‘RRR’s Ram Charan On Indian Film Industry’s Vanishing Borders, Crossover Ambitions

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Coming off the blockbuster success of S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR, star Ram Charan is hardly sitting on his laurels. Releasing April 29 is action drama Acharya which he’s producing and starring in with his father, the prolific actor Chiranjeevi. He’s also currently shooting RC15 (working title), a political drama from 2.0 director S. Shankar, and has more projects in the pipeline.

Charan made his debut with 2007’s Chirutha before first collaborating with Rajamouli on 2009 fantasy action pic Magadheera. The two reteamed for RRR which has grossed over 1000 crore ($132M) globally and is the No. 3 Indian movie ever at the worldwide box office. It’s also part of a phenomenon that has seen the rise and expansion of Telugu cinema.

Deadline recently caught up with Charan from the set of Shankar’s film, where he talked about RRR and the transformation of Indian cinema which is seeing increased crossover throughout the market’s different industries, as well as his own ambitions to explore work in other countries.

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DEADLINE: RRR was a long process; how are you feeling today now that it’s enjoying such success? Are you focused on that at all or are you more so looking ahead given business has ramped back up?

RAM CHARAN: I’m on the set of my next film and my director here asked me the same thing… I feel that I can move on now with a good feeling in my heart. I’m able to move on because we held onto this movie, the characters and the whole process for three-and-a-half, four years. We couldn’t see or do anything else, so now I’m just feeling so relieved the work has been acknowledged and appreciated, and I think I’m ready to step into another movie and start moving forward.

My director today said he observed that I shun or try to run away from compliments. It’s not that. I don’t think one person or somebody can take the whole effort that the whole team and that the director has put in, so somehow when people appreciate your work — even if it’s my own scene — I’m not able to own it because there were so many people behind it who worked to get my shot so beautiful. I take about 5%-7% (of the credit), or 10% in a pinch… It’s less burden on me when I pass on the whole credit so I can move forward easy. I feel light.

DEADLINE: You’re still going to travel with RRR, though, right? There are still several releases up ahead?

CHARAN: In October we are having a big grand release in Japan, so yes we are doing a couple of days tour in Japan and then China (where a release is not yet confirmed). We have released in 10 countries now and I believe we are exploring about 30 more different countries.

DEADLINE: You were raised in Hyderabad and primarily work in Telugu cinema. What does it mean to you that films coming from South India are crossing borders and being so embraced?

CHARAN: I think it’s very, very important in many aspects. As an actor, I would like more people to see my work, and the budgets are increasing, so obviously the quality of the movies is increasing. Rajamouli has started a movement right now. Thanks to Baahubali and his previous movies, and now RRR, the boundaries have been erased completely. I would say to a large extent it’s become seamless. Directors now are venturing and want to explore actors from other states, and the other states’ actors are exploring different directors. It is so beautiful that I’m even part of an industry at this time. Everybody is experimenting and everybody is wanting to see everybody’s work. It is so beautiful that the numbers are increasing — and obviously paychecks are increasing — but the quality is increasing. I’m so happy.

DEADLINE: It’s been interesting to watch this evolution over the last several years. Do you think there will continue to be more crossover between the industries in different states?

CHARAN: It’s already happening as we are talking. Right now, the one I’m working on with Mr Shankar is a beautiful crossover. He’s from another industry, I’m from another industry, the actress is from another industry. But today, we are calling it all an “Indian film industry.” Finally! It’s how other countries call it, it’s the French film industry or it’s the American film industry. Now we can say it’s an Indian film.

DEADLINE: Do you mean instead of breaking it out into Bollywood or Tollywood or Kollywood?

CHARAN: Yes, some kind of ‘wood.’ But, yeah, we are out of the woods.

DEADLINE: We have seen an increase in female actors from India working abroad, but not so much male actors. Is that something you would ever aspire to?

CHARAN: I would love to explore films across countries and industries. With films like RRR and Baahubali shattering the norms of borders, the world has opened up even further. Language is no longer a barrier. I am an ardent admirer of world cinema and its content, and the past two years have cemented the fact that the audiences are ready to see their actors work across multiple languages and explore new facets of cinema. I appreciate the courage that our Indian actors display as crossing over requires ambition, hard work, talent and effort which actors like Aishwarya (Rai) and Priyanka (Chopra) have surely paved the way for. It is also the right project at the right time. And coming from a strong showbiz family, it’s exciting to be able to learn from legendary actors right within our circle itself.

DEADLINE: What is the makeup of your showbiz family?

CHARAN: Eight actors and three producers.

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DEADLINE: Is there competition amongst you?

CHARAN: Yeah, absolutely. There is good competition. My dad is 66 and he’s still working and is in the Top 5 and I think he feels a good competition with me. I feel a good competition with my brothers. It’s funny and it’s quite a driving force for all of us to keep moving forward.

DEADLINE: It must be interesting to discuss with your father how the business has evolved.

CHARAN: Absolutely. It’s completely changed and he’s loving it. At his age, he’s the biggest actor in the south. He’s signed (on to) about seven films, and four films are on the floor now. I don’t know how he does that.

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