As actor Ram Charan settles down for a conversation at the plush screening room in his posh Hyderabad home, it's hard to imagine him living like a farmer. But he went rustic for the Telugu hit, Rangasthalam, which has earned around Rs 150 crore since its release on 30 March.
It's a testament to Charan's earthy charm that a film about village life is raking it in at the box office - where Rangasthalam trails behind the two Baahubali films in collections. Along with his charisma, great performances from his supporting cast and a colourful dose of 1980s nostalgia are the key ingredients of Rangasthalam.
Charan plays a partially deaf village boy, Chitti Babu, an unconventional hero for Indian movies. He ploughs his fields, dances on dirt roads in his signature lungi, and squats to wash utensils at a public tap. But when his brother is murdered, the simple farmer is ruthless in seeking revenge.
Considered his best performance thus far, the role earned Charan both critical acclaim and the praise from his colleagues in the Telugu film business, including his superstar father, Chiranjeevi.
"It was quite a surprise when he remarked that he forgot that I was his son at a few places and got jealous of me as an actor," says Charan.
He says comparisons with his father don't bother him - though Chiranjeevi has set the bar pretty high with 150 films and 40 years in the business. And he isn't worried about living in his father's shadow. "As a son, I would not want to move out of his shadow," he states, adding, "As an actor, I think I did carve my own space with my second film, Magadheera." (Released in 2009, Magadheera at that time became Telugu's highest-grossing film and surpassed Chandramukhi as South India's longest-running film with its 1000-day stint in theatres)
"Going rustic had its challenges," Charan admits.
To give the film the right look, Rangasthalam was shot in remote villages that were dangerously close to areas controlled by Naxalite rebels. Nevertheless, Charan decided to head out one morning on a boat with a local fisherman at dawn, leaving behind his personal security. "After he was done fishing and his basket was filled, he threw the net back in the water with the superfluous fish. I was touched and amazed by the simplicity of these folks and their deep respect for mother earth," he shares. After spending a few months in the midst of villagers, Charan returned home a changed man - "I am not sure how much I have grown as an actor with this film but I definitely feel calmer and more in touch with myself. In a state like that, any character you play will look beautiful on screen."
Nine out of Charan's 11 films have been major hits. But Rangasthalam has added to his repertoire as an actor and not just a star. "Every film teaches you something new and you learn far more from the debacle than the hits," he says, recalling the disappointment with his Bollywood debut with Zanjeer (2013), the remake of the 1973 classic. "I decided to build on my strengths after Zanjeer instead of being bogged down by the failure," reveals Charan.
Coming from a family of actors, an interest in cinema was natural. "But the decision to become an actor was not obvious. Like any other teenager, I was confused about choices; engineering or otherwise. And then one day, just like that, I decided I wanted to be an actor," he adds. Rather than his father sitting him down for acting lessons or some such, Charan learnt immensely from observing him. "Even though I would get to see precious little of him at home; he would do six or seven films in a year," he shares. Charan quips that he was expecting a few golden words of advice from his father on the first day of the shoot of his first film, Chirutha (2007) - "Instead, he said only two words. Be disciplined. Even today, that is the mantra he insists on."
Charan also firmly believes in learning something new constantly, which helps an actor grow. "I would like to learn a new language and maybe learn to play a musical instrument. I am inspired by Hollywood actors who dabble in other arts or Mr Bachchan (Amitabh Bachchan) who took up calligraphy a few years ago," he exclaims. When he is not working, Charan spends time with his six dogs and eight horses at his farm and indulge in equestrian sports (his another passion).
His next film is with director Srinivas Boyapati, after which he gears up for the recently announced project with Rajamouli, slated for release in 2019. Although not too many details are known yet, hopes are high that it will be something special, due to the fame of the director. More so, since the film will see Charan share the screen with Jr. NTR, another young superstar from the Telugu industry and the legendary NT Rama Rao's grandson.
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