two have a brotherly affection for each other,” said Rajamouli.
Enter thick friends and peers: NT Rama Rao Jr and Ram Charan. They are so close that they are each other’s secret keepers and have grown up together. Both belong to film dynasties and come from similar backgrounds making their bond sturdier. (When they were asked to talk about their friendship at the press conference, Rao Jr said what they share is too personal and close and wouldn’t want to talk about it flippantly to the press). But Charan does let in on who was a bigger rebel while growing up among the two.
“Tarak [as Rao Jr is fondly called] was a true rebel with a cause and that’s why I love him … And I am that unseen rebel, while he’s my teacher,” quipped Charan.
Rajamouli's biggest fans:
But they are more than happy to talk about their mentor and idol Rajamouli, whom they feel has grown since their earlier projects together.
“He’s become hungrier and thirstier … Thanks to Rajmouli, we have raised the boundaries of regional films. Today, I am not endorsing ‘RRR’ as a regional film but as Indian film … All because he has this vision of showing the world that there are no boundaries. He’s in a complete beast mode because he wants to bigger, better stories … He’s hungry to put all his ideas in front of the world,” said Rao Jr, calling him ‘a perfectionist who will never settle for 99.9 per cent’.
“He will beg, bite and kill us if needed,” he added with a laugh.
Charan goes a step further calling Rajamouli his mentor, rather than his father who has ruled the Telugu film scene for several decades.
“My father had brought me in such a way that I knew nothing about the industry or the awards … There were no traces of filming or acting in my home. He never told me how to act in my first film … He didn’t say anything when I asked him what I could do to be better. He wanted me to have my own journey. But when I did my second film ‘Magadheera’, it all changed,” said Charan. In the warrior epic ‘Magadheera’, Rajamouli assumed the role of his much-needed mentor.
“He’s like my headmaster or a dean of my college. I learned so much from working with him. He’s a master storyteller. He’s my guru. I don’t how my dad would feel, but he taught me everything,” said Charan. While they are unanimous in the way they feel towards their ‘RRR’, Rajmouli claims that as actors they have contrasting qualities. While he describes Rao Jr as a ‘super computer’ with an ability to absorb every detail around him, Charan comes onto a set like a ‘blank canvas’.
“They have changed over the years since I worked with them. Their maturity levels have increased, their naughtiness has come down a little. Tarak is like a sponge who absorbs everything around him … When I narrate a scene, I notice his brain already in functioning mode. I know everything around him. He’s a complete joy to observe,” said Rajamouli. But the way he handles Charan and his scenes are different. Apparently, watching Charan in ‘Rangasthalam’ made him realise that he was going to be directing a ‘phenomenal actor’.
“‘Magadheera’ was our biggest film together … But ‘Rangasthalam’ — I was completely blown away. I felt I didn’t know that Charan! But when he came to the sets of ‘RRR’ he was like a complete white canvas. He un-clutters his mind. I cannot do that. But he surprised me as an actor. With Tarak I knew what I would get, with him I was often surprised,” said Rajamouli.
While they are a sturdy unit, the stakes of ‘RRR’ are mammoth. Made on a reported budget of Rs4 billion, it’s one of the most ambitious projects to roll out in 2022. Inspired by ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ — a tale about Argentina’s Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s legendary gap year — Rajamouli felt that there were many ‘coincidences’ between this revolutionary martyr and his heroes. But he warns us that the story of ‘RRR’ is pure fiction.
“They were all in their 20s and they left their houses … They all started this movement against their oppressors … It was a fantastic reminder that the spirit of freedom fighters around the world remains the same,” said Rajamouli.
The movie has been made in three languages — Hindi, Telugu and Tamil — and the lead actors haven’t used dubbing artists to maintain authenticity. They claim their common goal was to make a riveting story minus any petty rivalry.
“I don’t look at a film in terms of how to balance the actors or stars …. I just look at how interesting our story can be … I am only concerned about making the audience empathise with them equally … So I won’t add a stunt scene to appease a talent … It’s the story that we are slaves to, not stars ... A story has to connect emotionally and that’s all that matters,” said Rajamouli.
Don’t miss it!
‘RRR’ is out in the UAE cinemas on March 24
“When you watch a movie like ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and you see an Iron Man dying, you don’t need to have a language to communicate that grief or have tears in your eyes ... Even a viewer from the remotest region in India will cry during that scene ... It shows the greatness of the story and the story-teller ... And that shows that a good story told well never goes waste,” NT Rama Rao Jr.