While the jaw-dropping success of Baahubali: The Conclusion has pleasantly surprised everyone, Rana Daggubati, who played the part of the menacing Bhallaldeva in the film, believed the movie was going to be grand ever since he heard its narration. In conversation with Shweta Kulkarni, the new villain of Indian cinema talks about his association with Indian’s biggest franchise and the way forward
As clichéd as this may sound, what is the high like to be part of a film like Baahubali: The Conclusion, which is not only winning the hearts of movie-goers in India and across the globe but also shattering records?
I feel a great sense of pride. I mean, five years ago, when we set out to make this film, we knew that we were making something that had not been done before. We were a regional company trying to make something that had not been attempted before on home ground. And we believed in the project, and went out with the belief that we were making good cinema.
Prabhas, me… I think everyone came forward to build this great vision that Rajamouli sir had. And it all came true. And it’s not the end, I believe that Baahubali: The Conclusion, in fact, is the beginning of bigger cinema in India, it is the start of more films like this.
While the team knew they were attempting something different, did you ever imagine the franchise would become so huge when you signed up for it?
Well, I knew one thing, for certain — whatever it would be, it would be the biggest that ever was. I mean, it’s not the numbers that I am talking about, I don’t think I operate according to them, but in terms of the sheer grandeur that the movie promised. I knew nobody had made cinema like this in our country… the aesthetics, the emotions, the drama, the characters… everything about the film appeared grand even when it was still on paper.
A film on this scale could have been a risk. At any point, were you apprehensive about doing the film, since you are also an antagonist in the movie?
No, there was never any apprehension before stepping in because I had faith in the script when I heard it. The producers first came to me, saying this was what Rajamouli sir had in mind and then he sent me the story. This was followed by a three-hour-long narration where he showed the world of Mahishmati. I was blown away with what he was trying to put together. At that point, he wanted this one big long film, and I was happy to be a part of it any which way. So I never had any doubts about doing the film.
Once on board, it was all about trying to figure out how to do our best. Like I said, we were trying to do something that had never been done before. We had nobody in the team who had done a war film before or had worked on cinema like this before. So it was a challenge to put it all together. I mean, every step was a challenge and that’s what everybody was thinking. But Rajamouli sir guided us well and it paid off. All those hurdles we crossed were well worth it.
How difficult was it to get into the skin of a character like Bhallaldeva, who has such a vicious energy?
I must admit it was physically taxing to play the character but that made Bhallaldeva all the more challenging. However, I would like to credit the writer of the film, K V Vijayendra Prasad, for crafting Bhallaldeva so perfectly and SS Rajamouli sir for turning him into an iconic villain. Bhallaldeva is a reflection of many mighty characters from Indian mythology, like Ravana, Duryodhan and others and we were happy to build our own.
During Baahubali, you also did other films like Baby and The Ghazi Attack. How did you maintain the difference between the characters? Were you able to get out of the Bhallaldeva zone easily or was that tough?
It wasn’t that tough, primarily because we didn’t know where it was ending. I first thought I would take a year or a year and half and do this film. That’s how it started but then it became three years, and we didn’t know what was going on. We had completed filming part one, a quarter of part two was also done by then. Then, when part one of Baahubali went for post, I started another film as it was taking a lot of time.
Then Ghazi came along, and the humungous victory of Baahubali: The Beginning happened during the filming of The Ghazi Attack. It was at that point that we realised that the movie had the strength and power to make even a greater part two. It was the love and success we received from part one that pushed us for part two. Coming back to your question, it was after finishing Ghazi that I moved back to Baahubali. So I did not shoot for both simultaneously.
Interestingly, you own a VFX company called Spirit Media and have even won an award as a visual effects producer for your film Sainikudu. Did you offer any inputs or suggestions for Baahubali?
No, we had top-of-the-line people doing special effects on this film, I was just there as an actor. But I must admit, there was a learning curve for me. I have given eight years of my life to production and VFX. And VFX is the kind of field that is updated every second day. Technology changes, new ways to do things keep coming in, so I got to learn a lot about that on a film set like Baahubali.
You have also been a producer. In fact, you started your journey with film production. How has a film like Baahubali inspired you?
To be honest, I would like to make a film now on a similar scale, I would love to. I have learnt a lot on this film but what the film has really taught me is that if you believe in the story that you want to tell, and if you are willing to take that chance, and are ready to give it your best, then there is a world out there that is waiting to welcome you, of course, if the story is right. And I am hoping that, after this, we will get to see many more films like this one.
You belong to a film family and your grandfather D Ramanaidu, was a famous film producer. So, if you wanted, you could have started your career as an actor. What made you venture into film production first?
I never wanted to be an actor but I wanted to be a part of the film industry. I was learning what to do with the movies, that is, when I started my visual effects company and produced films. However, creatively, I wanted more. I wanted to tell cool stories, do different things, and that’s how I moved to acting. Obviously, I don’t do the regular kind of films.
I have done a submarine drama, a war film, period war films, and now I am doing a political drama, so, it is subjects like this that really excite me. I work in multiple languages, I work in multiple industries, and that’s how I grow. I have always done what I like in the movies, stories that I would like to see, stories that I would like to narrate, and I still continue to do what I like in the movies.
What were your early influences in cinema and which film made you decide that you wanted to be a part of the lights-camera-action world?
I grew up on the typical Indian and American cinema of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The early films of Mr Bachchan were all my favourites. Then, like any other boy, I loved the Terminators, Rambos and the Rockys. However, one film that completely changed my perception of cinema was Star Wars that was the film that made me desire to be a part of the industry. I was in the seventh or eighth grade when I first watched the movie and I watched it a million times after that.
I am finishing a film called Nene Raju Nene Mantri. It’s a Telugu film, a political drama. It will be in Tamil and Telugu and it is a different space, something that I have not done before, it is somewhat on the lines of The Wolf Of Wall Street, an entertaining drama set in the political world. It will be out very soon. The other film I will start shooting for from next month is a film set in 1945. We don’t have a title yet, it is also a bilingual film. It’s a tale of a soldier who fought in Subhash Chandra Bose’s regiment during British India.