Rana Daggubati Picks His Favourite Films

Actor and producer Rana Daggubati has many interests – he loves comics, movies and technology. But above all he’s passionate about storytelling. The stories he’s been a part of so far (Baahubali, The Ghazi Attack) and the ones he intends on telling in the future, are all shaped by the films he saw while growing up. Film Companion asked him to list the stories that influenced him the most and made him the artist he is today. He came up with a varied list that ranges from Spielberg and Mani Ratnam to NT Rama Rao. “At different times of my life, different things caught my attention and they remain and linger in my thoughts even today. These films have influenced everything I do, all the decisions I make. I know that my thought process has been built out of this,” he says. 

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) 

Director: George Lucas 

This movie has been the most influential thing in my life. It’s not just an important film, but sort of the most influential event of my life. The first job I had in the movies was in visual effects and that was because of Star Wars. I knew my family was doing the same job but they were not making Star Wars! I felt there’s something here that I need to figure out and that’s how I got into special effects.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Director: Steven Spielberg 

I was a comic book guy as a kid. Whether it was Tinkle and Suppandi or Mandrake the Magician – these guys were my world. It’s from there that my belief that something like an alien could exist came. It felt real to me and the beauty of those old Spielberg films is that they are very human. ET opened my imagination as a child. I think if someone made a film like that today, it would still work. 

Jaws (1975)

Director: Steven Spielberg 

I remember around the time when I saw this film I used to go Chennai a lot and I used to believe the shark would come up to Marina beach. That’s the impact Jaws had on all of us. Again, all the characters felt very real and human, including the shark. Spielberg made you feel like you knew everyone in the film. 

Jurassic Park (1993) 

Director: Steven Spielberg

This was not just a movie, it offered an entire theme park experience. Till this film came along we had only imagined what a dinosaur looked like through cartoons. Jurassic Park made them real for us. Back then it was the best visuals you’ve ever seen, and even now I don’t know if we could make a better dinosaur. In fact, we may make it fake now with the new technology.

(Streaming on Netflix)

Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott 

When you’re in the movies you want an experience because real life is pretty boring. You want to get transported for those 2-3 hours to another world and this film gave you that. ET was a cute little alien film, but this one entered our psychology. You start thinking about this whole other civilisation that exists. You wonder – are they smarter than us? What will happen to us? It’s amazing when a movie can push thinking to that level. 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Director: Stanley Kubrick 

By the time I saw this, everything that happened in the movie was a reality. That makes you feel like you can do anything with cinema. You can think of anything and it just happens. It’s almost man’s fastest creative output. That’s what I learnt from Space Odyssey – that you can imagine anything and then make it. 

(Streaming on Netflix)

Citizen Kane

Director: Orson Welles

This was rubbed on to me by all directors. Every director I grew up with said – please sit and watch Citizen Kane. When you’re younger it can feel boring but as I kept watching it over the years it became a very strong influence. It’s a film that teaches you how to build a character on screen. I think that’s why there’s so much academic interest in it. It’s by no means my favourite film, but no matter what I do, I find myself quoting this movie and coming back to it. 

Nayagan (1987) 

Director: Mani Ratnam

For me this is the best film of Kamal Haasan and the best film of Mani sir. In fact, the entire film is made by the best guys doing their best work at the same time. The editor was Lenin, who is a master, the music is by Ilaiyaraaja, and it’s shot by PC Sreeram. There’s nothing wrong with this film. Kamal Haasan was perfect. You live with him through the film as he gets old naturally.

(Streaming on Hungama)

Pithamagan (2003)

Director: Bala 

This is the most original thing I have seen. I didn’t know what the film was about when I watched it. I had seen bits and pieces of Bala sir’s work and I knew he was an edgy guy but this film just threw me off. Vikram is a grave digger in the film. How do you make a love story with a grave digger? The film talks about a part of life that you don’t know about – what a grave digger’s emotions are like, the violence in those places.

