Srisaila Sri Rajamouli Curated
Film Director and Screenwriter
CURATED BY :
How did that thought of making 'Bahubali' come to you?
How did that crazy though come into your mind of making a movie like 'Makki'?
What is the reason that when people go to see you movies, there is thunderous applauds in the cinema halls?
What keeps you so much calm?
What was it like directing Ram Charan again?
What more could you tell us about the new movie "RRR"?
Ram Charan and NTR are really good friends in real life, aren't they? Even though their fans try to compete with each other?
Is it a huge responsibility on your shoulder to work with two big superstars in a same movie?
Is it comforting to know that fans have embraced this releases (RRR)?
Earlier this week you released the motion picture and the teaser which introduces to Ram Charan's character in the movie "RRR". You debated a lot before you put these materials out?
How are you holding up in this current state of lockdown?
So who is S S Rajamouli really?
I belong to an agricultural family. As a kid, mythological stories and folklore really interested me. My father would take me to the government library. He introduced me to the Amar Chitra Katha comics. For hours, I would be lost in those books, after reading them, I would narrate the stories to my classmates. I did not continue my education due to financial reasons. But this never stopped me from reading and learning new things. My parents always encouraged me to read. I am an avid reader. From popular Telugu fiction to serious novels, I make it point to read. My favourite authors are Jeffery Archer and Ayn Rand. In fact, Ayn Rand’s philosophy has influenced me greatly. I started my career as an assistant to (editor) Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao. Then I worked at AVM recording theatre for a few days, before I started assisting my father. For six years, I used to give narration to film directors on behalf of my father. When I would see the output of those films, I used to feel bad that none of them shaped up the way I had imagined.
Does the fear of failure also crossed his mind?
I always fear failure as this industry is very tricky. No one can guarantee a success. But I feel if I have to fail, I would do it by trying rather than not trying at all.
Did Rajamouli ever feel frustrated?
Just before the shooting started, the sheer canvas of the film and the logistics to put it together hit me. For a few days I was contemplating on quitting but somehow I gathered my courage.
A lot of people say that long before Baahubali was made, Eega was your ground-breaking film. Do you see Eega as a testing ground which enabled you to take up a film like Baahubali?
Eega was far more complicated than Baahubali purely from a filmmaking point of view because we had to work really hard to bring alive our vision. Baahubali, on the other hand, was a different kind of challenge. I always had the confidence that I can make a big film like Baahubali. People say that I’m a madman, who’s obsessed with films, which is true. So, when I meet another madman like Shobu (one of the producers of the film) who’s willing to support my vision blindly, films like Baahubali happen. Otherwise, I'm not sure what I would have done. I’ll always be indebted to Shobu, Prasad, my family, and Prabhas for making Baahubali happen. I’m not driven by money or fame. The only thing that keeps me going is to tell a story in the best possible way. I don’t want to compromise there.
When you were young, I heard you were a big time movie buff and used to watch every film, no matter how bad it was. In fact, your cousin Raja Koduri revealed that you would always find something good to say about every film. Have you trained yourself to look at films that way?
I've always loved telling stories. If I read something and didn't like an element in the story, I used to come up with my own version. I loved the dramatising events - be it films or cricket. I think I saw Nayakudu and kept narrating the story to Raja Koduri, who had already seen the film. He was so frustrated with it and asked me to stop after four days (laughs).
You’re quite a successful filmmaker, but what keeps you grounded?
I grew up in a household where we were taught to be humble all our lives. If I don't stand up in honour of an elder person, I used to get be severely reprimanded by my father or my brother (MM Keeravaani). When you're an assistant director in Chennai, you're expected to fold your hands in respect of people who are senior to you. Of course, RGV changed all that, but I'm from a generation before that (laughs).
That’s surprising! When did you realise that you were an atheist?
It didn’t happen overnight. As a teenager, I was a very religious guy and I used wear kaashayam vastralu (dyed red clothes) and even go to churches to listen to hymns. In the process of being so deeply religious, I wasn't happy with myself, the atmosphere or the things going around. Few years after I joined the film industry, when I met and worked with Gunnam Gangaraju, who himself is an atheist, he gave me Ayn Rand's Fountainhead. I won't say I'm an ardent follower of Ayn Rand's philosophy, but it changed me a lot. However, I must add that my personality and my films are poles apart.
Your films have a strong connection with Gods and there’s some form of religious symbolism, in the form of statues of Gods, especially Lord Shiva. There’s plenty of that in Baahubali. Where does that come from?
To tell you the truth, I'm an atheist. For me, Bhakti, in terms of subservience to a higher power, is a very strong emotion. I use it as a storytelling element in my movies. As a director, it’s my job to bring out such strong emotions for a big impact on the viewers.
You’ve often spoken about Mayabazaar as one of your biggest influences. Did this film make you fall in love with movies in first place?
