Interview: Raghu Ram gives a men talk on Mencyclopedia podcast, Keedaa Cola and more

The Roadies fame gets candid about his new podcast Mencyclopedia that decodes a man's world, Telugu acting debut with Keedaa Cola, married life and more. 
Raghu Ram
Raghu Ram

Raghu Ram is the half of a pair that makes him and his twin brother Rajiv Lakshman inspiring figures on Indian television. Raghu is almost single-handedly responsible for making millennials glued to TV screens in 2000s when Roadies, the famous and longest running reality show in India, aired; followed by Splitsvilla — India’s first and longest running romance reality show. These shows have amassed him a reputation of a fearless, strongheaded, passionate and free-thinking individual who tore apart his own image of a “good Telugu boy” raised in Delhi to become what he calls as “badass”.

Radhu Ram
Radhu Ram

Now, the reality TV star is making his Telugu acting debut with the film Keedaa Cola — an action-crime-comedy directed by Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam that revolves around a hilarious group of people who decide to make quick money by adulterating a soft drink. The 48-year-old has also started a podcast series Mencyclopedia along with sibling Rajiv that deep dives into men’s issues in personal, professional and love life that remain unaddressed. Get ready to take lessons on romance, men-talk, handling conflicts, facing rejections amicably and more.

Tell us about your character Shots in Keedaa Cola?
What I like about Shots is that he’s an extremely loyal and competent person. I personally think his loyalty is misplaced but that is an admirable quality which also makes him a tragic figure. There’s not much similar between me and him but whenever I do a role, I try to find traits that I can identify with. With Shots, he has a very short temper and low tolerance for incompetence and stupidity. He’s single minded and can tick any goal he sets his mind on. But he’s facing personnel and logistical issues as he’s surrounded by idiots. I related to his frustration (laughs).

Why did you start Mencyclopedia in the first place?
To start important conversations in men’s lives that are often overlooked. Men usually have their guards up in discussing their problems with anyone. If they try to share their problem with other men, they’re met with sexist remarks like ‘ladki mat bann’ (Don’t crib like a girl). Or if you try to tell them a solution, they’re like ‘Oh now you’re going to tell me about manhood? As if I’m not manly enough myself.’ The aim of this podcast is to understand their problems and sensitively chart a solution. If you see, a vast majority of men are still extremely threatened by any woman with an opinion. They still slut shame the opposite gender. They can’t take rejection in love easily. Many even go to the length of punishing a woman if she doesn’t accept their proposal! There are very few platforms to discuss what men feel when they fail a certain aspect of life and how to bring a change in their mindset. The goal is to start a conversation in understanding these problematic behaviours and giving a solution. We pick a topic based on feedback sent via mail and DM by listeners and viewers. They approach us with personal challenges concerning relationships, family dynamics, workplace issues, body image, and sexuality — topics they may not feel comfortable discussing elsewhere.

As Shots
As Shots

Why did you choose podcast over any other medium?
Social media allows only one way communication where you speak (preach) and others listen without any intervention. We wanted a more long duration format, with live feedback, hence the podcast. While the first season was only 10-minute audio episodes, we are planning a second one with video podcasts featuring guests and a live audience, primarily comprising of men who will be free to engage in candid discussions. It will be more like ‘men talk,’ with episodes extending to almost an hour long.

A common topic that men usually do not share with others is their love life. What advice do you have for Indian men struggling to find love?
Our (men’s) relationship with the opposite sex really needs to be looked at closely because we are either looking at women as nurturers, and goddesses or femme fatale. There has to be a medium where we do not put them on a pedestal and still respect them as fellows. Another advice is on men handling rejection by women — they often see it as an attack on their manhood and this idea needs to change. At such times, other men should step in to help their male friends to navigate their fears with utmost sensitivity and gentleness.

Raghu Ram
Raghu Ram

Do you like to maintain your ‘angry young man’ image that the general public often fears?
If people are afraid of me, it’s not a critique of me but a reflection of their own insecurities. If they’re not insecure, they need not feel threatened by a man who poses no harm to them. I am an independent, free-thinking individual, whose behaviour often challenges obedience, cultural norms, and conservative values. I am an atheist, feminist and support logic. I will always be a contrarian. My views will always be in the minority, but I am unapologetic about it! In fact, I stand firmly for my opinions and that is something which has instilled both respect and hate, fear and admiration. On my looks, I like my distinctive appearance. I have always maintained a bald head, pierced earrings and French beard, since the time I joined the television and media industry in early 2000s. In that era, Indians were fast on stereotyping. A bald man was seen as a villain, a fat guy as a comic and so on... But I remain true to myself.

This is your second marriage. What has been your biggest learning in relationships so far?
I am once divorced and have had breakups before. Why did it happen? I was looking for like-minded people. My biggest learning is that like-mindedness doesn’t guarantee a successful relationship. There must be shared values and a strong commitment towards each other which is beyond agreeability. In my marriage with Natalie, we are very different people with the same values that have kept us together. We come from contrasting backgrounds — I am a Telugu boy raised in Delhi and now living in Mumbai while Natalie is an Italian girl raised in Toronto, now living in Mumbai. Our religion, food, cultural references, music, arts… everything is entirely different. And yet, we commit to keep each other happy. It’s beyond having the same interests in food, movies or books etc. Another big learning is that romance is an action. It is a priority. It is like going to the gym if you want a good body or eating healthy food if you want a good life. If you want a great relationship, you have to “do” romance! When Natalie and I started dating, in the first year of our relationship, we travelled together to nine different countries, to get to know each other better! Since then, there’s no looking back (smiles).

Keeda Cola is running in theatres. 
Twitter: @RanaPriyamvada

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