Once again, SS Rajamouli and his team are all set to bring back the magic on the screens with their upcoming magnum opus ‘RRR’, starring the two powerhouse performers of the South, Ram Charan and Jr NTR. As the film inches towards its release, we caught up with the man himself to know more about the film. In an EXCLUSIVE free-wheeling conversation with ETimes, SS Rajamouli spoke about how the idea of making ‘RRR’ came to his mind, who his biggest critic is, the film’s release date amidst Omicron emergence and much more. Excerpts:
After treating the audience to an out-and-out fictional film like ‘Baahubali’, what made you weave a fictional story around two real characters?
That is the most exciting thing for me about ‘RRR’. We make biopics or we make fictional stories, so here I saw a fantastic chance because we have the rise of two characters which are running parallelly and in both of their lives, there is a period of time which no one knows about and it’s such a beautiful coincidence. And I thought, what if I can make a film on a fictional story in that timeline? That really fired me. I discussed it with my father, who is the story writer of the film, Vijayendra Prasad and he also thought it is fantastic. We both sat together and came up with ‘RRR’ and that is the most exciting part of the film for me.
After putting in a lot of hard work for this film, how excited and nervous are you for ‘RRR’?
I am super excited about the film and my nervousness starts once my work is done. And the small gap between my work being done and the release is the time when I have nervousness. But still, I have a little bit of work for the film to be done. So I am 1 percent or something away from that nervousness. So at present, I am excited. But as we near the release day, the anxiousness starts.
The audience has connected very differently with your last outing ‘Baahubali’, how sure are you that ‘RRR’ will create the same magic?
The reason why people connected to ‘Baahubali’ was (because) it has certain human emotions and moments to which people were attached. People remember those experiences and when they say, ‘We want another film like ‘Baahubali’,’ what they mean is that they need similar kinds of emotions and experiences. So what makes me confident about ‘RRR’ is the same thing. I have the same kind of human emotions, if not more. And more cinematic moments that will connect to the audiences, and that makes me feel confident about the film. The magic will be different but there will be magic.
What parameters do you keep in mind while finalising characters for your film?
It is the script that demands. Like for ‘RRR’, once we finalised the script for the film, there were numerous action sequences and also scenes which have lots of emotions running through them. So I wanted actors who can be at the top of their physical condition, not only their ability to perform well but the strong emotions that the script demanded. So I have Ram (Ram Charan) and Bheem (Tarak), who fit the bill perfectly. So that’s why I went for them. Same with Ajay sir (Ajay Devgn) and Alia (Alia Bhatt). The character of Ajay sir is the soul of the film. He has to contain a lot of emotions and express them with his eyes. There should be honesty in his face, in the character and I found the answer in Ajay Devgn sir. And in Alia, I wanted a very soft, fragile, glass-like doll but actually, she is not like that at all. She is a diamond. She is so strong that she can contain the two super forces and bring them together. The script demanded those actors and I went for them.
Who is the director’s actor? Ram Charan, Jr NTR, Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt or Shriya Saran
All of them are director’s actors but their approach towards acting is entirely different. If (I have) to compare between Tarak and Charan, Tarak remembers everything, he remembers lines, all the conversations we had before, he will remember every narration that I gave to him and by the time, he comes to the shot, he is already fixed what he has to deliver and I don’t need to tell him. And 9 out of 10 times, I don’t need to tell him, correct him. He just delivers whatever that is needed. While with Charan it’s entirely different. He keeps his mind completely clutter-free, he becomes a white paper, clean slate. He comes to me and says, ‘Here I am, here is the pen, you write whatever you want on me, you make me do whatever you want to.’ And he does it to perfection. So the actor’s approach is different but the end result is the same. The same goes with Ajay sir and Alia, they understand what the director wants and they deliver it.
Who is your biggest critic?
My whole family. They are ruthless critics, absolutely ruthless. They don’t show any mercy even though I am their father, their son, their husband, brother (laughs), they show no mercy in ripping apart my films if they don’t like anything. They are the harshest and no one even comes close to them. But again, they are my strength. I learn from them as they lead me in the right directions
The trailer of the movie looks amazing with a lot of action scenes and emotional drama. So will terming Rajamouli films as hardcore actioners that have a lot of violence be correct?
