As the Omicron scare grows and the news of night curfews and theatres in New Delhi getting shut comes in, one film that has kept the film industry hopeful is SS Rajamouli‘s upcoming period action epic, RRR. Bringing together superstars Jr. NTR and Ram Charan in the leading roles as two real-life freedom fighters in a fictional tale, the film is slated to release on January 7. The team talks about how their combination came together, the box office estimations for the film and the need to transcend language barriers through cinema.
Anupama Chopra: The truth is, in the Hindi film industry, Rohit Shetty said that he could not make Ram Lakhan because no two male stars were willing to work together anymore. So, you have managed something quite exceptional here. How tough was this, or are you now at this God-like state where you say come and everybody arrives?
SS Rajamouli: The moment I think I am in a God-like state and anyone and everyone will do what I want, that will be my first step to downfall. I am not brought up like that. From the very beginning, I have had this long-standing desire of combining two powerhouses. I am not just talking about their stardom; I’m talking about the story. We know that there is a friendship between Duryodhan and Karna, and a friendship between between Krishna and Arjuna. But my mind works like, ‘What if there is a friendship between Karna and Krishna?’ Just the thought of it fires my mind. And obviously, the natural progression is that you need an actor and a star who can be that powerhouse. So, when I had the thought of combining the lives of Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, it was supremely exciting but it needed a combination of two fine actors and superstars to play those characters. By our long association, I know they [Ram Charan and Jr. NTR] would do whatever I wanted to do.
The moment I thought of this idea, I knew it was going to take 2 to 2.5 years [to execute it]. But the excitement had to be there throughout the film, not just at the outset of the film. For that, I had to keep them excited and write characters that would hook them. That would make their journey exciting throughout this time. I never take anything for granted. I write the characters so perfectly that it’s exciting, not just for me, but for them too. When all three of us are on the same page, the journey becomes easier.
AC: This film is so massive. Post Baahubali, the expectations are so large that the conversation is so much about the numbers. I saw a story in India Today that said the budget is Rs. 550 crores [approx]. Do you all ever worry that in this conversation, which is so much like a spectator sport, people lose sight of the artistry, of your art and your craft, and the amount of work you’ve put into it. Does that happen?
Rajamouli: Ultimately, we make films for the money. It is a very important. Going by the kind of money we are putting into the film, if it fails to get that back in return, then it is a failure for everyone. All efforts then go to waste. But when I am making the film, those numbers do not affect me at all. I do not even look at them. Occasionally, I take a look at them to check whether we are going on budget and whether we are on time. But until my last CGI shot is done, until my last sound effect is done, I don’t even look at the numbers. I don’t have the space in my mind to do so. Once everything is out of my hand, I become a spectator. Then we start discussing the numbers. If it’s high, we celebrate. If it’s is low, we reflect.
AC: Are the two of you thinking about numbers at all?
Jr. NTR: Right now, we just want RRR to hit the theatres. We are waiting for the audience to give a verdict of what we have done as actors, what we have added to the film as actors. Post that, yes. We will sit together and brainstorm about the numbers. But more than that, RRR, or any film that is releasing post-pandemic, is about bringing back the audiences to the theatre. The glory has to return. For me, it’s more about that. If RRR can bring one more audience, I will be the happiest.
Ram Charan: The first few days, like you said, we speak more about the numbers instead of appreciating the artistry and hard work. But if you spend Rs. 550 crores, I don’t mind the numbers being spoken about for three days. The film is going to be there in our libraries forever. I don’t mind if after seven days, somebody calls me saying, ‘Now, I have the time to talk about your performance.’ Let’s cross that number and hope our producers and distributors are fine.
AC: Let’s talk about the Indian Film Industry. We spent too long being Bollywood and Hollywood and God knows how many woods. I think it’s amazing that you have incredible artists like yourselves, Ajay Devgn and Alia Bhatt – and it’s not just the one project. There’s just cross-pollination across the country. What do you foresee the next few years like? Do you think this will continue and grow?
Jr. NTR: For sure. As you mentioned, Ram Lakhan today is not possible because some filmmakers don’t have that kind of confidence or infrastructure to make that happen. But now, here we are – two actors coming from different families. There was a 35-year-old rivalry between the two families, everyone knows. And today, we are rivals but we are friends too. So, our rivalry is very positive. When was the last two big-star collaboration in Hindi? Karan Arjun? But now, we are seeing this cross-pollination happen and this is what needs to happen. This is probably our patriotism towards our industry. We need to travel. We have actors all over our country. We need to bring them together. If language is a barrier, then that for me is not a barrier at all. You have filmmakers who can guide and nurture you, who can help you. I think we have a lot of filmmakers today who believe in that idea of uniting two actors together. It will be a lovely thing. I am sure it’s started already and will just get bigger and better.