EXCLUSIVE: As India grapples with its devastating wave of Covid, the film industry is again on a hiatus, production is being stopped and cinemas are closing. As the nation emerges from this troubled time and the industry picks up pace, audiences will turn their attention to the biggest releases of the year which will hopefully revive the cinematic experience once it is safe to do so. There is no hotterly anticipated release on the 2021 calendar in India than RRR, the latest film from Baahubali filmmaker SS Rajamouli, arguably the most successful director in India right now.
Mega-budget action picture in Telugu language RRR revolves around two legendary Indian revolutionaries and their journey to fight for their country, and will feature both NT Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, two of the biggest names in Telugu Cinema, starring.
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. recently called Jr NTR on the set of the film to discuss how things were going. Since our chat, production had to be stopped due to the resurgence of Covid. Only a handful of sequences could be filmed. Yesterday, Jr NTR announced that he had also tested positive for Covid, but confirmed to us and in a tweet that he is “absolutely fine” and that he is isolating with his family under the supervision of doctors.
The RRR team is optimistic that the film will be ready in time for release on October 13th once production resumes. Below, Jr NTR tells us about his pandemic experience, what to expect from RRR, and how he hopes the film could be the savior of cinema.
.: How was this pandemic for you?
JR NTR: It was pretty frustrating. I was 17 when I was in my first film. Since then, I’ve always been someone who likes to work 365 days a year. I’m such a workaholic that the last thing I wanted was to be locked up at home.
On the lighter side, I have these lovely little children and I’ve had time to relax and connect with them. I was also able to spend time with my mother, wife, and cousins. It was a mixture of emotions. When we went back to work, we went back down sharply.
There is such a wide variety of movies people can watch these days, especially at OTT, and what people are looking for has changed. This time has enabled me to re-analyze myself and start over for the next few days.
.: Let’s talk about RRR. Is it pronounced “RRR” or “Triple R”?
JR NTR: It’s basically RRR, but you can call it Triple R.
.: On the one hand I read that it is an abbreviation for the three names behind the film (Rajamouli, Rama Rao, Ram Charan), but I also read separately that it means “rise, roar, rebellion” …
JR NTR: It started with our names, a quirky way we come together and make the greatest multi-star film India has ever seen. It was just a working title, but it got so famous that at one point Rajamouli thought, “Why not call it Triple R?” Then he came up with the acronym Rise, Roar, Revolt.
DEADLINE: When did the production journey begin?
Jr NTR in ‘RRR’
JR NTR: November 2018. It has been a long journey, if you deal with Rajamouli it will be. This man shot Baahubali in two parts for five years. At RRR we faced the pandemic for about eight months, technically we shot for about nineteen months. This film demanded that kind of respect from its technicians. The action sequences will leave people amazed. It took this time to become a movie as big as was expected. Rajamouli is a perfectionist and everything has to be perfect. October still looks very likely [for the release].
DEADLINE: Has the pandemic changed the movie in any way?
JR NTR: Nothing has changed in terms of budget, and neither has history. But the speed at which we were working changed when we came back to hire. We wanted to rush through filming before the effects of the pandemic were felt again. We worked day and night.
This industry has been one of the worst hit. It’s very self-sufficient, we don’t have a lot of government help. It’s like a chain reaction from production to exhibition. But the audience returned to the theaters again [when restrictions were previously lifted] and that gave us a glimmer of hope.
DEADLINE: Have the makers of this film ever thought about releasing it directly on an OTT platform?
JR NTR: RRR was never considered for an OTT version. There are certain films that need to be enjoyed as a community on a big screen. Would you like to see Baahubali or Jurassic Park or Avengers on OTT? No, we never thought about it, we were ready to wait for cinemas. We have a glimmer of hope, we know people will come back to watch movies. India lives from films. We take them very seriously as an audience. RRR is one such film.
DEADLINE: Are you hoping this film could get cinemas going again when they get back?