(Streaming on Jio Cinema and MX Player)

Iruvar (1997) 

Director: Mani Ratnam 

I remember I saw this film when I was in school and I walked out at the interval. My dad and I were at Sathyam cinema and I asked him if I could leave. I always remembered it as a boring film. Then I watched it years later and thought this is the best thing I’ve ever seen! 

I was more mature by then and I understood Tamil politics. It’s also such a beautiful film – Tabu and Aishwarya are stunning, Mohanlal sir is charming and Prakash Raj is fantastic. 

Swathi Mutyam (1985) and Sagara Sangamam (1983)

Director: K Viswanath

Both these films were made by the great K Viswanath. There is a culture of Telugu which is about song and dance, Bharatnatyam,  Kuchipudi, literature and poetry, which he held on to. In the Telugu strata it comes in the brahmanical way of life in the early days. The only way to see that culture again is through his film. His movies stand for people protecting culture at any cost. Today you see films where you’re protecting the girl, or saving the world. But you don’t fight for culture. 

(Streaming on Sony Liv)

Daana Veera Soora Karna (1977) 

Director: N.T. Rama Rao

N.T. Rama Rao played Duryodhana, Karna and Krishna in this film which I consider the coolest interpretation of the Mahabharat. It’s told from the point of view of Duryodhana. The Pandavas are not positive in this version. NTR told mythology and folklore in the best possible way. I watched these films a lot as a kid and then I saw them extensively when I wanted to become an actor. Even today people know the monologues from the film. I too can narrate the whole film! 

(Streaming on MX Player)

Mayabazar (1957)

Director: K. V. Reddy 

It’s a folklore tale from with Mahabharat. It’s the story of Ghatotkacha and Abhimanyu and interestingly, this particular story is not there any other folkore in the north. It was there only in old Telugu folklore. The movie was a huge hit. NTR plays Krishna and in those days every puja room had idols of Krishna that used to look like NTR. 

Pathala Bhairavi (1951)

Director: K.V Reddy 

The film had S.V. Ranga Rao and NTR and the original story was from Chinese folklore. It was made by Vijaya Vauhini Studios and my grandfather used to work there. They had a publishing house called Chandamama which used to print stories from international folklore. Vijaya Vauhini Studios was like the womb of Telugu cinema. They made actors, talent, films… everything.  

Gaayam (1993)

Director: Ram Gopal Varma

Gaayam was one of those Telugu films that came and woke up another bunch of cool filmmakers. There was a time when the cooler crowd never used to watch Telugu films. This brought in gangster cool and it was a rage. RGV’s Siva was still generic to college life but this was directly speaking to things that were happening around us in Hyderabad at time. The most amount of film knowledge I’ve got in my life was from RGV. He reads a lot and watches every movie – he knows everything. 

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) 

Director: Mel Stuart 

My cousin Chaitanya and I used to watch this film over and over again as kids. It used to shut us up. It was one of my favourite movies as a child and I was so disappointed with the Johnny Depp version. This story is every child’s dream, which is to be in a chocolate factory. Also, as a child it teaches you the right things and that’s why I loved it. 

Blade (1998)

Director: Stephen Norrington

This was one of the early cool comic book movies with Wesley Snipes and it was wild. I remember I saw it on a laser disc that my uncle had brought from the US. To me it was like the Black Panther of the 90s.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

I like this film even more now. It’s an amalgamation of cartoons and the real world. When I saw this for the first time I was just in awe and very few people have dared to do something like this again. At one point I was talking to a bunch of filmmakers and asking them to do something similar with the Tinkle stories and they all said ‘are you nuts?’ I guess very few people will buy into this vision. 

First Blood (1982) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Directors: Ted Kotcheff and James Cameron

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger – these are heroes you can never forget. Whether it’s a simple story like First Blood or a complicated one like Terminator 2, you just bought into these heroes. These are the biggest superstars in my life – an Austrian and Italian who made it in Hollywood and every body in Andhra Pradesh knew them. When Arnold came to Chennai for the I premiere, the whole city was blocked and big actors were waiting for a chance to just see him just once.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Director: Steven Spielberg 

I saw this movie a lot because my dad and my uncle made a movie many years ago called Bobbili Raja which was an adventure film. They would keep watching Indiana Jones. We saw it in an international context but as Indians we are so heavily into stories about hidden treasures that we buy all these characters more easily. Raiders hasn’t aged a second. The film was right its time then and its right for today, and that rarely happens in cinema. 

