Jan. 7, 2022, is a date looked forward to with feverish anticipation by both the Indian filmgoing public and the subcontinent’s film industry at large. It is the scheduled release date for blockbuster “RRR.”
“RRR” will be the first project for director S.S. Rajamouli after the “Baahubali” films (2015 and 2017), which together grossed a mighty $330 million. It is also the first film release since 2018’s “Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava” for Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao Jr., popularly known as NTR Jr, one of the biggest stars of India’s Telugu-language film industry.
The star is named after his grandfather, Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, or NTR, an actor, filmmaker and politician who was a towering figure during his lifetime and has left a lasting legacy. NTR Jr debuted in his grandfather’s mythological film “Brahmarshi Vishwamitra” (1991) as a child actor.
“RRR,” a period action drama, is NTR Jr’s 29th film. He plays a freedom fighter, Komaram Bheem, who fought against the Nizam of Hyderabad and his journey is juxtaposed with that of Alluri Sitarama Raju, played by Ram Charan, who rebelled against the colonial British.
NTR Jr describes the “RRR” journey, which began in Nov. 2018 as a “tough ride” with pauses as India went through pandemic lockdowns. “It really demanded a lot of dedication, and it was day in and day out,” the actor told Variety about the process of preparing mentally and physically for the role.
Among the first released footage released for “RRR” is from a song, which NTR Jr reveals was shot in Kiev, Ukraine, as the pandemic meant that it couldn’t be filmed in India and also, there was a requirement for white dancers. The song features NTR Jr and Ram Charan matching steps in perfect sync.
“We were doing take after take, the steps where the leg goes left, right, front and back, that took us about 15 to 18 takes to perfect,” said NTR Jr. “He [Rajamouli] was so hell bent on both of us being in sync, he used to record the step, go back, step, freeze it, see how the legs are moving, see how the hands are moving, are they moving in sync or not?”
The actor questioned why his director was being so adamant in achieving the sync and why they were shooting 12 hours a day to achieve it. “When the song released and I was watching online, I was watching people’s comments, and everybody was just talking about the sync. I just called him and I said, ‘How do you know this?’ He’s a taskmaster. And that’s why he’s one of the biggest directors of India, and today, the song is viral.”
The song, which has been viewed on YouTube more than 26 million times so far, is just one of the pointers towards the weight of anticipation popular talent in India has to handle ahead of a major release.
“Anticipation and expectation is something we’ll have to deal with, and being associated with Rajamouli, you know that this person is not going to go wrong,” says NTR Jr. “This guy really has not let people down with their expectations, no matter what they are.”
The actor’s journey with his director began in 2001 with coming-of-age film “Student No. 1,” NTR Jr’s second film as an adult leading man and Rajamouli’s feature debut. The film was a resounding success and paved the way for successful careers for both.
“I think we never dreamed of getting to a stage like this, every movie was a bonus,” said NTR Jr. “Every success helped us to strengthen our goal, our vision, or a want of staying in the industry a little more. When achieving ‘Baahubali’ and making ‘RRR’ today, it’s a Cinderella story for us. It’s been a fantastic journey.”
“You can’t plan for it, you can be a good actor, but being a star is a byproduct of being a good actor for me,” adds NTR Jr.
Next up for the actor is a project known currently as “NTR 30,” which reunites him with his “Janatha Garage” director Koratala Siva. NTR Jr reveals that the film is a revenge drama and will commence production in Feb. 2022. The actor is also set to work with filmmaker Prashant Neel, who directed the magnum opus “KGF” (2018), in a project referred to as “NTR 31.” NTR Jr says that the film will be on the scale of “KGF” and it will start production in Oct. 2022.
Meanwhile, “RRR,” which also stars Bollywood actors Ajay Dvgn and Alia Bhatt, looms. “People have slowly started coming to the theaters. I wouldn’t say that it’s like 100% turnover, but it’s better than what it was before,” said NTR Jr. “It’s going to take time for people to actually start feeling safe again. And slowly, film by film, it’s going to go up is what I expect. So by the time ‘RRR’ releases on Jan. 7, this is one such film which is really going to bring bring the glory of films back to theaters.”