Interview Telugu

When every other product is sold across the country, why differentiate cinema on language? – Prabhas


The actor, whose latest film Radhe Shyam was released last week, talks about how he chooses his projects, his hopes and aspirations as an actor, and the slow fade-out of the 'regional' tag.

Courtesy: Prabhas on Facebook

Shriram Iyengar

It is easy to see why Prabhas's producers cast him in big-budget entertainers. The actor has the personality for such films. Since Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), Prabhas has been part of Baahubali: The Conclusion (2017) and Saaho (2019) and has signed on for Salaar (2022) and Adipurush (2023). Including Radhe Shyam, which was released on 11 March, these films target a pan-India audience in multiple languages.

"I always wonder when every other product from Punjab to Tamil Nadu is sold across the country in the same market, why is cinema differentiated on the basis of language? It is another beautiful product," Prabhas said.

The actor made his mark first with SS Rajamouli's fantasy epic Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) and has since broken out of the limited regional presence of South Indian actors. With the success of Allu Arjun's Pushpa: The Rise (2021), Prabhas believes 'pan-India' is the way to go and the regional tags will disappear.

Prabhas in Baahubali:The Beginning (2015)

"It is in the process," he said. "Everyone wants to be in touch with films across languages. The bigger fight is if we made a bigger film than China or America, we made better [films] than the ones in Europe. Telugu, Tamil, Hindi is all one. We are a little late at it, but it is coming."

Radha Krishna Kumar's Radhe Shyam is a step in that direction. The film was released simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. A romantic drama, the film features Prabhas and Pooja Hegde as a star-crossed couple in a race against destiny.

Speaking about destiny, the actor said, "I know there is something there, but I have never shown my hand to anyone." Yet, it is not the palmistry that drives Radhe Shyam, he added. "The signs, and a person who can see the future, and love, are the problems and emotions that run through the story." Excerpts from an interview conducted before the film's release:

How do you feel about films returning to theatres after the COVID-19 pandemic?

It is exciting because finally the movie is releasing, but stressful because in eight days the film is releasing. Our future relies on what happens on Friday.

You play a palmist in the film. Do you believe in astrology and numerology?

No, I don't. I know there are stories that are true as they told me. I know there is something there, but I have never shown my hand to anyone. Radha told me the story, and I asked him, "I don't believe in this, so should I do it?" But the way it goes, and the way he made the character Vikramaditya interesting... also, he [Vikram] has a problem with love in the film. The signs, and a person who can see the future, and love, are the problems and emotions which run through the story.

Prabhas in a still from Radhe Shyam

So you believe in hard work as the answer?

I only believed in hard work till Baahubali. Then [after the response to the film], I thought, 'Oh, this is too much! Maybe there is something called destiny.' Now, I believe there is something called fate, destiny. In 100 years of Indian cinema, Baahubali was the one to break ranks, and I am not the greatest actor around. Something happened, and I started believing in fate. But I don't follow any of that. It is too big to understand. I just believe in my heart.

Does that add pressure, considering that most of your films are in multiple languages and aimed at a pan-India audience? Baahubali, Saaho, now Radhe Shyam, even Adipurush are pan-India productions.

Yes, there is a lot of pressure when so many people love you from Telugu to around the country. It is beautiful and a lot of stress definitely. If you select a script, people believe it should be right. A script is like an ocean. Some point goes wrong, the entire film goes wrong.

After Saaho, there was talk about you needing to work on your Hindi diction. Did you do that for Radhe Shyam?

There was, and I did work on it. I can read and write Hindi. I read my dialogues in Hindi. I do not like an English transcript because it affects the pronunciation. The only problem is my Hyderabadi Hindi. We listen to a lot of Hindi songs and watch movies. When you speak at home, you start to improve on it. I think I have started to get better in Radhe Shyam. I shouldn't say I am perfect. I dub for 10 instead of five times and pick one cut to get the right sound.

Would you be interested in making films in languages other than Hindi? Like Punjabi?

