Ram had worked in mass films earlier but iSmart Shankar hit the bulls eye, and trade pundits say it has taken him directly to the B and C audiences.
Sounding happy, relieved and unapologetic, the 31-year-old actor says, “You didn’t like it? Never mind……I’ll do one for you soon. This is for those who prayed for my success and wanted to see me in a tapori’s role. I was lucky I was able to do mass and class roles very early in my career and the kind of energy both gave is different. I went through a beautiful phase of six months and there was an invisible pressure on me. I had a fan climbing the Tirumala steps on his knees praying for the film to work.”
Ram admits he was getting restless as an actor. When he met Puri Jagannadh, the director didn’t have any script. Tired of playing the good guy who is always preachy and righteous, he asked the director why not a villain with a love story? The duo met in Goa, an idea was bounced to Ram and the script was developed right there. Ram then changed his look and did all the shopping keeping the bad boy in mind.
Mention the scantily clad heroines who had no qualms doing outrageous stuff and the choicest expletives used by him, he says Shankar is a bad guy, who objectifies women, uses cuss words and kills people who cross his path. The A certificate given to the film is clearly aimed at a certain section.
Working with Puri
Ram recalls his association with Puri, “Two years back people who had worked with him and me, told me I was a Puri Jagan hero. I came to the industry at a young age and learnt everything by studying people. I always stand next to the director when he is explaining things to the cinematographer and grasp his shot division. I noticed Puri’s brilliance… if his script is correct, he will take the film to a next level. I told him we both are underrated and we need to work on it and suggested that he go a little extreme. I wanted something that a normal hero doesn’t do in movies. That being said, I maintain that just because I play such a role, I don’t support him. He is a fictional character.” When Puri wanted to know whom to rope in as a music director, Ram batted for Mani Sharma.
Ram with director Puri Jagannadh on set of ‘iSmart Shankar’
Did the negativity surrounding the first trailer affect him? Ram says the team maintained a practical stance. “When the first trailer came out, people began reacting without understanding the character of iSmart Shankar. They saw only Ram but when the second trailer came out, it was a game changer,” he says.
Ram adds that he was in a trance while he shot for the entire climax.
Prepping for the role
To all those who say his Telangana pronunciation sounds artificial, he says, “I hardly had two months to get ready. Usually, when I dub for my films, there is only a dubbing engineer with me in the studio but this time, I had a Telangana dubbing engineer and eight people who were well versed in Telangana dialect, including Aziz from Hyderabad Nawabs. It was a conscious decision not to make it sound like perfect Telangana. It was iSmart Shankar who was doing the talking, so I ensured the modulation was apt. Also the mic was lowered to get a stronger base. I did all this homework”
Ask Ram one reason for the film’s success and he says it is the bonding and trust that he and Puri shared and that energy transformed into iSmart Shankar. The director usually takes less time to wrap up the film, this time he took six months. Ram cites those days when his friends would say they can’t relate to him anymore.
He shares, “I wanted to feel dirty, wanted to be iSmart Shankar. During the shooting, I did not use perfumes. After 45 minutes of make-up and smoking for a while I would get into the character. I understand Hindi but don’t speak it at all. For one scene, I changed the Telugu dialogue into Hindi unconsciously and the director said, ‘splendid’ andokayed the shot. We realised it only after someone on the set said the dialogue was changed. The process of acting gives more kick than the success itself. I got similar satisfaction when I did Vunnadi Okkate Zindagi.”