Rana Daggubati is going to be working very hard over the next couple of years – a shift in strategy for an actor who says he is choosy about his roles and likes to concentrate on a single production at a time.
Daggubati will soon embark on Prabhu Solomon’s Haathi Mere Saathi, a multi-lingual movie about the human-elephant conflict. The title is a tribute to the 1971 Hindi film of the same name. The Eros International production will be made in Tamil, Hindi and Daggubati’s native language, Telugu.
The actor is also preparing for K Madhu’s Anizham Thirunaal Marthanda Varma, a Malayalam-Telugu bilingual biopic about the eighteenth-century king of Travancore, and Rudhramadevi director Gunashekar’s Telugu mythological Hiranyakashipu. Daggubati also has Madai Thiranthu, a Tamil-Telugu bilingual set in pre-independence India in 1945, and Social, a Hindi-Telugu web series in which he plays the role of the head of a company called Social.
“I always make it a point to work on one film at a time,” Daggubati said. “Starting January, I will focus only on Solomon sir’s film and shoot straight for months until it is complete. Films like Hiranyakashipu will almost take a year to start. It is a film akin to the scale of Baahubali and a visual-effects intensive project. We haven’t begun casting for the project yet. Even a project like the Marthanda Varma biopic will need adequate preparation before we begin shooting.”
Daggubati is clearly spreading his footprint across different language industries. Apart from Telugu films, he appeared in Dum Maaro Dum, his first Hindi movie, in 2011. His roles in the Baahubali blockbusters as the evil Bhallala Deva have made 33-year-old Daggubati a nationally recognised actor.
“I’ve never planned my career,” the 33-year-old actor said. “I worked in film after film because I’m fond of telling new stories. There are always some aspects that an actor examines while choosing a film. For me, the most important of them all is to determine whether the story of a film is worth telling.”
Daggubati is Telugu film royalty – he is the son of film producer Daggubati Suresh Babu, the grandson of legendary producer D Ramanaidu and the nephew of Telugu star Venkatesh. “In a way, my foray into cinema was pre-decided,” he said. “When I was growing up, cinema was all I was surrounded by. There were producers, technicians, actors all in the family. Nearly everyone in the house was working in the movies. So, as a child, I think I just picked up a lot of aspects related to the craft of filmmaking really early on.”
But a career in films did not immediately follow college. “I worked in food processing for some time, but that didn’t work out,” he said. “I also worked at a BPO. That too didn’t work out. I did a bunch of nonsense jobs before I reached where I belonged.”
Daggubati was a visual effects supervisor before he became an actor. His work for Gunasekhar’s Sainikudu (2006), starring Mahesh Babu and Trisha, even won him an award. In 2010, he landed his first lead role in Sekhar Kammula’s Leader. As Arjun Prasad, a politician smoothly negotiating corruption and power, Daggubati’s performance won praise, and his acting career took off.
He has shuttled between the Telugu and Hindi film industries since Dum Maaro Dum (Nenu Naa Rakshasi, 2011; Department, 2013; Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum, 2013; The Ghazi Attack, 2017) with varying degrees of success. “All those years, I was doing one film in Bombay and then coming back to Hyderabad to work on another,” he recalled. “Each film would take a year and I used to feel empty – in the sense that I wasn’t fully in either of the industries. I wasn’t able to run the race, make a mark quickly. But today I can say that because I worked in all these films and in the two industries in the last seven years, I’m able to mount films of all kinds, in any language.”
The year 2017, in particular, has been incredible for the actor. Apart from Sankalp Reddy’s The Ghazi Attack and Teja’s Nene Raja Nene Mantri, he starred in the year’s biggest film, Baahubali: The Conclusion. Apart from a flood of offers, Daggubati has also gained the confidence of working in films in the spectacle and mythology genres apart from exploring fields such as augmented and virtual reality.
“Today, if I’m able to work on Hiranyakashipu or a Raja Marthanda film, it is partly because Baahubali worked so well,” the actor said. “Post-Baahubali, a lot of things are set to change and the next few years will be crucial. So many directors in Telugu have come to me and said they want to make a national film, a spectacle film. What will determine the success of these films is the kind of technology that is being used.”
Daggubati is also working towards producing films for the digital space. “Things are changing rapidly in terms of content dissemination and consumption,” he said. “The spectacle film aside, look at the number of OTT platforms we have – there is just so much demand for content. We’ve always had people making good content but now, I’ve decided to make efforts to nurture more talent. My production house will be producing a couple of shows for the internet in the coming year. We have to be ready for the change that is coming our way and we also have to do it well. I am more excited now than ever before. After all, the movies are what I want to be a part of.”