Yes, violence is part of my storytelling but not in a negative way. Each and everything, whether it is violence, softness, or any kind of emotion, I like to call myself a magnifying glass. I like to enhance my emotions. And I feel the same kind of emotion will enhance much more if you have action, if it has something just running around, It will just explode. It gives a larger-than-life effect. So that is my way of storytelling. That is how I like to see films, that is how I like to make films.
We can see Ramayana’s glimpse in the trailer of ‘RRR’. Is the story of Alluri Sitaram Raju, Bheem, and Sita influenced by it?
I am heavily influenced by Ramayana and Mahabharata and all my stories are influenced by these two epics. I read them as a child, I read them as a youngster. Then and now I keep reading the portions again and again. There is emotion in the world that doesn’t exist in those two epics. Because I am fed so much with those epics, whatever comes out of me has to have some kind of influence from them and that’s inevitable and I am proud of it.
Any anecdotes you would like to share, a memory that will remain with you forever?
There are so many memories associated with the film. We worked for 300 days for this film over three years. So there are bound to be so many memories and experiences that will remain with me for the rest of my life. What I would like to remember is, just to pick one in the case is the commitment that my actors had. On the second day of the shoot, I put them on ropes and I was swinging them 60 feet into the air. For the interval sequence, we were shooting for 65 nights, with temperatures going as low as 4 to 5 degrees, and with the water, they were freezing. There are hundreds of actors, fighters, technicians and everything but the commitment they had, that was fantastic! They never ever asked me, ‘How many hours are you going to shoot more?’ They just kept on delivering. So that is one thing I will take with me even after ‘RRR’.
‘RRR’ is your fourth association with Jr NTR, so how has this long association been? And anything you want to say about Ram Charan?
It was great. I mean more than an actor, he is a friend, he is like my brother. We have a long association and we have long talks apart from films about so many other topics. But if you ask me as a director, he has matured immensely. He was a bundle of talent right from the beginning but now he realised how he has to channelise his strength. Talking about Charan, again he has lots of talent but what I realise is he is like Hanuman. He doesn’t know his strength. I would do a fantastic shot of him, I will be having goosebumps looking at his performance and he comes to check the monitor and I get up and hug him or say some nice words, he looks at the monitor and says, ‘Are you happy? Is the scene okay?’ And I am like, ‘What the hell are you saying! Can’t you see what you have done!’ But again he will say, ‘If you are happy then I am happy.’ That’s what I am saying, he doesn’t know that he is a good actor and that is Ram for me. Even in my film.
In the promotional event that happened in Mumbai, you revealed that there is a scene in the film that will make the audience’s heart beat faster and they will forget to breathe. Can you tell us what that is all about?
No, I cannot reveal that (chuckles). Usually, filmmakers try not to reveal the story of the film but I am quite the opposite. First of all, I will tell the story, what is the premise, what they can expect through the interviews or even in the trailer itself. Because I feel the audience should know what they are expecting when they are buying a ticket. Whatever they are paying, they should know what they are going to see and still, I should be able to surprise them. So that is a surprise element, let it be.
After a long delay, the film is releasing in January next year. However, with the emergence of Omicron, is this a wise decision to release the film as scheduled?
We are all set to release the film across the world, in thousands of theatres on January 7th as scheduled. I think about the problems that are in my hand, that I can solve. COVID, pandemic, or Omicron or whatever are things that are not in our hands, that are in nature’s hand. If nature says stop, we have to stop. If it says pause, we have to pause and if it says play, we have to play. So I won’t worry about things which are not in my hand.
Has the budget of the film increased because of the pandemic? Is this a bigger-budget movie than ‘Baahubali’?
Yes, it has increased. When we are spending hundreds of crores and when the whole world stops for the pandemic, the interest rates won’t stop, they keep continuing. So the budgets increase. Because when the film is for three years, the cost of production will increase, the material will increase from year to year. So the budget has increased but that’s fine!. And yes, the budget has exceeded ‘Baahubali’.