I AM SCARED OF HANDLING BIG STARS
SS Rajamouli, 39, director of Eega, is a man who many big stars want to work with and the rights of whose films are instantly grabbed for remakes in other languages. In an hour-long conversation with Bombay Times, he tells us why he is pro-capitalist, how he was clever in selecting his wife and why he will not work with big stars.
Tell us about your childhood?
I was born in Karnataka, studied in Andhra and moved to Chennai as my family was into producing films. Ours was a big joint family (my father had six brothers and we were 13 cousins). We were failed producers who ate away all the resources that my grandfather had accumulated as a rich landlord. We hit rock bottom and did not have any money for even my further education after intermediate. All of us were living in a two-room apartment. Even though they were hard days, it was fun together. Today, talking about those days, it looks as if we were poor but at that time, we were happy and were sure that good days lay ahead.
Right from class two, my passion was telling stories. On Saturdays, we had an extra-curricular class, where it was always Rajamouli telling stories. I don't remember what I studied in school, but I remember each and every comic I read of Amar Chitra Katha. I used to mix and match the characters from Amar Chitra Katha to tell stories to suit my liking. I was good in studies till 10th after which it went kaput. My father kept asking me what I wanted to become and just to give him an answer I said, 'I will become a musician'. He would say, 'So what are you doing for it'. I bought a guitar and joined a class. Then he would ask me, 'How many hours are you practising the guitar?' I used to practise for an hour and tell him three hours and he would ask, 'Is that enough to become a musician?' To escape from my father, I thought I should stay away from home and said I will become a director. So he put me as an apprentice under an editor and basically, I did nothing except fooling around. But I read a lot of books. My father, who then had no money to produce films, became a ghost writer just for money. At home, he used to talk about his stories and I used to give him inputs and he took me as his assistant. He then established himself as a writer in films and we graduated to becoming lower middle class with each of his brothers living in separate houses. After my father earned a little money as a writer, he went to his first love of producing films but the film was a miserable flop. I was 23 years old and everything we had was gone. Also since he had become a director, no one gave him writing assignments so we had no source of income for a year. We were scared of even paying our TV instalment of 630 and were scared of the humiliation when the guy would come and take away our TV. This was the time I lost my innocence and the harsh reality of life hit me and I started working really hard. I started writing for films but was always disappointed by the execution and thus wanted to become a director to bring out what I envisioned as a writer. My frustration as a writer was the reason for my becoming a director. I moved to Hyderabad and started assisting my wife's cousin Mr Gangaraju on Little Soldiers, who was also my philosopher and guide and my pro-capitalist and anti-socialist view developed under him.
How did you start directing films?
The Andhra government was making ads on social awareness and Raghavendra Rao, who knew me personally, was the chairman of the committee and selected me as a director. Mr Mukherjee, his assistant, used to oversee production and was doubtful about me. Raghavendra felt I was confident and would be able to direct. On my first day of shoot, I was literally shivering as I was unsure of how to play director. Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I saw Mr Mukherjee on his scooter coming towards me to oversee the shooting. I didn't want him to see me lacking the confidence and started shouting instructions like a director. He was happy and went back. So many of my views about the film industry are based on that one incident. For instance, in any industry you have set rules and benchmarks, but in films you have no rules, just guidelines. Every rule can be broken and yet you can come out with a successful film. Absolutely no one knows how to make a successful film but people appear as if they know. People who give you the confidence that they know filmmaking are like me directing my first shot in my first film that day. When someone appears to be confident of success, I know he is not or he is an idiot. A producer is likely to choose a director based on his confidence as he has no other way to select as he is looking at how to make a successful film. After making ads for Mr Raghavendra, I directed a TV serial he was making and then his first film Student No. 1 that became a hit. However, I realised that the kind of films I wanted to make had more drama and action. I made my second film Simhadri and became a masala director.
Explain your pro-capitalist view?
The term Capitalist is misunderstood. When you garner wealth in a legal way, not only you but the whole society under you develops directly and indirectly.
Why did you not reflect your capitalist point of view in your movies?
My storytelling has remained the same as when I was in class two. The setting of my films is extremely unrealistic and transports you into a fantasy world. I like people to come out of their world into the one I have created. I like people to be awe struck by my films.
What are your father's feelings about your success?
He is proud of my work but he constantly scolds me as he feels that I could have been in a much better position than what I am today had I directed Hindi films or worked with much bigger stars like Chiranjeevi or Rajinikanth.
Are you averse to working with big stars like Rajinikanth?
I have never met Rajinikanth. He called me after watching Magadheera and congratulated me and had nice things to say about me and the film and I was happy. The way he compliments is just like a commoner. For instance, after Eega, he spoke in Telugu and said, 'you made Indian industry proud'. But basically, I am scared of handling bigger stars. Big stars follow certain set patterns that have made them into superstars. If I have to make a film with them, I have to follow that pattern as money and expectations are at stake. And thus I will not enjoy making that film. As a storyteller, I will have to make adjustments keeping the star in mind. If two people will not be open-minded and excited about working together in a project, it will not work. That is why I keep myself in my own small world as I am scared that I won't be able to excite them.
Let's talk about your wife.
We had a love marriage as my wife is my cousin MM Kreem's wife's sister. She was divorced at the time we got married and had a son. Her being divorced was neither a reason nor a deterrent for me and I proposed to her. She is a strong person, who though seems to be nave in normal situations, acts immediately and perfectly in difficult situations where my mind stops working. My only job is to write and make my films. She is in charge of the family and my finances. I was actually quite clever in choosing her.
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