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.

Play
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.

Play
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).
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

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