Baahubali 2: How Rana Daggubati was inspired by Daniel Day-Lewis to play Bhallaladeva
It’s been seven years since Rana Daggubati turned actor and starting from Sekhar Kammula’s Leader (2010) to his recent war drama The Ghazi Attack, the actor has made it quite evident that he’s willing to take the road less traveled.
Not surprisingly, when, five years ago, SS Rajamouli approached him to play Bhallaladeva, the tyrant king, in Baahubali, the actor didn’t have to think a lot before saying a ‘yes’ to him. It was indeed a leap of faith, but the gamble has paid off quite well.
The sight of Rana charging towards his opponent, with a broken mace in hand, was one of the defining moments of Baahubali: The Conclusion’s trailer.
If his physicality makes you sit upright and take notice of him, his voice too is another asset. No wonder, when he speaks, his bass voice will make you forget everything else.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Rana Daggubati about playing Bhallaladeva in Baahubali: The Conclusion:
At a recent awards ceremony in Hyderabad, NTR Jr confessed that he never thought you could put your voice to such great effect while acting, especially in a film like Baahubali. I can’t help but ask what your thoughts are about what he said. Do you agree with him?
Well, not a lot of people know this, but I did a lot of voice overs for TV commercials back in the day, before I made my acting debut.
I didn’t want to pay the dubbing artistes (laughs) and since I was good at both Telugu and English, I did voice overs for plenty of brands including those selling mutual funds. So, I got trained like that. Many people liked my voice in my debut film Leader and then in Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum.
In a regular film, you don't really have the scope to talk with a big bass in your voice, but in Baahubali we could push ourselves to the extreme. Since I’m playing a character which unfolds in two different time frames, for the older Bhallaladeva's character, my voice is going to crack up a bit and you’ll hear a larger bass in it. For the younger avatar, I retained my normal tone, but for the older character, because he's so mature and has been a king for 25 years, each word he says has to sound very measured.
Going by the trailer of Baahubali: The Conclusion, there also seems to be a lot of physicality in your role. Isn’t it?
Of course. It’s not just his physical appearance that changes, but also mentally he goes through a dramatic change. The brief that Rajamouli gave me for the younger avatar of Bhallaladeva is that he has a lot going on in his mind, but you don't know what he's thinking. So, every time I say a dialogue, there's a thought running in the back of mind. And then he becomes the king.
We used to have a lot of discussions about what Bhallaladeva would have done in the 20 years that's not shown in the film. Mahishmathi is a flourishing kingdom. There's no Baahubali around. Bhallaladeva doesn't know the existence of Shivudu. So, everything he says has to be the law of the land: well-thought out and firm. Both Prabhas and I had to push ourselves to the extreme to look the part. My body weight was fluctuating between 95 kgs to 110 kgs, but it was all muscle.
I still can’t forget the shot from the trailer where you are charging towards Baahubali with a broken mace. Having seen you around for almost seven years, I can’t believe you can ever be that angry in real life. How do you prepare for a role like this?
I don’t have any memory of me being angry or violent in my entire life (laughs). I’ve a younger brother (Abhiram Daggubati), but he’s 10 years younger than me, so there’s no question of fighting with him.
People say that action films are easy, but that's the most complicated performance to pull off.
If you look at part one, you know that Bhallaladeva is going to face off with Shivudu, the son of Amarendra Baahubali. In the process, Bhadra, son of Bhallaladeva, is killed and Devasena has reunited with her son, Shivudu. Bhallaladeva is a really angry man now. So, you take all these multiple emotions and internalise them.
Since we had ample time before every shot, we used to chat about where a particular shot is heading from there and why we got here in the first place. Because Rajamouli and the team planned every shot well in advance, we were in grip of what we are doing.
You’re a huge movie buff. So, when you think about what you’ve done in Baahubali, is there any actor or character who took as inspiration to play this role?
In real life, I'm not close to any of the characters I've played. I'm not so disciplined as a naval officer, not so righteous as a Leader, and definitely not so angry and mad like Bhallaladeva. I'm just a normal guy who loves movies. The largest references I've come across are people I know, books and movies.
In the last couple of years, the biggest inspiration for me was Daniel Day-Lewis and I’m a huge fan of all his films. I remember watching Gangs Of New York and undergoing an overwhelming feeling that Leonardo Di Caprio might lose his life when he goes to meet Daniel Day-Lewis.
That's the kind of emotion that I wanted to translate into Bhallaladeva. That's the film which taught me that you could play an antagonist and yet stand out in the crowd.
Not many people know this, but one of the actors whom Shobu (one of the producers of Baahubali) had in mind to play Bhallaladeva was Jason Momoa, who played Khal Drogo from Game Of Thrones. When Shobu told me about this, I thought, "Ah, great! It's Khal Drogo and me in that order."
But then, when you look at Khal Drogo, you know that he's there in Game Of Thrones for a specific purpose, and you don't have to emotionally connect with him. But Bhallaladeva is a brother, he's a son and he's wishful for his throne. He cares for his people. It also helps that Rajamouli is very clear about what he wants from the characters.
Going back to where it all began, what did Vijayendra Prasad and Rajamouli tell you when they offered you this role?
Vijayendra Prasad wrote Sivagami, Bhallaladeva, Kattappa and Baahubali's characters in that order and weaved a story around them.
When I was offered this role, he narrated me a scene which isn’t there in the film. I remember him telling me, “There is this tyrant king, standing on his balcony, looking at a 100 ft statue of himself being erected. It's not there in the film. This is Bhallaladeva, who never believed in God, but liked the idea of deityhood with him being the deity."
And then, he continued explaining the scene, saying, "There are about a 100 men under the statute and he liked the power of giving or taking life away. Just a second before the statue falls, he lets them go." That to me defined what Bhallaladeva is. When you come up with characters like this, in some ways, they become far, far greater than what the film is.
There’s so much to read from the way you emote, even though you aren’t saying anything...
You are as good as what's written for you.
My previous films had spurts of brilliance because that's where the character rises. But when you are playing an antagonist, you're the king from the word go. There's no time for the audience to start liking him slowly.
You can like Baahubali like that. He's assumingly a bad guy, and when that's the starting point, everything I do has to be pitched from a higher note and it has t be so consistently. That's the difference. And then, you become a better actor with every film. If not then you should find another job (laughs).
Everyone in the team is in awe of Rajamouli’s vision. But, is there something which you don't understand about him and how he's able to pull off such films?
He's a pretty simple guy. When you see him, you realise things that most of us don't do the most basic things when it comes to making movies. But he does the most basic things extremely well. He wants to tell a great story and wants to tell it in the biggest possible way. That's what he's doing. It's us who add frills over this and complicate things. He's a family man and he has been in films all his life.
Cinema is all he understands and that's what he delivers. He’s also one of the finest craftsman in this country in terms of his filmmaking knowledge. What I love about him is that he’s extremely patient because it's really tough to last 6-7 years with just one film. If there’s one thing which all of us learnt on the sets of Baahubali, then it’s about how to be patient.
You have always stated that it’s not you who’s finding stories, but stories find you. Has that changed now?
Not all all (laughs). Nobody else is doing the kind of stories I’ve been doing, that's why they come to me (laughs). It's a conscious decision that I made right in the beginning. I didn't want to do what plenty of actors are doing.
Why would you want to watch another guy doing the same stuff? Besides, I don't like repeating what I've done in the past. I tend think in terms of characters and not films as such.
So far, I’ve played a politician, a warlord, a musician, a naval officer, and I would like to live different lives. My thought process is like that, which is why I get roles like that. I don't know if it's right or wrong, but that's the way it is. I don't know any other way to think.