Revisiting Ram Charan Tej

The Classic Contender

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Reigning heartthrob, soaring star or chip-off-the-old-block, call him what you wish. Ram Charan Tej is nonchalant about definitions. Vanaja Banagiri trails the facts behind the fantasy man who has given a new meaning to masculine mystique.

Circa: 1989
Location: Film Set, Hyderabad
Occasion: Interview with Chiranjeevi, Megastar

Cut to 2009
Location: Mahboob Studios, Mumbai
Occasion: Interview with Ram Charan Tej, a rising star

Life’s interesting. I was a rookie reporter then, just a few years into journalism, and I was excited as heaven. No surprises there. I was, after all, the chosen one to be invited to the megastar’s film set for an exclusive one-on-one. He had just been hailed as `bigger than Bachchan’ by a national magazine and was the highest paid Indian actor. Do I even need to mention, how awestruck I was? I still remember vividly walking into a bucolic set. And there he was, in flesh and blood, clad in traditional sort of clothes, doing what was his hallmark – dancing to the beats of a song intended to enkindle the audience. That all his songs and dances did just that intentionally or by default is besides the point. In between shots, as he walked towards me, my excitement was palpable. A bad actor that I am, he caught on and immediately said a few nice things about how glad he was to be interviewed by a lady journalist and how he had expected me to be a much older typical journo, so and so forth. His friendly banter devoid of starry airs put me at ease. Pronto.

Chiranjeevi (Call me Chiru, he had insisted) was and still is all man and more importantly human in his interactions with people. That’s what has probably drawn him towards politics and away from his implacable stardom.

So why am I talking about Chiranjeevi when this one’s about his heir? I am coming to that. Amongst a hundred questions I had asked Chiru, back then, one of them was if he would expect his son (then four years old!) to walk in his footsteps. And he had replied, “Acting is a wonderful profession. I would have been a nobody if I hadn’t been an actor. My son is too young for me to say anything right now. But I have a feeling he may. Having said that, the choice will always be his.”

Twenty years hence, the four-year-old is two films old already! His raw, brooding, intense, honest persona, unlike anybody audiences had seen before, have clearly established him as a performer-par-excellence. And if you go by the box office performance of his last film, the others in the fray were pipped at the post by the emerging Numero Uno of the Telugu film industry. Let’s then welcome the latest heartthrob, superstar in the making , Ram Charan Tej. His name means the light at Lord Rama’s feet. His dad, an ardent devotee of Anjaneya, saw him as His blessing and named him thus.

Come March 27th and Charan will celebrate his 25th birthday. And I have a sense of revisiting nostalgia as I watch Charan getting it right for lensman Avinash Gowariker’s camera. Having greyed my hair in this profession, awe is a rare emotion now. But I definitely feel a sense of appreciation for the actor during my conversation with him.

I mention my conversation with Chiru to Charan and he smiles, all warmth at the mention of his dad. “That’s so true. He gave me total freedom. Until sixteen, I was clueless. Then one day, it came like a thunderbolt to me. And I asked myself why I shouldn’t choose acting. It would be tough, I had no doubts. But then the challenge would be in establishing an identity of my own. That would be a bigger challenge than fearing that I may never see the light in his shadow. Moreover, I didn’t have to struggle for a head start. That did it for me.”

His debut film, Chirutha may have been just a moderate hit but the second one, Magadheera is running to full houses till date after having shattered all box office records for more than 100 days. Must be a good feeling, hmmm… “You know, it’s strange. My dad kept telling me `Go celebrate. Enjoy your success,’ after Magadheera was declared a super hit. But I just couldn’t. I didn’t step out of my house for one whole month.” Why on earth? “To begin, though I knew it would do well, I didn’t expect it to be such a massive hit. Not even in my wildest dreams. That’s why, I didn’t want to get carried away and lose my head. It is possible to be misguided by people and that could have been disastrous especially at the beginning of my career. I needed time to see things for what they are. In the right perspective. I had to let the truth sink in.” What truth? “That it was the film that was a bigger success than me. That the film is a team effort. And that every film can’t be a Magadheera.”

Pray, tell us, how does such sanity dawn on 24-year-olds? Education, upbringing, what? “Stop embarrassing me,” he waves his hand, “I have never been a great one for formal education. I believe knowledge has nothing to do with one’s education or the lack thereof. I also believe, life’s the best classroom. In fact, my schooling has been very chequered. I changed eight schools, the last two included a boarding school in Ooty.” Eight schools? Wow! Why? A little hesitantly, with a stylish pursing of lips, “I was a naughty kid,” he says. “Rana (another Telugu actor now) and I would be up to pranks the whole time. One of them, we pulled off with amazing consistency and quite effortlessly for long. Whenever we would spot the principal walking out of his room, we would sneak in. One of us would keep a watch and the moment we saw our class teacher passing by, we would emerge out confidently and tell her that we had just obtained the principal’s permission to take the day off. This went on for quite sometime until one day the principal walked into one of our classes and enquired when he found us absent. Lo and behold! The lid was off the Pandora’s box, so to speak. Luckily for us, our principal was blessed with a great sense of humour. He couldn’t stop laughing.”

Pranskter, you you… Spoilt brat too? “Never. That’s one thing my parents made sure my sisters and I didn’t turn into. We had an idyllic childhood but a very grounded one. My dad was constantly away shooting. I missed him a great deal. But my mom more than made up for it with her attention and affection. Whenever my dad was home, it was Diwali, Pongal, Idd, everything for us.”

