He may have only been in the movie business for five years, but talented actor Rana Daggubati has already made a huge impact, including starring in one of the most successful ever Indian films Baahubali: The Beginning.
He plays the antagonist in the record-breaking fantasy epic, which clocked up huge numbers in cinemas around the world earlier this year and is on course to be the biggest grossing Indian film of all time.
The 30-year-old, who is usually seen in heroic roles, showed off his impressive acting range by delivering one of cinema’s most memorable villains. Not surprisingly, the talented actor with the chiselled physique is very much in demand with movie producers and has a rapidly growing female fan base.
His current projects include hotly anticipated sequel Baahubali: The Conclusion, which will be released next year. Eastern Eye caught up with the star to talk about cinema, the resurgence of regional language films, his legendary grandfather and inspirations.
You come from a cinema family, but when were you first inspired to go into this field?
That cinema would go on to become an integral part of my life was pretty much pre-ordained. I grew up in a household where films were the staple. Having such an illustrious family background, I constantly had opportunities to be learn all aspects related to films. Was I going to be part of the industry? Absolutely. An actor? Maybe, maybe not. So I wanted to learn everything – be it the art, craft, the technical or business side of it. It all started when I went in search for what intellectual property in film is, and I figured that an actor or a director is the real intellectual property in cinema today. Acting just happened naturally after that.
Your grandfather D Ramanaidu is one of the all-time great movie producers of Indian cinema. How much of an influence was he on you?
My grandfather was my biggest inspiration. The invaluable knowledge that I received from him was certainly more than any other kind of education for me. He was very chilled out and yet a thorough professional. When I became an actor, he would say to me, ‘it does not matter whether you are good or bad or anything else. The only thing important is that you get to work.’ He always said that I was just like him while he was growing up. My grandfather entertained film audiences all his life – he produced 150 films in all Indian languages. I have grown up watching his efforts being applauded and adored. The love and adulation I receive today is because of that as well. With this legacy comes great responsibility and this makes one thing for certain – I cannot afford to fail.
How do you look back on your action-packed journey in cinema so far?
Although I started off as a producer when I was young with award-winning film Bommalata (2004), I have only been acting for five years. I haven’t looked back as such, but I can say it has been an extremely fulfilling journey that has enabled me to play lots of different characters and do plenty of action. The last few years have had a tremendous influence in my life. I’ve had the opportunity to become a part of some of the greatest stories that have been told in Indian cinema. I firmly believe in the old saying, ‘it’s not storytellers who find the stories; it’s the stories that find us.’
You must be thrilled with all the success you have had this year?
I am extremely thrilled and happy with the success of Baahubali. The entire team worked really hard on the movie, so the success of it was very rewarding. Baahubali has also opened up a lot of opportunities in terms of the kind of films we can now set up in India, which is exciting for actors, filmmakers and most important, audiences.
When you signed up for Baahubali: The Beginning, did you imagine it would be so successful?
I definitely knew it was going to be big and in the process of filming, we actually realised the magnitude of the film. But the global success of the movie took us all by surprise and pleasantly so. It is all thanks to the audiences who embraced the movie and made it their own. They are the ones who have taken it to such great heights.
Why do you think the film did so well?
It’s a large visual spectacle, with an emotionally gripping story. It was the first time an Indian war movie had been mounted in such a spectacular way. The movie also had strong word of mouth, so like I said, the audience played a huge part in its success. I am really looking forward to them seeing the sequel, as we have gone even bigger with it and I am sure they will love it just as much.
Do you have a personal favourite moment in the movie?
The movie has so many great moments, but yes, I do have some personal favourite moments. The war and the bison fight are on the top of my list.
How proud are you of the fact that a regional language movie will most likely become the biggest grossing Indian film of all time?
I am extremely proud. And like I said earlier, the success of the movie really has opened up lots of avenues. Now we know that if you want to make a really big film or even a franchise film (like a sci-fi or superhero series) there is a whole country ready to watch it. So the cinematic possibilities are now endless.
Why do you think regional Indian cinema is doing so well?
I have always believed that if a film is good, it doesn’t matter which language it’s in. Right now we have some great writers and directors who are coming up with awesome subjects. The same is the case for all the languages around India. So it is an exciting time in Indian cinema all round. I feel very privileged to be a part of it.
How are the plans for the Baahubali sequel progressing and does the team feel under pressure now that part one was such a big hit?
Well, it is a huge responsibility. But the film was always planned for two parts even before we started, so the sequel was always going to happen. I am really excited about its release because it is on an even grander scale.
You are very much in demand. How are you choosing your projects?
Right now I am taking it one film at a time. When I look at a project I ask, ‘is it a story I want to tell and a character I would like to play?’ That’s pretty much how I operate. I am thankful that talented storytellers are approaching me with such good subjects.
You have done a range of roles. What kind of characters do you most enjoy playing?
I like to play all kinds of roles. I believe an actor should be open to anything. You should never limit yourself. The list of characters you can play is endless and that is why being an actor is such a great profession. I get very excited every time I play a character I haven’t portrayed before.
Which of your characters has challenged you the most so far?
It is difficult to say because each film is different and comes with its own set of unique challenges. But what I can say is that I have grown as an actor with each role.
Your success doesn’t seem to have changed you. What keeps you so grounded?
I have grown and learned a lot, but I am still the same person I was before I started this journey in cinema. What the film does at the box office or the adulation that comes after its success is not what excites me. The process of telling a story and creating a new character is what excites me most.
Tell us something not many people know about you?
(Laughs) I’m pretty much an open book and always have been. What you see is what you get with me.
Who is your biggest cinematic idol of all time?
Like many actors, I grew up on the movies of Mr Amitabh Bachchan. He is my biggest cinema idol. When it comes to acting, I am a huge fan of Mr Kamal Haasan. He is an exceptional actor.
What are your biggest passions away from work?
(Smiles) Right now, my passions include watching good films, reading and of course, good food.
Today, what is your greatest unfulfilled ambition?
It is more of a regret – that my grandfather wasn’t around to watch Baahubali.
A lot of biopics are now being made. Which real-life person would you love to portray?
Lots of them. It’s such an amazing feeling to recreate a time that existed before and only cinema can allow you to do that.
You are a talented actor. According to you, what is the secret of a great performance?
It’s the directors and writers who make me what I am. I am only as good as what’s written for me.
Which confirmed films do you have on the way?
There is, of course, Baahubali: The Conclusion, which will be released next year. I also have a very interesting movie on the way called Ghazi, which is a naval drama based on a true story. Both movies will be released in different languages.
What inspires you?
I am really inspired by the way a story is born and becomes a full-length feature film. I love the entire process of filmmaking and it just inspires me to work harder when I am on set.
Finally, why do you love cinema?
This is what I grew up with and this is who I am.