Rana Daggubati opens up about Nene Raju Nene Mantri and life after Baahubali
For the past few weeks, Rana Daggubati has been on a whirlwind tour across South India to promote his latest film Nene Raju Nene Mantri. His confidence about the film is palpable and beneath all the cacophony of promotions, touring colleges, media houses, TV studios and other events, the actor is in Zen mode. Not to forget, he’s in a jovial mood that might make you forget that he probably hasn’t slept properly in a while. And it’s not just the film’s release alone that’s keeping him busy. He’s hosting a talk show, No.1 Yaari with Rana, attending the boxing matches at Super Boxing League in which he co-owns the South Indian team Baahubali Boxers, among several other things. “I can’t sit idle at home. I get restless if I don’t do something. Besides, I love to be in the entertainment space, and my aim is to create content and entertain people, whether it’s in movies or on TV,” Rana admits.
Right now, all his focus is on Nene Raju Nene Mantri. Directed by Teja, the film stars Rana as Radha Jogendra, a money-lender in a small town, who’s pushed to a corner by those who’re in power. His co-star Kajal Aggarwal, named Radha in the film, plays his wife, and it’s the first time the duo has teamed up. “The story is about revenge and redemption to put it in a nutshell. Teja has written an amazing script about a good man, who turns into a monster in the world of greed, power, money and politics, and the whole film is about his journey and how he becomes a good man in the end. We worked on it for almost nine months and in the process, Teja wrote the whole biopic of Jogendra, although you’ll only see a fraction of all that original material in the film,” Rana says, shedding light on the much-anticipated film, adding, “It’s a commercial film with ample muscle power and punch dialogues; however, I can vouch for the fact that the approach to make this film was very realistic. You’ll believe that the world of Radha and Jogendra is real. Even in my previous film Ghazi, the approach was realistic and I think, at some level, we made the people believe that it was all true even though we didn’t know the actual story in its entirety.”
One of the inspirations, in terms of its screenplay, was Leonardo DiCaprio starrer Wolf Of Wall Street, a film which Rana and Teja found hugely entertaining even though the story itself was quite off the grid. “In a lot of small towns, you’ll find people who convey their advice through samethalu (proverb) and that’s a trait which Jogendra also has in Nene Raju Nene Mantri. Before turning a cinematographer and later a director, Teja spent quite a lot of time in Chennai. And recently, I got to know that he is a big fan of MGR. He has adapted a lot of MGR’s philosophies while writing my characterisation. There’s a philosophy behind everything Jogendra does. It’s not structured like a regular hero vs villain fight. When a man grows, he has a lot more adversaries who pop up unknowingly. It’s almost a chess-like situation,” Rana adds.
Teja had approached Rana with an idea back when the latter was shooting for Baahubali 2. Since Rana wasn’t sure when he’ll wrap up his part in Baahubali 2, it turned into a boon for Teja, who kept writing the story for nearly eight months, and then, both Rana and Teja pitched the story to several people for their inputs. “My grandfather always believed that the only way we can move forward in life is when you can make others also move forward along with you. That’s what led him to move from Chennai to Hyderabad, and build this studio. He genuinely believed that cinema is a collaborative effort and that’s something that stuck with me. I’ve this habit of telling my stories to a lot of people and there were several interesting suggestions which made their way into the script.”
In recent times, with his choices like Nene Raju Nene Mantri, Ghazi and even Baahubali, Rana has carved a niche for himself and he has emerged as one of the go-to guys for any filmmaker who wants to break away from the commercial formula. And Rana believes that he’s in the right zone at the moment where he attracts such talent from different industries. “I like a particular kind of cinema and I know that there are a lot of people out there who have a similar taste, which is probably why my films are working. Even today, when we talk about great Telugu films, we go back to the times of NTR and ANR because the films which they did taught us some valuable lessons for life. We remember Duryodhana because NTR made him immortal on screen. Same is the case with NTR’s portrayal of Lord Krishna. In a way, cinema defined our society. Back in the '50s and '60s, they didn’t have any boundaries, so they did all sorts of films to teach us something new. But by the time I became an actor, we didn’t do any more experiments. We are now making bigger big films, but we don’t experiment in a big way, except for films like Arundhati, Eega and Baahubali. But when it comes to smaller films, there isn’t as much experimentation. And that’s where new cinema comes from because people want to put out their ideas through films,” Rana avers.
The trick, Rana says, lies in the budget because more often than not films fail because of their budgets. In fact, the actor also states that Telugu film industry is in a much better shape compared to other industries because the producers and filmmakers here have struck the right balance between content and budgets, and not too many people want to risk pouring their money into films which might not fetch big returns. “Ghazi was made on a very low budget. I didn’t take any remuneration and the budget was cut to half. Producers were happy with that sort of set-up and in the end, I made more money from that film than what I usually make. I’m happy that we were able to make that film, leaving the money aside. Earlier, we had to travel to different parts of the country to be part of their films. But now, you can do all that from your own city. If you’ve a good story to tell, the content will cut across all barriers,” he adds.
And the success of Baahubali has given Rana a footprint in every industry in the country right now and it’s nothing short of a blessing for him. “The whole perception has changed and it has opened a lot of doors not just for me but for others in our industry as well. The film has also given everyone confidence that if you do a film right then you can reach out to a wider section of the moviegoers. I want to be part of this new wave of cinema which is slowly coming up in Telugu film industry and there are plenty of filmmakers who want to tell new stories. I think I’m in the right space at the moment,” Rana confesses.
Earlier this year, the actor was in news when one of his confessions — about him not being able to see from one eye — went viral on the internet. Rana, however, laughs it off saying that people might have over-reacted to the whole incident. “I have keratoconus, which means that I’ve a cone-shaped cornea. It’s been there right from the time I was born and I underwent a surgery when I was in class 10; however, you can’t do anything about it. Had I undergone the surgery now, my eye-sight would have become normal. The thing is, when you live with this condition for so long, you don’t take it seriously. All my friends know about it and when they read about it in the papers earlier this year, they called me up to ask if my eyesight got damaged again [laughs]. It’s not like I’m completely blind and I found it hilarious when people began sympathising with me... that I acted in Baahubali without proper eyesight."
And the incidents on the sets of Baahubali were hysterical to say the least. "You know what….this was a running joke during the shoot of Baahubali. Prabhas used to make fun of me asking if I wore my lenses or not. Sometimes, he would complain to Rajamouli that I was charging towards him with a mace without wearing my lenses [laughs]. Rajamouli himself used to give me instructions from a distance and I used to wave at him that I can’t see him, he would run all the way to come near me. Even funnier were my conversations with my grandfather during his last days. He had undergone lasik surgery and out of nowhere, he would tell me that he spotted ants on the floor. And I would just keep staring at the floor without an idea about what my grandfather had seen [laughs],” Rana signs off.