Exploits of a war submarine: 'Ghazi', a Telugu film on the '71 Indo-Pak war and navy's bravery

Rana Daggubati speaks to TNM on his upcoming film, based on a real life episode which took place in Visakhapatnam during the Indo-Pak war.
Exploits of a war submarine: 'Ghazi', a Telugu film on the '71 Indo-Pak war and navy's bravery
Exploits of a war submarine: 'Ghazi', a Telugu film on the '71 Indo-Pak war and navy's bravery
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Rana’s career has taken a detour post Baahubali, and the actor doesn’t mince words when it comes to giving full credit to the film and its director Rajamouli. As he gears up for the release of his forthcoming bilingual drama Ghazi, India’s first war-at-sea film, he opens up to The News Minute in this candid chat about slipping into the shoes of a naval officer, shooting long hours inside a submarine, recreating a forgotten episode of history and how the success of Baahubali gave him the confidence to continue his experimenting streak, without having to worry about the output.

Image courtesy: PVP Cinema

From playing a king in Baahubali to a naval officer in Ghazi - that's quite a jump in terms of characters. Was it tough to detach from Bhallala Deva to play your character in Ghazi

As a character, Bhallala Deva is very difficult to get out of, because it’s so overpowering and larger-than-life. The reason I agreed to be part of Ghazi was because it was an important tale to tell, and one that has been forgotten. For Ghazi, the challenge was to get the look right, especially after gaining so much weight for Baahubali. I wanted the audience to feel that they aren’t watching the same Rana from Baahubali when they watch Ghazi, and I could only achieve it due to extensive and rigorous cardio training which was followed by a lot of underwater training because over 60 percent of the film has been shot underwater.

With a highly ambitious and experimental project like Ghazi, it would have been safer to collaborate with an experienced filmmaker. However, you chose to work with debutant Sankalp Reddy. What did you see in him?

The problem with experienced filmmakers is that they don’t want to make films like Ghazi, and I can totally understand why and I don’t blame them. Originally, Sankalp was trying to make this story as a one hour film to be released on Youtube, and had even spent money to build a submarine prototype. When we heard about what he was doing, we realised the potential of the story. We immediately brought Sankalp, who knew the subject very well, on board and paired him up with a team of writers.

Eight months down the line, once we were satisfied with the first draft of the script, we pooled in the best technicians available in the country at that time. We brought together cinematographer Madhie, National award-winning editor Sreekar Prasad and a very strong CG team. At the same time, we had to control the cost and yet ensure the aesthetic and the quality of the film was top notch. I have grown up watching films like Crimson Tide, Hunt for Red October and U-571, so for me I didn’t want our film to look any less than that. We tried roping in people who were not in the regular cinema format, somebody who could understand international cinema, understand the genre. I think our efforts paid off because those who watched the film have unanimously praised it.

Do you believe the success of Baahubali gave you the confidence to experiment, say, with a film like Ghazi?

Absolutely, and there’s no denying the fact that I was inspired by Rajamouli, who went out there, spent a lot of money and tried to do cinema that’s bigger than regular stuff. I would have definitely wanted to do a project like Ghazi, but I wouldn’t have commissioned it had I not done a Baahubali, and of course, it takes a team of like-minded people to believe in the overall vision. Even though we made this film in Hyderabad, it’s having a grand Hindi release. Karan Johar and Anil Thadani saw the film, liked it and picked it up for release. It’s going to have a pan-India release.

Could you talk about the experience of playing a naval officer and shooting in a submarine, because you don’t get to do that often?

This is the story of a submariner and their life is completely different. You are inside a submarine for the longest time and you don’t know the difference between day and night. It’s actually not an easy film to shoot. In the beginning, the idea to shoot inside a submarine was very exciting but by the end of the first month of shooting, I knew a lot of our actors were starting to feel claustrophobic, and it was starting to get to them.

There were a few occasions where we missed seeing daylight because we were filming non-stop. That’s when we decided to take a break and shoot other portions on ground for a few days and then return to submarine portion. The submarine was built based on accurate design from Indian Navy. In the 1970s, the submarines were made in the USSR, so we had to source a lot of things to match the era and make everything look authentic. The whole experience was quite challenging but it was equally fun because we were doing something that hasn’t been done before on Indian celluloid.

Image courtesy: PVP Cinema

The story is inspired from real events but at the same time there’s also some element of fiction. How did you manage to strike a fine balance between real and fiction?

The real part is that the incident took place in 1971 on RK beach in Visakhapatnam. This war was classified and everyone involved in it has a different version of this story. The Indian Navy will give you a different version; the Pakistanis have a totally different take on it. This is a historic event which most have forgotten while the rest are not even aware of.  It’s a tribute to the navy, in the sense that we see a lot of films on the police and army, but we haven’t had enough cinema on the navy.

The sinking of Ghazi is one incident where the navy had come to glory. It’s a combination of all these things that you’ll find in the movie. None of us know what really happened on the submarine. It’s true in terms of where and when it happened and also in timeline. But all the characters in the film are fictional.

Post Baahubali, you have become the go-to person for larger-than-life stories. Do you agree?

If that’s what people think, I don’t mind because I don’t see anything wrong in it. I take to these kinds of stories because they’re rarely made in Indian cinema. As a movie lover, these are the kind of films I enjoyed watching while growing up.  When it came to Ghazi, it was an interesting story to tell more than anything else. Post Baahubali, everybody would have expected me to do a regular, commercial film. I chose Ghazi because the story is appealing enough to make it a national film as it’s about India and Pakistan. It’s a Telugu film because the story is set in Visakhapatnam.

You’re doing another war-based film in Tamil. How do you keep yourself motivated to do back-to-back films in the same genre?

Even though they’re in the same genre, they’re different war films. One is medieval war (Baahubali); other one is war underwater (Ghazi) and the third one is war in British India. Each of them, in terms of technique and terrain, is very different and this includes the characters. The reason I started taking to these stories, especially post Baahubali, because they’ve been so many stories in the past that have been beautifully recreated on screen. If not for cinema’s power to recreate any scenario, we wouldn’t have had a Braveheart or The Patriot. That’s why I felt the need to do these kinds of films at this point.

You have successfully completed Baahubali 2. When you look back, what do you think has kept the team motivated and united for nearly five long years?

It’s something I have always wondered. It’s been four years since we started working on the project. There were two things that kept us going. One, it is Rajamouli’s strength and his unbelievable motivation when it comes to getting things done. I can speak on behalf of all the actors because I worked closely with them. Every day when you’re on the set, there’s pride in you that you’re doing something that has never been done before in Indian cinema, and it’s something every actor thrives for.

In Baahubali, everything that I did was special because I had done it for the first time. Be it the chariot I rode or the costumes I wore or the lines that I mouthed, and there was no reference point for any of this in Indian cinema. This is something that got us all excited. Secondly, whenever you walk in to Baahubali set, it overpowers you and it is multiplied when visual effects come in. You’re constantly motivated with what you do on this project. You may do tiresome action but if it’s going to look cool, I’m sure anybody would be excited and motivated to work harder. That’s the kind of high we experienced while working on this project.

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