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‘RRR’ star Ram Charan explains the film’s global resonance: “Cinema has only one language”

RRR star Ram Charan believes SS Rajamouli’s action juggernaut is a turning point for Indian cinema. The country’s film industry is currently delineated by language and region, such as Bollywood (Hindi cinema) or Tollywood (Telugu Cinema), in RRRcase. But Charan hopes so RRR‘s (short for “Rise Roar Revolt”) global success will blur the lines of his Indian film industry.

“During the promotion of RRR, the imaginary lines were blurred. We didn’t just promote RRR, but we also promoted the feeling of having one film industry, the Indian film industry. And I can tell you that it’s really happening in India right now,” Charan tells me The Hollywood Reporter.

In the 1920 action epic, Charan Alluri plays Sitarama Raju, a revolutionary leader who uses his position as a mole within the Indian Imperial Police to eventually arm his former village against the British Raj. And while RRR‘s thrilling action sequences and infectious song and dance numbers, such as the Oscar-nominated ‘Naatu Naatu’, have captured audiences around the world, Charan believes the film’s resonance can be attributed to one simple element.

“Cinema itself has a unique way of transcending countries and languages. So RRR just show that cinema has only one language, and that is emotion,” says Charan.

In a recent conversation with THRCharan also discusses the most challenging days of the three-year shoot and his hopes of transitioning into an American blockbuster franchise, such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Mission Impossible.

So when did you first start recognizing that RRR caught on in the United States?

I saw a few videos made by the RRR team. They had private screenings for a select group of media professionals. Of course we’ve seen this kind of response in India, which was expected, but it’s wonderful to get this kind of appreciation from the West. We all look up to your movies, and seeing all this is just special.

I’ve never seen Americans dance at a movie screening. It must have been quite a shock to see your moves being mimicked all over the world.

You are so right. Cinema is not one language and one culture. Cinema itself has a unique way of transcending countries and languages. The response from Japan was equally as amazing. So RRR just goes to show that cinema has only one language, and that is emotion.

Ram Charan in it RRR

Courtesy of Variance Films

Your introduction is incredible as Raju is a one man wrecking crew. What were the highlights of filming that sequence?

The highlight was the number of rehearsals the whole team did for 30 to 40 days prior to filming. We had 5,000 to 10,000 people to shoot on any given day, and none of them got hurt. Not a single scratch. That shows the intense rehearsals that went into it. Kudos to our stuntmen, our [fight director] Mr. Solomon and the thousands of people.

So you shot the movie for 320 days over three years, but how much preparation was there prior to those 320 days of filming?

In the beginning we only had workshops, but due to the rehearsals it took three years to run. We had to rehearse every episode on the road and we couldn’t rehearse everything. So initially not everything was planned. We were planning while we were shooting, which is why it took us so long to shoot over three years. Of course, COVID has cost us eight months, but other than that period, it’s still a long time.

It sounds like Raju’s introduction went off without a hitch, but did you end up with some injuries?

I know it sounds [crazy], but I didn’t get a single scratch while making the movie. I tore a ligament in rehearsals, so I couldn’t film for three and a half months. So it was three horrific months of recovery, but I’m fine now. Right after I recovered, I shot the “Naatu Naatu” sequence.

Did you know NTR (NT Rama Rao Jr.) prior to RRR?

Absolute. We’ve known them all for 15 years as costars and as friends from the same community and industry. We had only become close two or three years earlier RRRBut then we became really good friends. I think Mr. Rajamouli saw the camaraderie and the friendship between us and wanted to show that in the film. I heard he cast us after seeing the friendship and bond we had in real life.

I believe both of you come from rival acting families as well. Did Rajamouli want that real-life rivalry to inform the on-screen rivalry as well?

Now that I think about it, yes. Probably. Why not? I don’t think there’s any reason not to think so, but Mr. Rajamouli also wanted to share our very real bond off screen during the scenes where we’re not rivals. I always had some fear that there would be competition over who is going to do better and stuff, but the professional rivalry between us never entered the picture. We felt so comfortable and our well-written stories and characters made us feel comfortable in our own spaces. So it wasn’t about outdoing each other; it was about the story and Mr. Rajamouli’s vision. And if it wasn’t for Rajamouli, I don’t think we would have felt so comfortable making this movie. He really knows how to balance every aspect, not only from a moviemaking perspective, but also the expectations of fans. So the so-called rivalry was never a problem.

What was your most emotional day on set?

