Rana Daggubati: Seven years of being a producer, visual effects guy and an actor
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Rana Daggubati: Seven years of being a producer, visual effects guy and an actor

Despite being a star kid, Rana Daggubati has never relied on his famous surname, taking risks, going to a film school, dabbling in production and visual effects to working in different industries including Hindi, Tamil apart from his own Telugu. But the film that really discovered him was Baahubali and the genre that found him is action.

regional movies Updated: Apr 15, 2017 13:06 IST
Apoorva Sripathi
Apoorva Sripathi
Grist Media
Rana Daggubati,Baahubali: The Beginning,Baahubali 2: The Conclusion
Rana Daggubati rightly attributes his success to the Baahubali franchise.

Quora has a brief and delightful thread that begins with the question, “What is Rana Daggubati like in real life?” The answer? A random selfie of the strapping Telugu movie star with two fans, accompanied by a two-line caption that insists Rana is “very cool and caring guy, had good knowledge about all crafts, as well as fitness freak and very open to everyone”. In the photo, Rana looks startled by what was probably a selfie-hijack but is nevertheless good-naturedly participating in the fan activity that has long replaced autograph-seeking.

The picture is a lot like Rana Daggubati’s attitude to his career. He has brought flamboyance and dedication to all the requirements of being onscreen or behind it. He has stayed with the attitude even after a seven-year career that hasn’t brought him true, unalloyed success. It was only the 2015 mega blockbuster Baahubali (his 12th film), where he played the towering Bhallaladeva, that made him a household name.

He’s returning to the role of the villainous Bhallaladeva in Baahubali 2 which releases April 28 -- the most expensive film series in India and the first to be released in 4K High Definition format -- and Rana’s dark, powerful depiction is already generating the bulk of the buzz for this year’s most anticipated hit film.

If Rana Daggubati has become a household in India, it is solely because of Baahubali.

Ever since the first Baahubali, female audiences have found Rana to be thoroughly fetching -- in some not-so-dark corners of the internet, women have dedicated numerous Twitter threads to GIFs of his powerful movements from Baahubali, whether it’s him spitting blood, masterfully rolling his big shoulders, skillfully handling his weapon or making ‘sexy eyes’ as they call it. Which the media has comfortably co-opted into naming him as one of the ‘most desirable’ men.

Rana also admits that Baahubali was the turning point in his career, “that the film has really taught me a lot of things in my life”. The 2012 Telugu action drama Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum, where he starred with Nayantara, was successful at the box office and it was the reason Rana was cast in Baahubali. And post-Baahubali, Rana says he didn’t have to “run around finding newer films at least for the next three of four years of my life”, and that it gave him time to see what kind of content he wanted to do. “It was the reason why I became an actor-to tell new stories and I stick to that which is how I found Ghazi.”

In the 2017 Bollywood movie The Ghazi Attack, which was inspired by the sinking of Pakistan submarine PNS Ghazi in 1971, Rana plays a beefy Lt Commander Arjun Varma. The film is a fictional tale about a covert Indian Navy operation and how it deals with Pakistan forms the crux of the movie.

No genre suits him the way action does... Rana in a poster of The Ghazi Attack.

Out of the seven years of his career, Rana dedicated five of it to Baahubali and perhaps those five years have paid off because he says that’s how The Ghazi Attack -- found him. “It’s fine that I did a Baahubali for five years because after that I did another Baahubali. Most of the films that I’ve done in the recent past are action ones; stuff that were physically taxing and challenging.” In The Ghazi Attack, for instance, he did a bunch of underwater stunts on his own.

But this is not to say that Rana has had to go through a struggle these seven years, romantic or otherwise. He comes from a line of cinema greats in Telugu - his grandfather D Rama Naidu was a successful film producer who finds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, while his uncle Venkatesh and his cousin Naga Chaitanya are popular actors. Like the other film families of Indian cinema (from the Kapoors of Mumbai to the Akkinenis of Hyderabad), Rana has grown up with the paraphernalia of films. When he was 12, he spent most of days in the editing room, and also watching film shootings-both at his house in Hyderabad. In our conversation over the phone he admits that with a childhood like his, getting into films wasn’t just natural-he “didn’t know anything else.” “Plus,” he adds disarmingly, “it’s not that I did extremely well in school.”

From his debut film Leader (2010) where he plays a young chief minister, trying to set right his late father’s faults, to the recent The Ghazi Attack, Rana has traversed through all kinds of roles, war drama in particular.

Rana’s subtle and understated performance in The Ghazi Attack was highly appreciated.

