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Actor Ram Charan on his epic film 'RRR' and the love from UAE fans

The star delved into the magic of pan-Indian cinema and director SS Rajamouli's vision in a chat.

Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Enid Grace Parker

Published: Sun 10 Apr 2022, 11:55 AM

Last updated: Mon 11 Apr 2022, 9:26 AM

Telugu cinema superstar Ram Charan, who plays revolutionary freedom fighter Alluri Sitarama Raju in India’s latest spectacularly mounted period film RRR, is “still digesting” the phenomenal success of the film, he told City Times.

Ram’s journey with the SS Rajamouli-directed RRR - which features another Telugu superstar, Jr NTR - has been a long and at times uncertain one. The Covid pandemic interfered with the much-hyped cinematic release of the big-budget RRR in January 2022.

RRR finally released across the world on March 25 (March 24 in the UAE), and continues to make waves with its alluring combination of charismatic lead stars, an engaging storyline rooted in historical fiction, and cutting-edge special effects. According to a recent report by an Indian film trade analyst, RRR has crossed the Rs1000 crore mark at the worldwide box office.

Prior to the release of RRR in the UAE, Ram made an appearance at the India Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai with director Rajamouli and co-star Jr NTR, much to the delight of his local fans.

Ram, the son of veteran Telugu cinema actor Chiranjeevi, who has received critical acclaim for his roles in films like Magadheera and Dhruva, was polite and self-deprecating in a recent interview over Zoom.

When asked how he is celebrating the success of RRR, Ram said, “It’s been three-and-a-half to four years…Covid and all of that, and it feels very rewarding. I feel very humbled by the whole reaction. It’s still kind of unbelievable, looking at the numbers; the feeling is still sinking in.” He added how it would “frankly”, probably take a week more to digest the news of the film’s success, “the fact that our work has been appreciated and it has paid off.”

Working with Rajamouli, Jr NTR

Ram admitted that apart from having worked with SS Rajamouli (who is renowned for his fantasy and period films, like Baahubali) earlier in Magadheera, what attracted him to RRR was “the whole element of the two freedom characters (Jr NTR plays Komaram Bheem, a revolutionary leader from the Gond tribes of India).”

“They are very iconic and legendary freedom persons in India. And having got an opportunity to play them is a huge responsibility and an honour,” he shared, adding that “Rajamouli being the director gave us even more excitement to be part of a project filled with so much pride and opportunity to perform as an actor.”

He spoke about the power of his legendary yet mysterious character in RRR, Alluri Sitarama Raju, who waged an armed battle against British colonialists in the early twentieth century.

“I think it’s the most exciting character I have done in 14 movies and 14 years. It’s got different shades, and is the most internalized character I’ve ever done. Lots of characters are pretty ‘out there’; you see them, you feel them, but this guy is brooding… why is he brooding? It’s a very intriguing character. It makes you feel inquisitive to know what is happening next; it keeps you on the edge of your seat, the whole film as such. It’s one of the best writings from India’s best director.”

Making a film about two real-life freedom fighters who are widely regarded as unsung heroes in Indian history, and using creative license to have them meet and take on the colonialists together in RRR, was no doubt a challenge but one that Rajamouli seems to have pulled off with verve.

Ram feels the part reality, part fiction, part myth aspects of RRR were a huge draw for mass audiences. He said, “One of the most interesting parts (of RRR) is that he’s taken real characters who were in our history books - legendary freedom fighters - and made a fictional story. The whole premise was based on ‘what if’.

“What if they did that… what if they happened to meet. Actually we have no record of these legendary freedom fighters meeting in any archives. But this ‘what if’ perspective was very interesting.”

He applauded Rajamouli’s vision and emphasized how RRR was not a biopic, they had just taken “the spirit of the freedom fighters” for the film.

Social media has made much of the ‘bromance’ between Ram and his acting compatriot Jr NTR; had the personal friendship between the two stars helped the equation on set?

“It’s a double-edged sword, I don’t know how to put it. If we didn’t have a relationship, it would have mended through the film. And even if we have a great relationship before RRR, it would have worked out for the film. So either way, Rajamouli is a winner (laughs).”

Transcending boundaries through cinema

RRR released in multiple languages including Telugu and has a storyline that appeals to viewers across borders; Ram believes this transcendence of language and cultural boundaries is the way forward for Indian cinema.

“Rajamouli’s cinema has a universal language, and cinema as such has no language! It’s an expression, it’s an emotion, and Rajamouli has believed in it! For the past two or three decades, we have believed cinema is a language… we have categorized it and forgotten the whole essence of filmmaking.”

He said “thanks to OTT”, audiences were now enjoying varied viewing, but Rajamouli had envisioned this 14 years ago, when he made Magadheera with Ram.

“We were talking the other day; Magadheera could have been a Baahubali back then for him, if the producers had believed in it and marketed it in such a way. He said, Charan, I had the vision but the production team didn’t help me. It took me 10 years to make Baahubali and take this vision (to a point) where the producers believed in it (enough) to make it.”

Making films that appeal emotionally to a wider audience and not just a “niche crowd” is important, believes Ram, adding that Telugu cinema as well, has the potential to reach many more people with a different approach to filmmaking.

“I think we should stop inspiring ourselves from, and imitating, Western (cinema). We have our mitti ka stories (stories from our soil, our land) which we need to put out and feel proud of and believe in. And the result will be a Baahubali; it will be an RRR.”

Back to Bollywood?

Is Bollywood included in this grand vision for Indian cinema? Ram has so far featured in one Hindi film, a 2013 remake of Amitabh Bachchan’s 1973 hit Zanjeer which failed to make waves at the box office. He candidly admitted it was “just a mark” in Bollywood, “not a great mark”.

Would we see him take a chance on Bollywood again?

“I like the fact that you said ‘again’! I like to be part of Indian cinema. I want a director from Hindi cinema to make a pan-Indian film which caters to even the South. Salman (Khan) tweeted saying, I really love Ram, Rajamouli and Tarak’s work but why are our films not being appreciated in the South. It is so candid and honest of him to say that but I believe it is not Salman ji’s fault or some film’s fault, it is the writing; it is the director who has to transcend these boundaries of ‘hamara movie idhar hi dekhenge, hamara movie udhar hi dekhenge'. Every writer should write movies like Vijayendra Prasad (RRR) or Rajamouli and say ‘believe in it’.

"And of course I want to make an Indian film where I want to work with talent from here (Bollywood), I want directors to explore the talent from South and make bigger films so that we have bigger budgets and we see bigger numbers at the end of the day.”

Inspired by cinema

He is an established star now but when was the moment Ram decided he wanted to be an actor and follow in the footsteps of his legendary father Chiranjeevi?

“I won’t use a harsh word like ‘strict’ but he was so particular to not get anything to do with cinema into the main house. He used to keep it in the office. For some reason, he thought we wouldn’t study well or we would be attracted to this at a very young age but either way he couldn’t stop us!

“No (film) magazines were allowed in my house but of course we used to go to the office and read all the magazines. I was scared to tell my dad that I want to be an actor. And he never brought up the topic - maybe he was waiting for me to talk and I was waiting for him to talk. This went on for a couple of years; somehow something clicked and we both decided to talk and that’s it, the rest was history!”

‘Thank you, UAE’

In parting, Ram thanked UAE fans for making RRR a success in this region. “The UAE has been one of our oldest markets; I think dad opened the UAE market for Telugu films more than a decade ago. And they’ve been so kind. I really got a great reception when we were at Expo 2020 Dubai. They have trusted us and given us this appreciation; I really want to make them feel proud and give them better films. Thank you so much UAE for RRR.”

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