SS Rajamouli: We are all making films for the child within us

Indias most ambitious filmmaker RRR is all set to take on his previous best, the spectacular universe of Baahubali

By Kaveree Bamzai

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Published: Thu 30 Dec 2021, 11:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 23 Nov 2022, 10:54 AM

His last film, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, in 2017 made ₹ 1,700 (Dh83.70) crore at the global box office.

It was second only to the Hindi blockbuster Dangal.

A meticulous planner

But director SS Rajamouli is not a man to be rushed. He takes his time before starting a movie, storyboarding it extensively, developing the plot, and working on the principal characters. For his forthcoming RRR, which was meant to be the working title and stands for Rajamouli, Junior NT Rama Rao, and Ram Charan, he worked on the story with his father, scriptwriter KV Vijayendra Prasad.

He had a 150-odd character development questionnaire for his principal characters, Junior NTR and Ram Charan, administered on them over three days to clarify all doubts.

And he did extensive pre-visualisation for the film which he shot for more than 300 days.

"A single-track mind"

"My wife says I’ve a single-track mind. I can focus only on one thing at a time," he says.

But those "things'' are stories the world waits for, whether it is the fantasy film Maghadeera (2009) or the horror film, Eega (2012). Based on folk tales, RRR tells the partly fictional tale of Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju, where they meet and are joined by their love for Sita. The two subaltern heroes fight for jal (water), jangal (forest), and zameen (land), one against the British and the other against the Nizam of Hyderabad. Rajamouli knew the two actors would be perfect for the roles.

Cast comfort

He's been friends with Taarak (NTR Junior) for 20 years — he plays Bheem — and Ram Charan (Alluri) for 12 years. He's seen them grow and evolve — up close and having worked with them before.

Plot holds the key

For Rajamouli, the story is everything. His father and he usually agree on the principal storyline. it's the details they argue about, and then the relationship is that of a director and writer. "I put him in his place," says Rajamouli. Every actor wants to work with him, so when he chooses them, it is an honour.

For Ajay Devgn's character, a cameo appearance, he wanted someone who looked truthful and "whose face reeks of honesty".

"Even off screen, no one doubts what he is saying," he says.

As for Alia Bhatt, he says. he needed a character to hold both the fire and water of Komaram and Alluri.

"She has to hold these forces in balance, she herself cannot be forceful," he says. He'd seen her in Raazi (2018) and thought she would be ideal.

"I was more interested in the coincidence of these two freedom fighters, both born in Andhra Pradesh and present-day Telangana. They left their respective homes, disappeared for three-four years, and then came back to fight for their cause," he says.

They strike police stations, arm the people, even die in the same way. He gives the actors very clear instructions.

An ace storyteller

"At least 80 per cent of the work is done before shooting," he says.

"Basically, I'm a storyteller," he says.

"I love surprising people with my stories, or making them emotional. If I see someone sitting alone, looking at their phone, I’ll go and tell them a story," he says.

They're mostly about history, or puranas (mythological or folk tales), or itihasa (history) , or short stories he's heard somewhere. He's had this gift since childhood. "Even in Grade II, we had an extra-curricular period, where we had to do different kinds of activities. Our only activity was storytelling and I used to tell stories to everyone," he says.

And they would listen.

RRR — A contemporary theme

The theme of RRR is so contemporary, though it was not intentional. "When it comes to Alluri, the reason he fought the British was that they did not allow the tribals to cut the trees in the forest, which they did for their agricultural practice of shifting cultivation (podu vyavsaya). The soil in the forest is not very fertile, and the tribals would keep the land fallow for two-three years to allow it to regrow and regenerate. The British didn't realise it, but Alluri did," he says.

Baahubali — A game changer for Indian film industry

Rajamouli's Baahubali made the Indian film industry realise its potential. That it could tell an Indian story in a truly global way. "Language is just a medium of communication. In films we communicate with the audience through images. I always believed that if a story has the right emotion, like the mother finding the long-lost son, the language absolutely doesn't matter." he says.

You connect to the emotion. "When we finish the story, we see whether it is universal or regional in nature. You can't force it. The story decides itself. How much you put your trust in the emotions is what matters," he adds.

An engaging tale of friendship

In RRR, it is entirely about friendship.

Knowingly or unknowingly, he says, we are always making films for children, or the child within us. And his spectacles, made in India, of the salt of this earth, resonate within us all.

(The author is a senior journalist and author, most recently of 'The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India)

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