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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.