(Streaming on Netflix)

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

This is the guy who taught us what cool is. Quentin Tarantino is the biggest definer of modern pop culture. I saw his films even before I went to America but through them you knew of these dark stories that happen in the country and the African American struggle. So he also impacted our worldview. 

Snatch (2000)

Director: Guy Ritchie 

This is another cool film but cool in an English way, which is very different from American cool. Snatch gives you a sense of a gangster culture that you don’t know but you enjoy because it could happen in your country in a different way. The villain in the film is fantastic – he will kill you and feed you to the pigs till they eat you to the bone. I’ve never seen pigs that size! Every scene here is so uniquely written. 

(Streaming on Netflix)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Director: Martin Scorsese 

I remember watching this in 10th grade. It’s such a deep and dark film but it also has a coolness which is why it stays with you.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Director: Ang Lee

I was just awestruck by everything in this movie –  it’s pure poetry in motion. It felt like a musical but it’s not. This film was about China telling the world that they weren’t just about martial arts. They showed us a unique form of storytelling and they showed their culture to the world in the most beautiful way possible. 

Aaranya Kaandam (2010)

Director: Thiagarajan Kumararaja 

This film took me back to Gaayam. Although this is a gangster film that’s not very deep and it takes things lightly, but it had a narrative style that was so fresh. Years ago someone had reached out to me for a remake and then some issue with the rights happened but I kept seeing the film and thinking ‘Damn, this is such a good movie’. I remember when it released it barely lasted in the theatre but it was always spoken about. 

(Streaming on Netflix)

Geethanjali (1989)

Director: Mani Ratnam 

This was from the pre-Roja Mani Ratnam. According to me this is the best love story ever made in Indian cinema across time. Period. PC Sreeram is the cinematographer and it’s super beautiful. It’s raw and has some great music. 

(Streaming on Jio Cinema)

Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari (1990)

Director: Kovelamudi Raghavendra Rao

It’s a super commercial film and a huge, huge hit. Sridevi is a dancer who comes to Earth from the heavens because she drops her rings. Chiranjeevi is raising four kids in the movie and Amrish Puri is the villain. The film marries Indian mythology and fantasy. It has a lot of songs and it’s great fun.

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Director: Robert Clouse 

Every kid knew of Bruce Lee and wanted to fight like him. These are stars that just cut across cultures. Enter the Dragon had action that we had never seen before. It’s caricaturish but also serious. Thanks to this film I also signed up for some Jeet Kune Do classes!

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Director: Steven Spielberg 

I used to always like war movies. But this film made me think of the aftermath of war for the first time. And what a wonderful story – a lady has three sons in the army, two are dead, and one is left, who is Ryan. It’s so emotional. It changed my thinking about war, what it does to people, why countries fight… so it had a long lasting impact.

Seven (1995)

Director: David Fincher 

I was never a fan of horror. I just never got scared. Also, I didn’t like things that had low production values. But Seven was so thought provoking. There’s a crazy bad guy and for the first time I got very scared watching something. I was afraid of the next crime. 

(Streaming on Netflix and Hotstar)

Fight Club (1999)

Director: David Fincher 

Each time you see this film you’ll get something new from it. There are specific shots, moments and dialogues that everybody still remembers. It’s been heavily dissected as a film because there’s great meaning in every shot. 

(Streaming on Amazon Prime)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Director: Martin Scorsese 

This was such a crazy film. I watched it with my dad and he’s the kind who watches a film and then says, ‘So what was the story of the film’. That’s how he talks. After this he didn’t say a word! I enjoyed the film so much that I watched it many, many times later. It’s really a modern storytelling of flawed characters.

(Streaming on Google Play)

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