“Naatu Naatu” was the last of the sequences we shot, and we had put three years of our lives into this film. So the last day of “Naatu Naatu” was the happiest day. We were relieved that the movie was over and we could move on, but at the same time we suddenly noticed that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for a long time. We started filming in 2018 and none of us expected to still be together in 2023.

Was there a sequence more physically challenging than Raju’s introduction?

I personally feel it was when Raju learned the truth and he fought Bheem (NTR) as arch rivals. It was when the tigers and animals came out. We shot 65 nights over two seasons because by the time we started Covid hit. So after 30 days, we had to pause that episode and somehow physically sustain it. Mr. Rajamouli called us every week during the pandemic to make sure we had the right shape, weight and physique. So preparing for that episode was the most taxing.

And acting-wise, that episode was very intense. There was so much emotion behind the action. It had multiple layers and the whole movie was designed around it. During the scripting phase, that episode was written first and everything around it was added later. But what I like most about each episode is that Mr. Rajamouli always attaches a huge cushion of emotion to it. It piques your interest and invests in the action, otherwise it’s just two guys hitting each other.

Your character had to hurt his own people in order to help them in the end. That must have been a tough place to live psychologically.

Yes, when I read the script, he definitely had a very gray side, but it’s also pitch dark at times. So I had questions about how we would balance the fact that he’s the antagonist and not the protagonist for a while, and how he suppresses most of his feelings for his own people he loves. So not only is he one of the best characters I’ve ever played; he’s also one of the best characters I’ve ever seen.

Indian cinema has many different industries or subdivisions designated by language and region, such as Bollywood and Tollywood. Is it true that you wish it was all just known as Indian cinema?

You are 100 percent right. During the promotion of RRR, the imaginary lines were blurred. We didn’t just promote RRR, but we also promoted the feeling of having one film industry, the Indian film industry. And I can tell you that it’s really happening in India right now. There is so much culture and talent in Indian cinema, and it started this next great era RRR during his promotion.

So why do you think India chose to select another film to compete for Best International Feature Film nomination at the 95th Academy Awards? Were you shocked by that decision? [Writer’s Note: This interview took place before the Oscar nominations were announced.]

No, I wasn’t surprised that another movie was chosen, but we were a little disappointed that we weren’t selected. I really don’t understand the selection process. Before that I didn’t know how it works, so I don’t know if I can really say anything about it. Whoever did the selection, I’m sure they’ve been in the process for many years, and I’m sure [Last Film Show] is a great movie. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, but still I hope this is a good start for us. We are so happy with the reception from the West, East and India, and all these nominations and awards are certainly amazing. They are feathers in our caps and I hope we have even better things to look forward to in the future.

Well, I have every confidence in that RRR will create more crossover between American and Indian cinema.

I’d like to see that.

In that case, which American filmmaker would you seize the opportunity to work with?

Quentin Tarantino. He’s my favourite. I love him. He’s quirky. He’s out of the box and I just love him. I’ve been watching his movies since I was a kid.

Are you a Christopher Nolan man?

Naturally! He’s huge in our movie community.

Is there an American franchise that appeals to you most as an actor?

Marvel is of course the biggest franchise in the world and I’m a big fan of Tony Stark. The youngsters follow these Marvel stories so closely, and it’s a huge franchise in India. The Mission Impossible franchise is another big one for me.

There are moments in it RRR where you remind me of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, so you have my vote for the next Wolverine.

wow thank you! That means a lot.

When I first finished RRR, I said to myself, “Man, these guys must think American blockbusters are boring by comparison.” Are they still exciting for you?

They are! When I looked Top gun: Maverick, I had tears, which is rare for me at home. In theatres, sometimes you have a reaction from the crowd. When others feel it, you feel the same. But sit at home and watch Independent thinking person, it was so beautiful how they brought back the old and the new. It was a beautiful amalgamation in the script itself, and the last jet episode with Tom Cruise and Miles Teller had tears in my eyes. The spectacle wasn’t just watching all the jets; it was the emotion behind it all. My wife looked at me and said, “Do you realize you’re crying?” (laughs.) So it was emotional stuff. And that movie shows you guys still have it and rock it. Absolute.

So Rajamouli has been talking about a possible sequel to RRR. Are you hopeful that it will happen?

I think he talks about it more to the media than to us. (laughs.) He hasn’t told us yet, but I’d really look forward to one RRR follow-up. Why not? It has great characters and I think Mr. Rajamouli will crack it again.

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