‘I am an actor because real life is quite boring,’ says Rana Daggubati
Rana Daggubati wears different hats — that of an actor, entrepreneur, and a producer. In this candid interview, he tells us more about his love for cinema, storytelling, and life off camera
The one virtue that people could learn from Rana Daggubati is patience. The superstar actor from South India, who is most recognised for his role as Bhallaladeva from SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali films, is truly the epitome of calmness. Unlike his fiercely belligerent character of Bhallaladeva, Rana is extremely affable in real life. We meet him at the launch of Happy Head, an IV Clinic, in Bengaluru, on an evening when unexpected showers significantly delayed the event. However, when Rana walks into the room, even the gloomiest weather seems bearable. Between talking about the brand and posing for innumerable selfies, the actor spoke with Indulge about the last two years of his life and how things changed for him not just on the professional front, but also in his personal life, and that’s when we discover that Rana’s biggest strength is his patience and perseverance to live life, one day at a time.
Transforming with time
Exactly two years ago, in 2020, Rana’s much-awaited, highly marketed multi-lingual movie Kaadan (in Tamil, Aranya in Telugu, and Haathi Mere Saathi in Hindi), was supposed to release. But just then COVID-19 reared its head, and everything came to a screeching halt including the movie’s release. In 2021, the movie was set to release on Sankranti, but it was put on hold again due to the uncertainty caused by the virus. Finally, Kaadan hit screens in March last year. The entire period was a waiting game for Rana, but he says, “Now it’s everywhere, on Eros Now and Zee 5. It’s streaming on different platforms.” It’s this optimism that’s kept Rana going. The actor also had to undergo an organ transplant, according to media reports, during the shooting of the same film.
Not many know or can fathom the challenges that actors have to deal with behind the scenes. But that doesn’t slow them down, and Rana says, “I am an actor because real life is quite boring and in films, you get to be a different character every time. This is the major fun aspect of my job.” The job also includes, apart from acting, transforming the body according to the requirements of characters. While we saw a bulked-up Bhallaladeva in Baahubali, in Kaadan, Rana went lanky as Veerabharathi. For his next release, Virata Parvam, that was shot in 2021, the actor had to work on being slim and fit as a fiddle to play Comrade Ravanna.
“I was like a big beast before, I think I am more like a human now. A transformation like this happens if you go to the gym every single day for two years. My job every day involves a lot of cardio, I don’t have to sit at a desk for long hours. I am always running around and jumping, that’s what I usually do,” he says in jest. But on a serious note, the actor explains, “If someone offers me a character that I have never seen before or is unlike my personality — be it Bhallaladeva or Kaadan — these are individuals who are very far from who I am. You need to transform yourself mentally and physically to get under their skin. Transforming mentally is one thing, all of us actors do it all the time, but physical change is an extremely demanding process. You don’t have writers and directors or anyone else collectively making it happen. It’s just you and your trainer and everything you eat shows. This kind of transformation is something that I have always had fun in undertaking.”
When not working towards building a physique for a particular character, Rana says he sticks to a basic weekly plan. “I try to weight train at least three times a week and I do cardio once, I try not to break this regimen. The lifestyle I have or for that matter, anyone my age has, plus the stress levels and partying that we deal with, I think our bodies need support and nourishment.”
Rana’s candidness and his honesty is what gives more room for conversation. Perhaps a reason why the actor wants to be a part of the larger conversation in the film industry. He isn’t just acting in front of the camera, the artiste is also a visual effects producer, a film producer, and last year, he launched his own production house.
The first short film under the banner Bommalata – A Belly Full of Dreams, a children’s film, was well-received in the film festival circuit. “Bommalata is my first film as a producer and the Bandra Film Festival was the first festival that chose to award it,” he says excitedly, adding, “Whether I am behind the scenes, or in front of the camera, just being part of storytelling is a lot of fun because I am constantly creating and trying to influence people with good things. I get to tell stories that we rarely hear. That’s what keeps me excited and going. Whether I have to be an actor to get that done or be a producer to do it, or just be involved in executing visual effects – any role works for me. As an entrepreneur, all these roles become an integral part of me and my business.”
Though Rana is backed by an illustrious family of filmmakers, the idea of nepotism doesn’t matter because of his exceptional talent and vision to create opportunities for aspiring artistes and filmmakers. “My family never put any pressure on me. They are all quite chilled out. It’s a family that loves films and filmmaking, and if there’s anything to do with movies, they are glad to be part of it,” he says. But before he could choose the path of doing something unusual from the rest, the actor says he had to create a space for himself and consolidate his position in the industry.
“When I became an actor, about a decade earlier, the first set of films I did were quite alternative. Doing films in Telugu without any songs or action sounded very strange. But such films are mainstream now. I was trying to find this path of storytelling back then, and hence I took up different jobs apart from being an actor. About seven years ago, when we were thinking of making a war submarine film in Telugu, nobody was open to it nor willing to put money in it. But this vision is what kept me going. We found these unusual spaces and found such stories to tell and now I am able to engage and help more filmmakers do the same,” offers Rana. This is why the actor, apart from his commercial films, associates with filmmakers who approach subjects and the craft differently. He says this was one of the primary factors that made him agree to do Kaadan.
“When Prabhu Solomon narrated the story to me first, it was so unique and fascinating. We who live in cities have little understanding of what the wild really is. The narrative was very documentary-like so it had to be executed like that. To me, just being able to live that life and to be able to bring that alive on a large screen format and make it entertaining was the exciting part. Today, everyone is headed in that direction of wanting change, wanting to preserve the wild and save animals. I believe if you put your heart in the right place then everything changes; post this film I felt everything had an immediate effect on things. Within a month of its release, I partnered with a chopper company that plants seeds from the air. So, this is what we actually wanted. You planted a thought somewhere, someone picked up the idea and things moved. I am involved in the reforestation programmes that we are planning to carry out. It’s pretty amazing!” he enthuses.
On the personal front, the most exciting thing that happened to Rana during this dreaded pandemic is his marriage to Miheeka Bajaj. When the world was still in the process of adapting to the new normal in August 2020, Rana and Miheeka tied the knot, in a small ceremony with only close family members and friends in attendance, surprising everyone! “I was surprised too!” the actor says with a laugh. This was the biggest celebrity wedding during the time, and pictures from it went viral. But after the wedding, the couple has maintained privacy, and they rarely share personal updates on social media. “I feel much more balanced and content in the space I am in. I am happier, for sure. Miheeka is awesome and very supportive of what I do,” reveals the actor. On the work front, Rana is now awaiting the theatrical release of Virata Parvam which has been delayed owing to the lockdowns and the third wave. But the wait is all worth it says the actor. “It’s a very honest movie and in this traffic jam of films, we are trying to find a date to get it out,” he says. He also adds that the film belongs to Sai Pallavi, who plays the lead opposite him. “It’s a Sai Pallavi film for sure, I play an important character. It’s completely her tale. If you know the director Venu (Udugula), he is someone who has lived in that world of Naxalism that was so prevalent at that time in Andhra. This is a love story that we picked from that period,” he signs off.