South sensation

B'town debut
Last Updated 14 September 2013, 14:37 IST

Coming out of his father’s shadow and essaying a role immortalised by legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan, Ram Charan Teja has made his much-awaited entry in Bollywood. The shy actor talks to Rajiv Vijayakar about his film ‘Zanjeer’

He is the newest ‘import’ from the South. Ram Charan, Chiranjeevi’s son, has just essayed a role immortalised by Amitabh Bachchan, his father’s good friend, in the cult 1973 film Zanjeer — of Vijay Khanna. The film also has a Telugu version, Thoofan, which released the same day.

Though the film has received a mixed response, Ram Charan has been commended for his individualistic take on the character of the intense cop, who considers every criminal his personal foe. After all, Zanjeer was the trendsetter that set Bachchan’s iconic image as the Angry Young Man.

When we meet up at Mumbai’s Mehboob Studios three days before the release date, Ram Charan is dressed in a casual tee and jeans. He smiles warmly but admits that he is a shy guy, nervous about meeting even 10 people at one time, and we, the Mumbai media contingent, point out that we are just six and that our joint meeting is unavoidable, as he is running short of time for solo interviews!

Shy & demure

Told by this interviewer of a certain past connection with his wife’s grandfather, Dr Prathap C Reddy, the founder of the famed chain of Apollo Hospitals, Ram Charan notes my name with special attention.

Ever smiling and affable, like the overwhelming majority of South Indian artistes in Hindi cinema, Ram Charan readily jokes and poses with dozens of scribes even as he is being whisked away by his manager later, and you could hardly guess at his huge star-status down South, with blockbusters like his debut film Chirutha and Magadheera in his six-year, five-film career. His latest hit, Naayak, has also won critical acclaim.

He “feels nice but pressurised” about inheriting the Bachchan mantle for this one film and is ready for even the unfair comparisons to Amitabh Bachchan. “As a film buff, I would compare two such actors too, right?” he asks reasonably. “Actually, there is dual pressure — of being Chiranjeevi’s son as well,” he says. “But I have learned back home how to handle the latter.”

He adds, “As for the former, I took dad into confidence as I was scared of doing this role even though I had liked the script, which has only some basic similarities to the older film. Dad, who normally lets me do my work and learn from experience, told me not to be bogged down by the baggage of a past performance by someone else. ‘Never turn down a film if you like a script, just because you are scared. I am jealous of you because you are getting to do this film and role as I am a big fan of Amitji,’ he told me.”

Still, it took Ram Charan eight months to give his nod to the film, and the director waited for him. “I asked Apoorva (Lakhia, the director), ‘Why Zanjeer, and why me?’ And he just said that he wanted a fresh actor who had done a few films, but nothing in Hindi.”
The actor is, however, upbeat about the way Indian cinema is integrating into a pan-Indian entity, with talents exchanged between Hindi and regional cinemas, but regrets that his spoken Hindi, despite having a special coach, is not yet up to the mark in terms of dubbing for his own film. “But I promise it will be my voice the next time. An actor loves to grow and be pan-Indian in fame and name,” he smiles, saying that he is considering two Hindi film offers. Balancing Hindi and home would not be difficult, he opines. “Look at Priyanka Chopra — she is even managing an international career in music, while being a superstar here.”

With a legend

The icing on the cake for Ram Charan proved to be the presence of Amitabh Bachchan on the very next floor at Mumbai’s Film City, when he reported for the first day of the shoot. “I sent a request to meet Amitji for five minutes, and he was so kind and welcoming,” he recalls. “He blessed me and said that he had read Apoorva’s script and liked it.” For those not in the loop, Apoorva has done two films with Amitabh Bachchan and is a close buddy to his son Abhishek.

As for Ram Charan’s equations with co-stars Priyanka Chopra and Sanjay Dutt, he says that Priyanka was always into her character when the cameras went on, and a total professional otherwise. “That’s why she is such a superstar. We helped each other with the language. In fact, we were so determined to learn Hindi and Telugu respectively that she picked up Telugu well and I actually fumbled at my Telugu dialogues rather than Hindi on the sets.” As for Sanjay Dutt, the actor was so much in awe of him that it was difficult to remember his lines.

The actor declares the jail sequence with Dutt (which has been made famous by Bachchan and Pran in the original film) as his most difficult one to do in the entire movie. “Apoorva had kept the shoot at nine in the morning, but it was not easy catching Sanjay by his collar and saying all those lines to him. I finished the shot only by 5 pm,” smiles Ram Charan. “And it was my fault, because Sanjay always made things easy for me.”

We move to the actor’s other passion besides cinema — horses, and the polo team,  Ram Charan Hyderabad Polo Riding Club, that he owns. “I rode a horse for the first time at the age of eight and fell in love with them,” he explains. “I own a team of about 15 horses. It is said that unless you fall down seven times, you cannot be called a good rider. I have fallen only four times, but now it is risky as I am doing films on which a lot of money is at stake, so I don’t ride myself. Polo accidents can be really serious.”

The promotional activities of his debut Hindi film are obviously excessive and we ask if he faces this hyper-marketing in Telugu movies. “Not really,” he smiles. “I guess that with Hindi films it is about entering every household. But I loved going on reality shows like Jhalak Dikhhlaa Jaa, Indian Idol Junior and Comedy Nights with Kapil. On Jhalak…, I loved meeting my all-time idol Madhuri Dixit, and got to reveal to her that the original of her hit song Dhak Dhak from Beta had been filmed on my dad.”

Does he watch Hindi films? “Of course, I do,” he replies. “Of late, I loved Aashiqui 2 and Chennai Express. They were both great entertainers — what more can you want from a film?” he asks.

(Published 14 September 2013, 14:37 IST)

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