Of course! Who thought Baahubali in Telugu can be made? Now, all doors are open. Anyone can make the greatest film, not just in India but the entire world, from any part of the country. You can't just say this is a small or big film industry.

You have said that language is not a problem, but when you are choosing scripts, is there anything specific you look for?

It is the toughest part. Acting, I have experience of it. I can do very realistic films, as the director says I can shift. The script is the toughest part. In every region, they have many variations. Some like commercials, some like family films, some like action films. Then, the audience changes every Friday. 

It is very hard to make an Indian film. We go with the gut feeling, and what appeals to our emotions.

Considering Baahubali and Saaho were action entertainers, was Radhe Shyam a fairly easy choice?

I don't know why I take these risks. When we did Baahubali, there was so much stress. Luckily, people accepted part 2. Again, Saaho was a risk. Now, again, Radhe Shyam is a romantic entertainer.

Not just me, every industry, Punjabi, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, everyone wants to make a popular Indian film, but we don't have the experience of making an 'Indian' film. Just because Baahubali worked doesn't mean we can make another Baahubali. Just because Pushpa: The Rise (2021) worked does not mean we can make another Pushpa. We are all in confusion. The best part is it took 100 years for us. I always wonder when every other product from Punjab to Tamil Nadu is sold across the country in the same market, why is cinema differentiated on the basis of language? It is another beautiful product.

How challenging was it to play this character?

This is a complicated situation where the character is. We could make it very realistic. Yet, I thought too much of variation for the audience suddenly would be a problem. So I made it a little commercial. The character has some complications.

The toughest part, more than the character, is the story selection.

Is there a need to do away with the 'regional cinema' tag?

It is going to go. It is in the process. Everyone wants to be in touch with films across languages. The bigger fight is if we made a bigger film than China or America, we made [films] better than the ones in Europe. Telugu, Tamil, Hindi is all one. We are a little late at it, but it is coming. In five years, we need to push ourselves a little more.

Most of the big-budget films in production are pan-India projects.

Even if 40% works, it is a golden period. Then it will go up to 60, then 80. Then we will begin to understand what is Indian cinema. Again, it will change. Every Friday the audience changes as well. No, they say, we don't like love stories. Then, we don't like commercial films. We want something else. This happens all the time. For the first time, we are all thinking of 'Indian cinema'. We are smart people, we are going to do that.

Pooja Hegde and Prabhas in a still from Radhe Shyam

How was it working with Pooja Hegde?

I had seen a few of her films. Pooja, we had a discussion on how she would approach the role. We all thought she has that element to play Prerna. You can see it in her character. She is an asset to the film.

Would you like to do OTT?

I don't think I have received an offer. But for another three or four years, I won't do an OTT project. Maybe later, I might. I haven't thought so much about it.

What is it that you look for as an actor? Is it commercial success or something else?

To prove myself as an actor, I did a few early films very long back. When you start in the film industry, you want to prove something. It bombed badly. So I thought, more than proving myself as an actor, in a commercial film, try to entertain as much as I can. After that, from Baahubali, it is a new start for me. As far as other industries are concerned, Baahubali was my first film. Radhe Shyam is my fourth film for the Hindi film industry. For Tamil Nadu, it's the same.

I want to first entertain them as much as possible. After some time, I will try to show my acting skills in different ways. I only hope to see that I don't let the producers spend so much money.

You have said you want to do a simple film.

I have already started the process. Next, I will sign a comedy film in a few months. I need to get a little more confidence with Radhe Shyam. Maybe then I will take a very small film. My fans will hate me for some time (laughs). I will tell them, "See, I am giving 90% what you want, let me try something."

Do producers come to you with simple stories?

No, they don't (laughs). If I say I am doing a comedy film, no one is happy. My fans are not happy. My producers are not happy. I want to say, 'Let me try something. I am very lucky that I got Baahubali. I know you [fans, producers] have given me Salaar, Adipurush, Project K, Spirit... I am very good at that. But let me try.'

It is nice to go content-oriented sometimes. I don't know what I am going to do, but I am going to do this definitely.