on the actor's trail

Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali? Here’s what the actor who plays him has to say

In an interview, Sathyaraj spills the beans on one of the most important characters in SS Rajamouli’s fantasy adventure ‘Baahubali’.

SS Rajamouli’s fantasy period drama Baahubali (2015) and its upcoming sequel have several iconic characters, including the titular hero (played by Prabhas), Bhallala Deva (Rana Daggubati) and Sivagami (Ramya Krishna), but a special place has been reserved by fans for Kattappa, the slave who kills the man he has vowed to protect. Played by veteran Tamil actor Sathyaraj, Kattappa has inspired a question that has plagued fans since the conclusion of the first film – why did Kattappa plunge a sword into the back of the prince Baahubali?

The question – which has become a hasthag WKKB (or, Why Kattappa Killed Baahubali) – will be answered in the sequel Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. The movie will be released on April 28 in the original Telugu language as well as dubbed versions in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam. At the trailer launch in Mumbai on March 16, the media scrum was disappointed to learn that Sathyaraj wasn’t around to answer the all-important question. Ramajouli said at the event, “How many theories do I have [for WWKB]? Only one. But I have lost count of the number of theories proposed by various people.”

Sathyaraj finds himself in a sweet spot. The villain-turned-hero has acted in more than 230 films over 40 years, and the phenomenal success of Baahubali has given him a late-career boost. Sathyaraj is already familiar to Hindi audiences as Deepika Padukone’s stern father in the 2013 hit Chennai Express. “Much like superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who moved from being a hero to essaying character roles, for which he is appreciated more than his work as a hero, the same thing is happening to me here in southern cinema,” the 62-year-old actor told Scroll.in.

What was SS Rajamouli’s brief for the Kattappa character?
I love to play historical characters, since I am a big, big MGR fan. I merely followed what SS Rajamouli told me. He had done his research and knew the dialogue from my films, and he also knew that I am an ardent MGR fan. So he asked me to look at Bahubaali with the same love, admiration and affection I would show MGR. That is what I did.

I am totally a director’s actor. I have acted in so many films that I know what the director wants by the end of the first day on a set. Rajamouli knows the audience pulse. And he is extremely detailed and handles every small thing. They had stuntmen from Hollywood, and I was amazed by the novel action moves, but Prabhas told me the ideas came from Rajamouli.

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Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.

How do you assess the character’s popularity?
It is delightful that social media and memes are all about Kattappa. I am so happy. There is great scope in a character that has shades of grey, like in real life. It was an easy role for me to do. I have 40 years of experience in films. I was skilled in sword fighting for a long time, so I was comfortable.

I love different get-ups and I loved the shaved head and beard look. It was different from what I had done before. Kattappa’s look is unusual and distinctive, he emanates an inner strength – it is amazing how he has caught the imagination of people.

So why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?
Now how can I answer that? I cannot reveal the reason.

I have done Tamil films for 40 years now, but Kattappa has made me famous not just all over India, but all over the world where Indians live. I can only give credit to Rajamouli. Kattappa is Rajamouli’s well-crafted character, I just brought him to life. People may have thought that I slogged to portray the role because I am 62 years old, but it was very easy.

In my career, the nicknames of the characters I have played have stuck in people’s minds. For example, my role as Professor Virumandi “Virus” Santhanam in Shankar’s Nanban [a Tamil remake of 3 Idiots] was the rage. People used to call me “Virus.” I am also known for my role as corrupt politician Amavasai in Amaidhi Padai.

What I liked is that the director and the crew used to call me Kattappa. It is a matter of pride for me. Wasn’t it Periyar who bestowed the name Sivaji on Ganesan, which is a matter of great honour for the actor?

Baahubali: The Beginning (2015).
Baahubali: The Beginning (2015).

What was it like working on the massive ‘Bahubaali’ sets?
The real strain of making such a huge film lay with the director and his crew. We, the cast, enjoyed working on the beautiful sets. It was like being in college.

What is a role that is closest to you?
Undoubtedly, it is Periyar [2007, about the social reformer and architect of the Self-Respect Movement in Tamil Nadu]. It was my ultimate dream role. It was a real challenge because I had to get his body language and dialogue delivery completely right. His contemporaries, such as Kalaignar M Karunanidhi and K Veeramani, are still alive. In the Gandhi biopic, Ben Kingsley had just two makeovers – one in a suit and the other in a veshti. I had nine makeovers, since I had to portray Periyar as a young man until he was 95 years old.

Karunanidhi cried when he saw the film. He gifted me Periyar’s ring, which is 130 years old. I am still wearing it.

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Periyar (2007).

You also worked with Rohit Shetty in ‘Chennai Express’ as Deepika Padukone’s father.
It was the most relaxed role I ever did. We used to start shooting only at 11 am. It was a film for which I was paid very well and had a relaxed holiday at a hill station.

How will you live down Kattappa? What are the films you are working in?
Life goes on. I am shooting for a period Tamil/Telugu film that is set in 1945 and stars Rana Daggubati. I am also playing a retired cop, a very strong role, in a Tamil film whose title translates in English as “Caution, humans are walking around in this place.” I am happy I am still getting good roles.

Sathyaraj in Chennai Express (2013).
Sathyaraj in Chennai Express (2013).
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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.