Raghu Ram on ‘Keedaa Cola’: Tharun Bhascker is nuts, has an unpredictable sense of humour

Working in director Tharun Bhascker’s Telugu crime comedy Keedaa Cola, which releases on November 3, has been a homecoming for Raghu Ram. The Mumbai-based television producer and actor popularly known for MTV Roadies recalls getting a call, ‘There is a Telugu fi….’. Even before the sentence was completed, Raghu had said yes. Not many are aware of Raghu’s Telugu origin. He has acted in Hindi, Punjabi and, recently, the Tamil film Doctor, but reckons that no one had approached him for a Telugu film. “My father, who passed away two years ago, would have been so happy to see me in a Telugu film,” says Raghu, talking to The Hindu.

He had said yes blindly and was in for a surprise when the script was sent to him in Hindi. “They (Tharun’s team) did not know my Telugu connection.” He read the Hindi translation of the script and found it “hilarious”. He did not know of Tharun or his earlier smash hits, Pelli Choopulu and Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi. “Tharun told me that his friends pooled in funds for this film and I thought they were a bunch of kids, film graduates. I even considered offering a big discount on my fee,” Raghu recalls with a laugh. 

Raghu plays a character called Shots, a conflict manager. “Shots is a deadly guy. You should pray that you never meet him because if you do, your countdown has begun. He is like an attack dog — ferocious, almost rabid.”

Shots with an attitude

In the film that has an ensemble cast — Brahmanandam, Chaitanya Rao Madidi, Rag Mayur, Vishnu Oi, Ravindra Vijay, Jeevan Kumar and others — Raghu is a senior, next only to Brahmanandam. He walked into sets on day one, wearing his don’t-mess-with-me Shots attitude, only to be warmly welcomed by co-stars and unit members who told him how much they liked him in MTV Roadies. “All my plans of showing off the Shots attitude went down the drain,” says Raghu. 

Raghu Ram makes his Telugu debut in Tharun Bhascker’s crime comedy ‘Keedaa Cola’

Raghu Ram makes his Telugu debut in Tharun Bhascker’s crime comedy ‘Keedaa Cola’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

The camaraderie was instant, he says and adds, “Once this film is out and the promotions are done, I won’t have an excuse to hang out with these boys. After my first film (the John Abraham starrer Jhoota Hi Sahi), this is the team with which I have had a personal connection. There was genuine support for each other. I believe that when the process of making a film is enjoyable, it translates into an enjoyable experience for the audience.”

Raghu dubbed his lines in Telugu and says, “I am not proud of the way I speak Telugu but proud of the fact that I can manage, considering that I spent my formative years in Delhi and Mumbai, surrounded by Hindi-speaking friends.”

Raghu’s father was from Machilipatnam and mother from Kakinada. Raghu and his twin Rajiv Lakshman grew up in Delhi and spent their summer vacations in Hyderabad, Guntur, Kakinada and Machilipatnam. Intermittently, he spent his college years in Hyderabad, and later moved to Mumbai for work. He believes he has benefited from the multicultural exposure. At home, they spoke Telugu and he recalls his parents writing, directing and staging Telugu plays and winning the National Award for the play Sandhya Chaaya.

Identity as an actor

Acting might have seemed like a natural transition after his television career, but Raghu says he looked at acting with disdain. “A lot of people who wanted to be actors would come to MTV Roadies and make fools of themselves, flaunting their gym bodies and not working as much on their acting skills. I equated acting to an obsession with fame and thought actors did not contribute much to a film, unless one was an A-lister.”

Raghu Ram

Raghu Ram
| Photo Credit:
Allu Rajesh

Acting, he says, happened to him by chance and he never actively sought work in cinema. When Raghu travelled with the team of Jhoota hi Sahi to London and was asked by the immigration department if he was an actor, he remembers getting defensive and stating that he was a reality TV host and a producer. “I gave them a long explanation, at the end of which they stamped me as an actor.” With time, his opinion about actors has changed and he recognises the profession for its creative and performative strengths. 

When the conversation reverts to Keedaa Cola, he describes Tharun as “nuts and crazy” and says he loved the director’s unpredictable sense of comedy. “The comedy will catch you unaware. On the sets, Tharun would slightly tweak things and make it funnier and more entertaining. He would also stop after a couple of takes. I would wonder if it was enough. In a few days, I gained confidence in his competence and trusted him.”

Mom’s recommendations

Growing up, Raghu had watched hits of Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh such as Yamudiki Mogudu, Khaidi 786, Geetanjali and Shatruvu. “Films of Singeetham Srinivasa Rao and K Vishwanath were also our favourites.” In recent years, he watched films recommended by his mother and recalls Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, Ante Sundaraniki, Nani’s Gang Leader and Balagam

Meeting Brahmanandam was one of the high points of working in Keedaa Cola and Raghu, who usually considers selfies intrusive, asked the veteran actor for a selfie. “This was only my second selfie, after actor Ranjeet (yesteryear antagonist in Hindi cinema).” 

Taking stock of his film career so far, Raghu reckons that he has been cast better in Tamil and Telugu than in Hindi. “I believe I have been mostly miscast. In Doctor and Keedaa Cola, the situations are hilarious but my character is not that of a comedian and he is not out to make you laugh. He believes in what he is doing but the result is funny.”

Now that he has had a taste of working in Telugu cinema, Raghu Ram is game for more. He has signed another film, the details of which are under wraps. “My biggest takeaway from working here is that talented artistes make different kinds of movies that offer an insight into human nature. A lot is discussed about movies from the south making their presence felt. I think the south is about to take off even more.”

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