NTR JR
Jr NTR Image Credit: Supplied

Fantasy epic ‘RRR’, starring Jr NTR and Ram Charan, has just entered the Rs1000 crore [Rs10 billion] club making it a box-office behemoth of all times. And its lead actor NTR Jr, who has shouldered the revolutionary tale robustly, is feeling a great sense of validation.

“I am very happy … My career will now be defined as ‘before RRR and after RRR’,” said Jr NTR in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

‘RRR’, now playing in the UAE cinemas in conventional and 3D format, is having a bullish run at the box office even in its third week of release. ‘RRR’ joins films such as ‘Dangal’, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, and ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’ who have all crossed the Rs10 billion mark. But it’s not the box office glory that makes Jr NTR tick, but the global acceptance that he has gained through this fantasy adventure.

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“As an actor I have always wanted to travel beyond languages. We are all separated through linguistics, but ultimately we all believe in drama … As an artist, I would love to explore and take risks,” said Jr NTR.

The film’s stupendous success also proves that a good story told in a riveting manner can never grow old. ‘RRR’ is the tale of two fictional revolutionaries set during the repressive British rule in India.

“When you see Rocky Balboa getting beaten in the ring or when the ship sinks in the ‘Titanic’, you feel those basic emotions. You are clenching your teeth or you feel your heartbreaking, and that’s the power of good stories,” said Jr NTR, born into a political dynasty.

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NTR Jr Image Credit: Supplied

It’s his sixth blockbuster in a row, but he claims there’s no recipe to a good film and he’s yet to come up with a concrete plan on what works in entertainment and what doesn’t.

“But my focus will be achieving as many audiences as I can and to take risks,” said Jr NTR.

Excerpts from our chat with Jr NTR as we talk about ‘RRR’, his childhood, and more …

‘RRR’s is a monstrous hit in the UAE box-office and worldwide. Do you feel gratified and a sense of validation about all your efforts being paid off?

A: Do you know what the first biggest satisfaction for an actor is? It’s knowing that your audience and your director who gave you the role is appreciating you. The reviews come next, and then comes the box-office success for an actor. I am more than happy and I just want to render my gratitude towards Rajamouli. He trusted me and felt I could do justice to the character he wrote for me. In my eyes, it’s the reviews and the acceptance from the audience that counts. I personally feel that it’s not an actor’s job to keep tabs on its box-office numbers. It’s the producers’ work, but when you see such numbers adding up, you can’t help but feel very happy. We are more than elated including the theatre owners, the exhibitors, the producers, and the entire team to witness the glory that the movie is achieving. This film’s success gives us that extra boost to make better films and make bigger films. It feels wonderful and I am just out of words.

You played the gentle giant Bheem in this film with great conviction. Do you think the rich characters helped the movie become a mammoth success?

Rajamouli wanted to really focus on the characterisations. He wanted to show Bheem as this guy who can catch a 700 kg adult tiger with his bare hands. But while he could capture the animal, he immediately apologises to the tiger and that’s my introductory scene. He’s mightier than the tiger, but his humility is also underlined in that scene. While he may rule the forests, you realise that when he lives in the city with humans he becomes vulnerable. He’s a tribal from the northern part of Telengana … Rajamouli is amazing at adding those extra touches to every character. For example, in the scene in which he is eating food, you realise his childlike mentality about trusting people … There’s also this heartbreaking scene where he learns the ways of humans and society. You can feel his vulnerability there. And that’s where big connect came from.

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Jr NTR in that iconic scene in 'RRR' Image Credit: Supplied

With the stupendous success of ‘RRR’, do you feel you are being embraced by Bollywood movie fans other than your South Indian fan base too? Do you feel less alien?

We didn’t dub and we spoke in Hindi in our own voices in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience … Luckily, many films of mine have been dubbed in Hindi so the question of being alien to them didn’t arise … Also, Rajamouli insisted on us lending our own voices to express ourselves better and people without any prejudice have opened their hearts to us. They related to our drama. And what helped was my dubbed movies. Let me give you an example: my movie called ‘Janatha Garage’ was dubbed into Hindi when it released [in 2016] and telecasted on Star TV. It did the biggest TRPs back then. Its success in the dubbed version gave me some extra confidence and at no point was I worried about whether I will be accepted by them or not. Plus, movies like ‘Baahubali’ and ‘Pushpa’ have done phenomenal business too. People have big hearts. Sometimes, we have these inhibitions and barriers in our minds. But the success of Rajamouli’s 'Baahubali' indicates that here is a person who has broken and erased those imaginary boundaries among regional films in India. We are now a big chunk called the Indian film industry.

 Director Rajamouli described you as a talented artist with a computer brain that can process the minutest details … Is that a good thing for an actor remember and never forget?

I believe you are a part of this nature. I often think of how a tree accepts the good and the bad around it. There’s a lot of acceptance there … I don’t believe there’s a systemic manner to learn acting. How can an actor place himself into a situation in a movie which he hasn’t ever been in? And that’s where his exposure comes in. As an actor, the more you are exposed, the more you can do justice to any role.

Tollywood actors NT Rama Rao Jr and Ram Charan with director SS Rajamouli pose for a picture as they celebrate the box office success of the movie 'RRR', in Mumbai on Thursday.
Jr NTR (Right) along with Ram Charan and director Rajamouli (centre)

Did you always want to be an actor?

Absolutely not. Being NTR’s grandson exposed me to a lot of things. My mom really wanted me to learn classical dance and therefore I became a classical dancer. She wanted me to learn some sort of sport, so I started playing badminton. I played badminton on a National level in India and I performed around the world as a dancer. But I never thought I will end up as an actor. I was 17 back then when I plunged into acting and I didn’t know anything back then. It was the first time I was facing the camera and hearing the word ‘action’. I didn’t know whether I wanted to be an actor, but by the time I realised I wanted to be one, my career was going down a steep hill. I had massive blockbuster when I didn’t know anything about acting or the industry. At that point, I just went in and did my thing. But the more I wanted to act, the more I saw my career going on a downward spiral. During the steep fall, I realised how much I yearned to be an actor and how acting gave me incredible happiness. It felt like I was coming home. Acting was never about the result but the journey. Acting became a weapon to win people’s hearts … Acting became the medium of expression for me to reach my audience … A movie called ‘Temper’ was that film that helped me move out of my comfort zone. I am just an accidental actor who began wanting more as time went by.

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Jr NTR in 'RRR' Image Credit: Supplied

You seemed to have followed your mother’s wishes quite a bit … Do you ever think about doing it differently?

There’s this beautiful dialogue from ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and I love it. Oogway says:‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.’ I can relate to that dialogue so much. The past is gone and you have no idea what’s happening in the future. So it’s your present that’s important and which is in your hands. So in my eyes, every moment is important and I live for the present. I don’t want to dig my past or predict my future.

“It was very difficult to pull off that scene. Bheem is a giant, but Tarek is no giant … I had to keep running like that for six or seven hours a day. It was a tough sequence to pull off. But Rajamouli demanded us to be very fit and that helped in pulling off a scene like that.”

- Jr NTR on carrying Ram Charan on his shoulders during the climax of 'RRR'