The brawny six-foot-three inch Rana Daggubati looks like a made-to-order hero, but there’s more to him than just that. As a producer in Prakash Kovelamudi’s Bommalata, he bagged the National honour and as a VFX supervisor for Sainikudu, he took home the Nandi Award, Andhra Pradesh’s highest honour for excellence in Telugu cinema. He also took the critics by surprise when he nailed the character of Arjun Prasad in his Telugu debut, Leader (2010), with a mature and effortless performance. While his Bollywood debut saw the 31-year-old as the brooding hero in Dum Maaro Dum (2011), Tamil audiences were introduced to the Chennai-born actor when he played Ajith’s gun-toting best friend, ACP Sanjay, in Arrambam (2013). But, of course, his moment of glory is undoubtedly the portrayal of the ruthless Bhallala Deva, the main antagonist in SS Rajamouli’s magnum opus Baahubali: The Beginning (2015). Working on a host of projects, including the final schedule of Baahubali: The Conclusion, a sequel to Leader, Ghazi—India’s first submarine film based on the Indo-Pak war of 1975—and Madai Thiranthu, a bilingual period film set in 1945, among others, the actor will also be the voice for Tom Hanks in the Telugu version of Inferno. Currently shooting in Karaikkudi, he took some time off to speak to us about playing the bad guy, the challenges of body transformation and his penchant for war films.
What does Baahubali: The Conclusion have in store for Bhallala Deva?
It’s the continuation of the story and tries to explain why we are what we are in part one. Expect more drama and action. The set pieces are so much bigger and the scale is higher in every which way. Saying yes to Baahubali is almost like a childhood dream because I grew up on war movies and I loved Amar Chitra Katha as a kid. So when someone was trying to recreate that world in cinema, I had to do it. The movie is almost done. We have a final schedule due in November.
Do you like playing the bad guy?
I love playing the bad guy. Especially if it’s something of this scale, in a period mythology film, with such grandeur. Mythology isn’t just restricted to a Ramayana or Mahabharata. We have stories that emulate the scale of those characters and this is one such story. Be it your Ravana or Duryodhana, the villain guides a large part of a tale, or even a film for that matter. So playing the antagonist was an amazing experience.
How did you and Rajamouli work on your character?
I take a detailed brief from the director. With Rajamouli that’s easy because he’s very clear about his characters. There are no doubts about the requirements. You just need to be in character. He is someone who pushes you to achieve the mould he has carved for his character. So it’s always a mix of both—the director’s vision and your own touches.
How was the experience of dubbing for Tom Hanks, especially since it’s the first time you’re lending your voice to another artiste?
It was amazing. Tom Hanks is one of the finest actors of the West and most of us have grown up watching him on screen. I had a little fanboy moment. Their cinema has a lot more maturity and experience. While dubbing for him, I was trying to catch his pauses and pitch, and I learnt so much. The challenge was that he is an older guy and I didn’t want it to sound like a younger guy was giving the voiceover. I only dub for myself and I know the pace at which I speak and the pauses I take. Initially, I started imitating his style, which didn’t work as well for the narrative. But it got better with practise.
What’s a typical day like for you these days?
Schedules have been so packed that there’s hardly been any time for us to relax. I leave for the shoot at Ramoji Film City at 6 am. Work takes a good 12 hours, after which I head out for dubbing. I love reading and catching a movie, but that’s not been possible for the last few months. I am basically Bhallala Deva by day and Robert Langdon by night. As exciting as they are, these films are not easy. Especially Baahubali, with its tiring schedules and hot, sultry sets.
How do you treat a sensitive story like Ghazi when adapting it for the big screen?
Ghazi is the first Indian war film shot inside a submarine and based on events that actually transpired. It was challenging because it’s a cross-border film and we didn’t have a reference. Some of the events actually happened here at the Vizag Port and not many people know about it. It is sensitive and there are many conspiracy theories surrounding it in history. We spoke to naval officers who served during the time. The submarines were recreated to scale with material from Russia, keeping the original in mind.
As an artiste, do you think remakes do justice to the original?
Even if the remake is far more superior to the original, we will still like the latter because of the image we have of it. I loved Aamir Khan in Ghajini. But Surya’s image in that role is so strong that I sometimes can’t think beyond him. It’s the first vision of what you get to see, which can’t be recreated. In Bangalore Naatkal, for instance, I tried pitching my performance to be very similar to Fahadh Faasil’s, except that we changed my look for the biker portions. I grew my beard out and my styling was different for those scenes. In the original, Fahadh looked more or less the same when he switched between the two personas. People who have watched him in the original will not be able to place me in that frame, and rightly so.
How do you evaluate your own performance?
When you finish a film, you’re so invested in that performance and story that you are blind to its flaws at that point. So I go back to my movies a little later and evaluate my work, seeing what I can do better. My biggest critics are my family. Being at home really feels like being at a film school. Though we have discussions about each other’s work, at the end of it, everything boils down to our individual choices.
Packing a punch
Having lost close to 20 kilos for his role in Baahubali, Daggubati took to his Twitter handle earlier this week to share an image of his chiselled body. For the last six months, the actor says he has been lifting weights twice a day, with intensive workouts, boxing and martial arts sessions as part of his routine, paired with small meals eight to nine times a day. “Baahubali is a war film and, in that context, when you establish a character who can kill a bison with his bare hands, it really needs a lot of work,” he says.
Rana Daggubati’s look has changed along with his role choices. The actor, who once liked to maintain a neat stubble, now sports a signature moustache and beard. According to his stylist Geetika Chadha, the Rudramadevi actor likes mixing his outfits, with a preference for fusion wear and handloom. He can be spotted in brands like Burberry and Tarun Tahiliani, and is most often spotted in grunge-inspired or semi-formal ensembles.