JR NTR: This film is made today by India’s most successful and focused director. With Baahubali he opened markets in India – he opened the gates from north to south and from east to west, he made the country one with his films. We never knew that a regional Telugu movie would really ring bells across the country, China, America and the UK. I’m pretty confident that RRR will be such a movie. Me and Ram Charan getting together for this film are pretty fascinating to the audience.
DEADLINE: Tell me about working with Rajamouli, it sounds intense …
JR NTR: This is my fourth collaboration with him. We started together in 2001 when I was still a naive actor and he was a naive director, but he had big ideas about making a difference in Indian cinema. Nothing has changed, he’s the same guy, he’s a great master of the task. The way he gives his actors leeway, you know this is the best thing you will ever do. I felt it then and I feel it now. I nicknamed him “Jakkanna” – a famous sculptor in the south who is known for his flawless masterpieces. He’s also a tough taskmaster, and that’s how Rajamouli shapes his films.
It is a pleasure to work with him. Not because I’m part of this big movie, but because I’m very proud of how much such a close friend has achieved. He needs that respect, he gives you incredible opportunities as an actor or a technician.
DEADLINE: Your character is based on a real revolutionary. To what extent have you explored the real person? Is there any extra pressure that fills a real figure’s shoes?
JR NTR: Absolutely. The heroes we are talking about are still featured in the wider India. These characters were heroes sung locally. The task is to show the country and the world what they were and what they achieved. We had a lot of research going on. We knew a little bit about them growing up as kids because they were our local heroes. If we had to get them on screen, we had to go through much of their lives. I now tell my children the stories of these characters, they live on through our memories. Physically, we had to look for a certain path, we had to work through our assessment.
.: did you have to train a lot?
JR NTR: I was put on a hectic exercise program for about 18 months. I had to get the right look. I was 71 pounds before for another movie and needed to gain about nine pounds of muscle mass.
FRIST: How did you keep that up during the lockdown?
JR NTR: [Laughs] We had finished a lot of this work. When I was in lockdown, I didn’t have to hold out that much.
DEADLINE: Can you tell us something else about the film?
JR NTR: I really can’t tell you more, if Rajamouli reads this interview and he will definitely read it, he will be running after me with an ax. Every RRR action sequence is designed to “wow” the audience and knock them off their seats. I can’t reveal more.
FRIST: In the last few years we have seen international cinema, not English language films, have traveled further around the world and have found new audiences. Indian cinema is very self-sufficient, but Baahubali, for example, has made a lot of money in international markets like China. Do you think about it more?
JR NTR: Baahubali opened the doors to the world. There was also a movie called Dangal that made fantastic numbers in China. The gates have been opened to different parts of the world, I think it’s fantastic. But not every film can travel. As an actor, if you have the opportunity to tell the story to everyone, why not?
DEADLINE: What are you going to do I heard that you are making a new film with Koratala Siva.
JR NTR: He and I did an earlier film called Janatha Garage that was a big blockbuster. We’ll get back together after RRR. At this point we are still working on the script. We have an idea. I look forward to it. And then I have a film in preparation with Prashanth Neel, the director of KGF.
FRIST: The Siva project is called “pan-Indian” …
JR NTR: I hate to call it pan-indian, it sounds like a pan. We just mean that it is a film that can travel in all Indian languages. It is published all over India like RRR.
.: Are you interested in moving behind the camera?
JR NTR: I haven’t thought about that yet. I firmly believe in fate. I’m someone who, as an actor, wants to be part of the story, definitely not directly. But I would like to produce content. I want to create content that will travel the world and share India’s cultural heritage with the world.
FRIST: How about a job outside of India? Maybe Hollywood?
JR NTR: Why not? If there is an opportunity for an actor of Indian origin to be in world cinema it would be absolutely a great thing. India as a country had a lot of inhibitions before, but it is now making progress in terms of talent and films.
FRIST: Do you work with the steam services?
JR NTR: I haven’t started yet because things were so crazy with RRR and the pandemic. But who knows what the future will look like. I think we’ll start talking.