Blame the physique perhaps, but if one is built like Rana is, does it decide the roles he gets? Rana has also played the lead in a Telugu romance movie, which he happily admits wasn’t for him, unlike action which seems tailor-made. “It’s a genre that I don’t know so well, but I definitely like romance-I just don’t understand it well enough. But see, I did Bangalore Days in Tamil, which is about a boring office guy who was a biker back in the day.” This is an unintentionally comic description of his role. In the Tamil remake of the super-hit Malayalam movie Bangalore Days, Rana reprised Fahadh Faasil’s role of a melancholic husband, a role for which Faasil received tremendous praise. Rana brought macho to the game, but even fans would say he was more glum (and faintly robotic) than brooding.

Unlike his peers, who have steadily stuck to the “mass entertainer” genre, Rana says he’s wary of the phrase. And vehemently so. “I don’t want to do the song-dance formula; there are many people doing it right?” He freely talks about failure post his first two films when he “tried to work in the traditional format of cinema -I did Nenu Naa Rakshasi and Naa Ishtam (films that largely revolved around romance, although in the former Rana had an unusual job for a romantic movie, that of a professional killer); both of them didn’t work at all.” And before you can say “er… you did Baahubali, a mass entertainer on steroids”, Rana claims that the other two films didn’t work because he didn’t understand what was happening, because he was trying to play the ‘typical’ hero.

The truth is that Rana tries new things all the time. He is a baller, and not a slacker as many famous beneficiaries of cinematic nepotism have been-in seven years, he has been actor, producer, photographer and visual effects coordinator. Unlike his peers in the Telugu film industry, who have dabbled in the odd Hindi or Tamil film, Rana’s career is divergent. After his debut in Telugu, Rana experimented with a Hindi film, Rohan Sippy’s Dum Maaro Dum, before working on some more Telugu films, a Hindi film, a cameo or two and then a Tamil film. He is surprisingly relaxed for someone with his Jubilee Hills star kid bio.

Rana Daggutabai accepts that his outing as a romantic hero was a failure. Seen here, in a still from Bangalore Naatkal, which was the Tamil remake of the superhit Malayalam film Bangalore Days.

Away from the camera and behind it, Rana has been quite successful-he won the State Nandi Award for Best Special Effects in 2006 for the Telugu film Sainikudu, and the National Film Award for co-producing Bommalata, a Telugu children’s film about a rag-picker, who dreams of going to school. As another legacy kid, his father Daggubati Suresh Babu is naturally proud of him, especially “how he handles his little success and lot of failure quite well. He did everything for himself”. Despite their existing family banner Suresh Productions, Rana decided to go with a different production house. Before that, to prepare for a solid career in films, he trained to be a filmmaker, went to theatre class and worked in some studios in Mumbai. He worked as a visual supervisor for more than five years in his company, Spirit Media. As he was figuring out his life and career, Rana even worked for a BPO and tried to venture away from films. Which he then realised was something he didn’t want to do. So when he came back, he wanted to do “content that nobody was doing”.

Does it make him a better entrepreneur than an actor? Rana doesn’t take a second to think, pat comes his reply. “I’m part of the film business. I ran a successful company [Spirit Media]. I produced films, I’ve won National Awards, we’ve made a lot of money, I act in films, I’ve had some success in them and some failures. It’s the film business, so I’m there in the film and the business,” he laughs. He has even had a recent foray into talent management-Rana has set up a JV with Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions to represent and manage an actor’s projects and their businesses. His uncle Venkatesh is happy to vouch for Rana’s business acumen. “He started young, he knows he’s got the opportunity and he can take the risk. I think youngsters have a better business sense and now that they’re earning quite early, they want to invest it.”

Rana shows very little of the fake gravitas that stars sometimes acquire when discussing involvement in the business end. Unsurprisingly, neither does his Instagram account. Instead, his feed is all about the macho appetite for suitably gigantic burgers (and his first vegetarian pizza) a fondness for self-deprecating memes, pictures of utter random things he finds while traveling (for example a restaurant that shares his name and sells ‘100% pure mutton haleem’) selfies with his costars, his big love for throwback Thursday-type nostalgic photos with his extended family and a goofy sense of humour-best depicted in photos he forages off the Internet, or on how he fits on the emergency exit rows of a plane or the hilarious ‘Chainees Wet Non-Veg’ menu he found in a hotel dining room.

All this ties to who Rana is as a person, vouched by his friends, family and colleagues-smart, funny, sharp with a shrewd sense of savvy, seemingly good-natured (he is marriage material says a film studies pal of mine unashamed of this unprofessional moment) with a laugh that’s so terribly infectious, even at the other end of the phone.

Nothing online is a reflection of a man who likes to hang out with Excel sheets. Because why should the public care? They would rather see a monstrous Rana Daggubati in Bahubaali fight and tame a wild bull, even if it is VFX generated.

(Published in arrangement with GRIST Media)

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First Published: Apr 15, 2017 13:00 IST