SS Rajamouli: RRR began as a love story
Filmmaker SS Rajamouli, along with Jr NTR and Ram Charan, discusses his ambitious RRR as the four-year-long journey nears culmination
Filmmaking is an arduous process but even the most empathetic among us may be of the opinion that being part of promotions must be relatively easy. However, after being part of the group conversation with the RRR team—one in which many members of the media were invited--it's hard not to see that film promotions can be difficult too, especially when you are Rajamouli, Jr NTR, and Ram Charan. The trio has been travelling across the nation promoting the film and answering mostly repetitive questions. As always, the questions in this group interaction ranged from flattery to frivolity to fascinating. At one point, Ram Charan was asked, “Romance has always been a prominent element in your films. Even in Magadheera, you shared romantic chemistry with Kajal Aggarwal. What can we expect in RRR?” Jr NTR was quick to respond, “RRR has bromance,” leaving the room in splits.
Somehow, Ram Charan kept receiving the strangest of the questions, one about his speculated 100-crore salary for his next with Shankar and his entry into politics, following the footsteps of his father Chiranjeevi. “First of all, I would like to know where those 100 crores are,” a candid Charan said with a smile. “Coming to politics, I don’t even know its spelling.” Rajamouli faced his share of funny questions as well, with the most amusing one being why he isn’t interested in casting international stars in his films. The Baahubali-filmmaker gave a response that illustrates the soul of his films. “Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves might be the biggest stars of the world, but to me, my heroes matter more than the world,” he says. “Everything boils down to the story. I have to be moved by the story and the character to cast a particular actor.”
Who was the most obedient among the two stars on the sets, Rajamouli is asked. “It’s me, sir,” Tarak raises his hand like a naughty student mocking the professor. On a serious note, while talking about their dynamics at the shooting spot, Tarak shares that the filmmaker never allowed him to outshine Ram Charan and vice-a-versa. “When Charan does a wonderful job and excels me, Rajamouli would push me further so I’m as good as him in the scene.”
As the conversation gradually moves away from blague and speculations about the stars’ salaries, and inches towards an insightful discussion, the filmmaker shares that his filmmaking choices are driven by the response they’ll incite in the viewer. “With RRR, the intention is to give the audience a high in the theatre for every ten minutes. It can be done through any device: action, spectacle, or emotion,” Rajamouli says. Over the years, the filmmaker has grown synonymous with grandeur, but he disagrees that his films have relied solely on alluring visuals. “I believe that emotion of the story has to drive the spectacle. When films try to stand solely on the spectacle, they fall flat.”
Filmmakers have a propensity to take pride in the extensive usage of visual effects in their films, but Rajamouli shares he has come way past even the need to keep a track of visual effects shots. “To be honest, I have no idea about the number of the VFX shots in RRR. Neither do I know which country they were done in. All I do is communicate what I need in a shot, and my fantastic visual effects supervisor, Srinivas Mohan, will get the job done,” Rajamouli says. “I feel the magic of VFX is when it’s imperceptible.”
RRR has been in the making for four years now, beginning in November 2017, when Rajamouli shared a picture with Jr NTR and Ram Charan. How does he remain objective to his labour of love? “There are two things that keep me going: fear and family. I’m always scared of going off the track and hence, I ensure I stay as vigilant as possible,” the filmmaker says, adding that his family, his wife Rama (costume designer), father Vijayendra Prasad (writer), brother MM Keeravani (music composer), and son Karthikeya (second unit director), are his “harshest critics”.
The filmmaker also shares an anecdote about the genesis of RRR, encapsulating the role of his family. “I envisioned my follow up to Baahubali 2: The Conclusion as a small film without visual effects and action sequences. I planned to direct a love story with two male superstars and a girl. This is what I pitched to both Tarak and Charan and we were all on board with the idea. When I shared the same with my wife, her instant reaction was, ‘who’ll care to watch a love story from you?’ and it was heart-breaking. I have always wanted to witness the confluence of two superpowers. And when I thought of telling a fictional tale of two real-life heroes, I felt an emotional excitement, and the two actors too liked it more than the love story,” Rajamouli says. “As I said earlier, my family always make sure I’m on the right track.”
Rajamouli is a tough taskmaster; Jr NTR adds that it’s extremely difficult to please the director. “The farthest he will go to appreciate your performance is by saying ‘nice’. That’s all you get from him,” Jr NTR says. "But it means a million words." Ram Charan, on the other hand, says, “99% of the emotions you have to convey are already in the script and as an actor, my part is just 1%. If you want to go beyond 100% too, he’ll help you bring out the best in you.”
As the discussion inches towards closure, the filmmaker finds the best lines to close. “RRR is a celebration, and we are glad to bring it in front of the whole world,” the director says brimming with a smile. I walked away, satisfied and curious about how these three managed to answer every single question with a smile without an ounce of exhaustion.