He plays a swashbuckling hero with mighty arms in the epic fantasy blockbuster Baahubali, but Telugu superstar Prabhas comes across as a gentle giant in real life.
Dressed in a nondescript monochromatic black shirt and jeans, the tall actor makes a quiet entry into a room of journalists gathered in Abu Dhabi.
There’s no entourage milling around him or the usual trappings accompanying a superstar such as a boy waiting with a mirror and comb nearby, but Prabhas who has been filming the ambitious tri-lingual feature Saaho in the UAE capital for the last three weeks is eager to let us in on what he has been up to.
“Saaho is a high-paced action thriller with a bit of drama in it. They [TwoFour54, the media company that facilitated the shoot] stopped the traffic, gave us the best roads and the best buildings. We will come back again,” said Prabhas in a round table interaction with local journalists. Around 250 crew members have been hard at work in Abu Dhabi for more than a month to capture a string of gravity-defying stunts led by Hollywood stunt director Kenny Bates.
“Kenny always had a plan. Two years back, they came here for recce [pre-filming visit to check out the suitability of a region for filming] as he knew it is not easy to get the bridges, roads, infrastructure to do those stunts. He wanted to do everything live. In Saaho, 90 per cent of the stunts is real. He wanted to do everything live,” said Prabhas excitedly.
His typical day in Abu Dhabi at work involved watching cars and trucks burn and explode in adrenalin-charged action set sequences. Expect a fleet of dazzling souped-up cars and chases that will propel you to suspend believability in Saaho, which is expected to release sometime next year.
“We crashed 28 cars and five trucks … It was amazing to watch because he wanted everything real, not CG. Saaho was shot in a real manner and it’s something new in a long time … I even rode a bike super fast” said Prabhas excitedly. Prabhas, the actor who has taken several gambles in his career including famously setting aside several years of his life for director S.S Rajamouli’s epic fantasy film Baahubali. So does he ever feel the pressure to outdo Baahubali’s success with Saaho?
“Baahubali is a once-in-a-lifetime experience … There is pressure because suddenly you are no longer popular in just one state, but the whole country. Even in Japan, Baahubali was a bit hit … So every day we are just trying our best and we are trying to pull off one of the biggest action sequences the world has ever seen.”
Prabhas, who is known for his muscular build, sports a leaner look in Saaho. The actor revealed that he embarked on a fitness regime and diet that included a lot of cardio-intensive workouts and eliminated carbohydrates from his food.
“For Baahubali, I gained eight or nine kilos for the warrior look. But for Saaho, I didn’t need look like that,” said Prabhas. His cheat meal?
“Shawarmas which are so famous here was on my list … It was amazing,” said Prabhas with a laugh.
Directed by Sujeeth, Saaho is a tri-lingual feature that is being simultaneously filmed in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi. Prabhas, who knows how to read and write Hindi, found the Bollywood portions challenging. In his signature self-effacing style, Prabhas tells us that his accent had to be polished to make his Hindi-speaking skills look natural.
“We have the South Indian slang [accent]. It’s a big problem, but I got help,” said Prabhas, who added that it was tiring to film the same scene in three languages at the same time.
While speaking Hindi was an uphill task, Prabhas took solace in the collective fabulousness of his Bollywood colleagues who play pivotal roles in Saaho. Actress Shraddha Kapoor and actors Neil Nitin Mukesh and Jackie Shroff are a part of the action-filled ensemble drama.
“All the characters in this film have an important role to play. The story is bigger than any of us and we are connected in different way. Each character doesn’t just come and go, because everyone has memorable parts to play. For instance, Shraddha doesn’t just come for a song, she play an important character. She’s one of the biggest assets and the story is narrated from her point of view,” said Prabhas.
After making his debut in 2002, Prabhas has become one of the biggest cultural exports of the Telugu film industry. But the actor is still keen on taking risks and isn’t averse to reinvent his larger-than-life silver-screen persona.
“It’s not just macho roles. I am going to start filming a pure love story that is likely to be shot in Europe. … After Baabhubali, I know it is not easy to make people sit up and watch us … But with Saaho we are trying something so new.”
Prabhas, who counts the Bollywood cult music Sholay and Salman Khan’s Dabang as his all-time favourites when it comes to action and drama, believes that the script is the biggest hero in a project.
“My next film which is a love story is an example of how the script is the ultimate hero. It’s not me or the other characters, but the story that makes people love a film and remember them.”
While he has figured a few things out about the world of movies, Prabhas claims he is not big on giving advice to youngsters on how to crack the entertainment industry.
“Baahubali was a film that was never done before. Rajamouli sir was my biggest inspiration because he lives in the smallest house and drives the smallest cars, but he makes the biggest films ever. He taught me the art of analysing your own strengths and I take inspiration from him. He’s an example of someone who develops an idea and perfects it into its best version.”
His Baahubali director also taught him life-lesson that he would remain in his hearts forever. Noble intentions are worth its weight in gold.
“We made Baahubali with pure intentions. It taught us that we might be remembered for the rest of our lives if we do something with good intentions in our hearts … Right now, I am the happiest man on earth.”
“It’s my first Ramadan shooting in Abu Dhabi. I didn’t know all the rules. At first, we got a bit worried but it was not very difficult to shoot during Ramadan.”
“If not films, maybe I will do agriculture.” Prabhas when asked what he would be if not an actor.
Did you know?
*Prabhas counts director Raju Hirani as one of the most talented filmmakers in Bollywood.
*Prabhas is a quick shopper and cannot spend more than an hour in a shopping mall. He is an impulsive shopper who prefer speed over details.
*Prabhas loves playing volleyball on white sands and loves to unwind outdoors watching films in his home theatre system.