Interacting with Jagapathi Babu was a fascinating exercise that piqued my intrigue about the demarcation between the actor’s on-screen and off-screen self or, say, the homogeneity of these two personalities. The sight of the actor sitting on an upholstered chair with his legs crossed in a bright, glossy room—just like the half-a-dozen CEO villains he essayed—confirmed my suspicion that the on-screen Jagapathi Babu heavily inherits many traits from the real Jagapathi Babu. If I have to borrow a line from The Office’s Pam Halpert, “They're the same picture”. His pauses are long and his gaze is unflinching, akin to the cut-throat antagonist in Rangasthalam (2018), but his voice exudes a restrained kindness, just like the caring father in Srimanthdu (2015).
The trajectory of Jagapathi Babu’s life and career has been as dramatic as a high-voltage film. “I have shot over 12 hours of footage (for a documentary-esque narrative), describing the many stories and brutal truths of my life. It didn't look coherent when we tried to piece it together and I abandoned it,” he says, interacting with the press ahead of the release of Ramabanam.
The actor has been vocal about his fall in the 2000s and glorious resurgence in 2014. It really is a comeback story that everyone roots for. Boyapati Srinu’s Legend cemented his position as a villain and there has been no looking back ever since. Yet, when a journalist said during the interaction that filmmakers are mindful of utilising his reinvented version effectively by giving him strong parts, the actor took a pregnant pause and countered the statement. “It’s not a completely right statement. Among the 70-odd films I have done [post comeback], there are only 7 to 8 films that are worthy of being mentioned. I don’t think many films utilised me fully. There are films that I regret doing too.” You see, the actor doesn’t sugarcoat his thoughts; he is blunt with his expression.
Ramabanam, in which he is playing a positive character—that of the protagonist's elder brother—is a detour for Jagapathi, who has established himself as the go-to villain for major star-driven projects. When asked about the sojourn into positive territory, he said, “Nenu actor namma (I am an actor, dear). I’m neither a hero nor a villain; I am a director’s actor. I’m also not a method actor, nor do I think I am a great actor by myself. I trust the director. When I find a good director, the performance will naturally be remarkable."
Has he now reached a position where he can decline projects that don't excite him, even if they boast big names? “I am not doing films solely based on combinations or in which I’m treated like a set property. If filmmakers want a typical rich villain and if that’s why they approach me, I’m not going to accept such parts. I am not a set property. Sure, I have done such roles in the past for money but not anymore. I always believed that the last ten years of life should give me a feeling that I led a good, enjoyable life. I acted in some bad films, but didn’t commit any bad deeds beyond that, no?” the actor laughed, just like he did in Naannaku Prematho (2016).