Sure, but then indulging children materially is a done thing, isn’t it? “I agree. We got the best of everything but we were not allowed to go overboard. My dad had a unique way of demonstrating the value of money to us. When I was ten or eleven, bowling had just started in Hyderabad. And I had become an addict. I would go every weekend to the bowling alley. Each session would cost around 100 rupees. I had no concept of money, leave alone realising the value of it. Neither did my parents object, so it went on for sometime till I blew a few thousands on bowling alone. One day, my dad sat me down and held a 50 rupee note in his hand. He tore it into two right in front of my eyes and told me that people could have had a meal or two with that one note. And he had just destroyed it. He went on to explain to me that I needed to earn the money first and then I could burn it, tear it, spend it, donate it, whatever. But I had to realise the value of it, to begin with. That’s it. I got the message – loud and clear. I haven’t stepped into a bowling alley since then and I don’t ever waste money. My dad is one-of-a-kind. Never let me lose sight of reality.”

Any lessons from Dad? “ Professionally, my dad was a rock star. He made dancing look cool when it was considered effeminate. He played negative roles when the term anti hero was not in vogue. He rewrote every rule in the book of fame. I learnt that it is necessary to think out of the box and walk the less trodden path. He also demonstrated through his actions how it was important to aim for collective progress. He never oversold his movies because he wanted everybody involved with the movie to prosper. I emulate him and that’s why I extracted a promise from the producer of my next movie to not oversell it. Only then did I sign the film. You can’t grow as an actor if you only think about upping your remuneration with every release of yours.”

There must be something he would like to change in his dad. “Yes. He is very gullible. You could do the meanest thing in the world to him. And yet you apologise and all will be forgiven and forgotten.” Hardly a desirable quality in the game of politics, eh? “I don’t agree with that. Indian politics needs good Samaritans. Sooner or later, people will separate the chaff from the wheat.” Profundity! Is he spiritual or what? “I don’t know, to be honest. But I do get drawn to spiritual literature and autobiographies. Living with the HimalayanMasters by Swami Rami has been a strong influence. I also pray whenever I have the time. I visit temples, churches and I went to the dargah in Cuddapah before the release of Magadheera. And I never miss the Eid celebrations.” What about influences on his acting? Dad or Uncle (Pawan Kalyan, a much celebrated actor)? “Comparisons will haunt me forever. More with my uncle since he is younger. But I think I am in my own mould. I go with the flow. Not that I make a conscious effort.” Any professional training? “I studied acting in the London school of theatre and drama and in Mumbai with Namit Kishore Kapoor.”

He matched his dad step to step in a super hit dance number in Magadheera. How did he do that? “Oh no. I am not a patch on him. I haven’t had any formal training either. I guess I have inherited it. The credit also must go to the choreographer, the lyricist and the other dancers in the group with me.” So far so good.

What about his personal favourites as far as acting is concerned? “Life’s is beautiful. I feel that having favourites limits your choices and that is restricting. At various points, for various roles, there are various actors.” Phone rings and he excuses himself to attend to the call. He mentions something about getting it by his birthday to the caller. He looks at my curious expression and grins endearingly as he says, “I am buying my own car finally.” Which? “Range Rover.” Dream car? “Like I just mentioned to you, I have many favourites, many dream cars…” Does that mean he has no pet passions? “I love shoes and watches. All men do.” Any favourite brands? He answers with a will-you-ever-give-up smile, “I love Breitling and Roger Dubuis watches. And my choice of shoes is very seasonal.”

And what else? “I love horses. I started riding when I was nine. I feel on top of the world when I am on horseback. I read somewhere that the best therapy for addicts at a rehab is tending for horses and dogs. I have four dogs – a chow chow, a Labrador, a Pomeranian (my mom’s favourite) and a cocker spaniel. They distress me completely and I adore them.” Friends? “Rana, Sharwanand (yet another actor) and Vicky are my circle of comfort.”

Fears? “I am too open to life. I hope that won’t land me in trouble. ” Women? “I have grown up with two sisters and I have great respect for women. I am closest to my mom and love her to death. I don’t have a girl friend at the moment. I am looking for one.” Any specifications? “Nah, at least not as far as external appearance is concerned. I would be happiest with a girl who will be secure enough to understand the demands of my profession and support me.” What’s the most romantic thing he would do for his girl? “I would cook a nice meal.” Excuse me? “Yeah, is it surprising? I love cooking sea food. I learnt continental cooking at a star hotel in Chennai. I can make excellent Scallop fry.” Eating? “Do you even have to ask? I love Japanese food. Wherever I go, I first look for a Japanese restaurant. But my comfort food is good south Indian vegetarian food with pepper water rasam and hot steamed rice combo topping the list.” Parents’ approval? “Definitely matters. That said, they are happy when I am happy.” Touché.

When we were 15, Rana and I had heard about a black magicians’ cave in Nanakramguda (in Hyderabad). We were so intrigued that we decided to explore it. One night, we drove down and trekked up the hill. You won’t believe what we saw. There were caves all around with skulls, black dolls and what have you. Right in the centre was a fire place that was ablaze. Our eyes almost popped out of our heads and our heartbeats were ringing in our ears. We ran for our lives for a couple of kilometres. God, that was the spookiest experience of my life! I wonder what would have happened even if one of us had fainted with fear!

Turn on

A woman’s eyes and fingers
Turn off
People who wear masks
Beliefs
I despise conventions
Love
Most misused word. Beyond definition. Many forms and expressions.
Disorders
I am fastidious about cleanliness and order. Nobody cleans my room in my house when I am away. I also have a nagging feeling that I may be a nag.
Chiranjeevi’s best films
Challenge, Abhilasha

Published by Vanaja Banagiri

Author, Editor, Poet, Art Promoter

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