I think so. I was 7-8 years old when I first saw it and as a kid, I loved it immensely. Later, when I came to the film industry, I kept thinking about how KV Reddy and his team made the film back in those days. I was mesmerised by the visual effects in that film. Later, while making Yamadonga, my VFX supervisor and I spent two days just to figure out how KV Reddy had pulled off such amazing special effects back then. The more I explored the world of Mayabazaar, my respect for KV Reddy kept growing.
Let’s say the characters in Baahubali were not in Mahishmathi, but lived in the modern society. Would they still have the same impact? Or is the grandeur of Mahishmathi gives it that edge?
Beyond all the visual splendour, what hooks to your heart is the family drama. For instance, let’s look at the greatest Telugu film ever made - Mayabazaar, which released in way back in 1957. If you look closely, it's also a family drama about how a young couple, who are betrothed to each other, are separated because the boy’s family loses everything and how, in the end, a plan is hatched to reunite them. The fact that it has characters like Krishna, Balarama, Ghatotkach gives it scale. For that matter, even Mahabharata too is a family drama.
Most of your films, so far, have had one defining visual in the first half - whether it’s NTR Jr holding an axe in Simhadri or Prabhas crossing the line in Chatrapathi. But in Baahubali, you’re striving to turn every single frame into a strong visual element. What’s your approach for this film? Are there some really strong 3-4 defining moments that you want to connect?
That’s precisely how my father (K Vijayendra Prasad) and I conceive stories. When my father tells me about a character, he also shares an incident through which we understand what the character is all about. We discuss about the conflicts and relationship of the characters, and take it forward from there. Now, it's my job to figure out how a character should behave to create the maximum impact during those peak moments. We delve into the backstories and then start connecting the dots. The previous scenes are supposed to lead up to that moment, but the challenge is also to make each of the scenes better in itself. Each scene has to hold its ground on its own. Of late, I've cut down on a lot of unnecessary scenes in the process of leading up to those peak moments. Initially, I used to add a lot of scenes for the sake of comedy, songs because I used to fear how people would react if they aren't there. Once I got a lot of confidence as a story-teller, I no longer see the necessity to do all that.
What makes the lead characters in Baahubali 2 so powerful? Is it because of their quest for power?
Not all characters desire power. It's the clarity of the philosophy that we've have given each of the character that makes them so powerful. When the character is clearly etched, then you get fascinated by them - be it Duryodhana, Ravana and for that matter, even Bhallaladeva. Baahubali wants power because he wants to reform the society, but Bhallaladeva’s thirst for power is that of a tyrant-king. When we sat down to design the characters, we had to answer hundreds of questions about each of the characters, including things like where were they born, what would they read, what were their childhood influences etc, and none of these answers were supposed to contradict each other. So by the time we approached the actors to play these characters, we knew exactly what they would do and why they would do something. So, when you have a definitive character - good, bad or evil, you get attracted to characters which behave in a certain manner consistently till the end.
Even though Baahubali : The Conclusion, is releasing 20 months after the first part released, people still remember the characters. In a way, you don’t have to spend too much time introducing the characters in Baahubali 2. As a storyteller does that change the way you’re going to narrate the story?
Not much because Baahubali was conceived as one single story in the beginning, but we had to make it into two parts because each character was so powerful. We thought about what should be the screenplay - whether it should be narrated in a linear format or have a flashback. All we did was fine-tune action sequences, grandeur element and add more humour. As a director, it’s my job to ensure that my films have to be packaged well to cater to everyone and that’s what we did.
Going back to the trailer of Baahubali : The Conclusion, it felt like the big fight between Baahubali and Bhallaladeva was almost like watching Bheema fight against Duryodhana in Mahabharata. Kattappa comes across like a Bheeshma-like figure in the story. Would you agree to this theory?
Now that you've said it, I wouldn't contradict it but it wasn't intentional. I've grown up reading Mahabharata and it's part of my DNA now (smiles). And whenever I make an action drama, all those influences are reinforced in the story in one form or another. I didn't envision Baahubali as Bheema or Bhallaladeva as Duryodhana because the emotion which drives these characters in Mahabharata are very different. And from the way I see it, Kattappa is more like Karna in terms of his emotions. But let's not delve deep into it. It is what it is.
A lot of secrets about Baahubali 2 have been a closely guarded secret and the whole hype surrounding 'Why Kattaappa Killed Baahubali' has gripped the nation. Did you anticipate that one single shot would become the talk of the town?
No one thought it would create such a buzz. Not even me. When we wanted to conclude the first part, we didn't want a tame ending. When Shivagami declares that Amarendra Baahubali is going to be the King and Bhallaldeva as the Senadhipathi, it felt like an appropriate ending, but we had to show Kattappa and Shivudu as well in the end because Kattappa was narrating the flashback. We wanted to give a twist, but didn't expect that single frame would explode like an atom bomb (laughs).