Here is the full transcript of actor Rana Daggubati’s TEDx Talk: Redefining Storytelling at TEDxHyderabad.
Rana Daggubati – Indian actor
So before I begin, I’ll give you a little disclaimer of how I actually grew up and what the movies mean to me. When I was a young kid, I thought Mahatma Gandhi was someone who looked like Ben Kingsley, and I thought Adolf Hitler was a look-alike of Charlie Chaplin.
So, from here on you decide if you want to take me seriously or not, because that’s how I grew up. You can either think this guy loves the movies, and he’s here, and he’s continuing to work here, or you could think that I was a dumb kid in school who just went to the movies.
So let me tell you how it all started, not for me but for the world itself. We all know the times of kings, where kings governed everything, but the kings had something very very special. They wanted to showcase culture to the world, to the neighboring kingdoms.
So who is showcasing culture? Artists were showcasing culture. Dancers, musicians, poets, people with great literary works, and then what happened? The kings disappeared, and we lived in the world of democracy. I’m sure life is better but not so good for the artists at that point because all of you guys weren’t paying money to the artists.
And it all started in about 1894, when these two fine gentlemen, the Lumiere brothers, discovered something called cinema, where you projected a moving image from film onto a big screen, and there was a lot of public gathering. That’s when the artists found their space again.
And as technology kept evolving, when silent cinema became film which had sound in it: musicians came in; sound engineers came in. When it moved into color: artists came in; painters came in; and so on and so forth. So by somewhere in the early 1900s, about 1914, 1915 was where cinema really was the keeper of the arts, where a bunch of different artists from different spaces came together to tell this beautiful world in their format of storytelling, which was cinema. And that’s where it all started for everyone. And India came in exactly that time.
1913 was when Raja Harishchandra, the first Indian silent feature film, was made. I don’t know if you guys know this image, but this was the first ever film screening in France in the late 1800s. So, when India came in, we started with Raja Harishchandra, which was a silent film. We obviously took this to the same era of technology coming into the movies. Now, that’s where – that’s about 100 years ago, and for about 50 years after that is when we began, we came into the movies.
My grandfather was a farmer in a little village in Andhra, said, “I want to tell stories,” and he moved to Madras and started making movies. That’s a poster of our first ever feature film. And when we came on, we were a film production house.
What is a film production house? It’s a house that makes movies and then eventually gives it to a studio to distribute it, to exhibit it, and so on and so forth. And then we moved to a city called Hyderabad, and it was an ever-evolving space, where we were given land and said, “Let’s make cinema an industry.”
So, then there we go; we came, started production; we moved in, from there to distributing our own content to exhibitors, to different people. We went into exhibition, which was actually directly working with the theaters or owning, leasing those theaters, or building theaters to see to that the story that we are telling transcends perfectly to each and every one of you.
And then what did we know? We needed infrastructure to make better and better movies. We built the film laboratory, we built sound stages, we built sound design spaces, enhancing digital theater sound, visual effects, all of those to tell better and better stories.
But what happened then? It all changed. It all changed how? It changed with the medium of the digital world. We had something called a film laboratory, where film used to be short processed and then ultimately made ready with multiple copies of prints for all of you to watch in the cinemas. With the rise of digital that went away, so the infrastructure was not the same anymore.
What we realized was we were storytellers who were trying to make a formatted business out of this. Now, while cinema is evolving like this, the other part of the world was really fast evolving, where television came in, and that’s when people decided to sit at the luxury of their own homes with their family members, with their loved ones and start watching cinema there.
Then came on the giants of the Amazon’s and the Netflix’ were there, and your smartphone, which is now part of all of us. And you started watching stories there.
So, what did we have to do? We have to tell stories in every single platform that’s available. Now, this thing called the new ecosystem was something that we didn’t understand, something that nobody even now still understands where it’s heading.
So, what did we need? I mean, we were talking about movies; we all bought tickets, went to the movie theater; we all sat at home. watched TV, maybe made popcorn at home also.
Now we watch it on cell phones, we have our fancy laptops that have high-speed internet and all of those. We watch stories there. But today, technology has changed so much. We have moved into something called augmented reality, virtual reality. What’s augmented reality? Reality where an actor or an artist is actually on your phone performing for you personally. You can take videos with him; you can take pictures with him.
Virtual reality, where all of you can actually walk into this great world where the movie is being made. Yes, all this is happening today. Now, who makes all these things? Is it the artist? No. We are just tools to tell these stories.
But, it is people with technology, people who understand innovation. So, that really was the change. When I speak at events like these, the first thing that someone asked me yesterday was, “Why are you speaking at TED? It’s not a paid event. You are an actor.” So, the only reason I am here is to tell all of you guys that there is a space out here, there is an opportunity, and why we would be able to do it? Because change comes with a lot of hard decisions to make.
When film moved away, my mother used to run the film laboratory, and everything became digital, nobody was shooting on film anymore, we had to shut the film laboratory, an institution existed for many years. We had to let very, very close personnel go away. And that is really heartbreaking for all of us because all these years we thought this business is going to go on in a certain format, and it all changed. So, you have to be ready to pick that opportunity, and the good thing is with change if you embrace it well, there is a great opportunity. I did a film called Bahubali.
Have you guys seen it? It’s a really cool movie. Yeah? Thank you. So, when I did that film, it was breaking norms of every single storytelling pattern. It was a Telugu feature film with a Telugu film director, Telugu film actors to do production that was shot here. And we were trying to make something which is far bigger than anything that’s made in this country or this part of the world.
And how did we do this? A) There was a great storyteller who was the director of that film, who believed that stories will last forever and took inspiration, everything, from the soil that he’s grown up with, said we will propagate our culture, we’ll put it up there on the silver screen for the world to see, and it was not just him. It was the producers of that film, people who were smart, who were educated, who moved in from different fields of business, from whether it was technology, whether it is the dotcom, I mean, they were all over the place, and then they came to the movies. So, they finally made a method to this madness; they made a method to how great cinema can be told.
And all of you saw the result. We made a film called Bahubali, which was made on this very soil in Hyderabad city, and the world woke up to it. I was – Thank you. And why was that possible that way? For a simple reason that they were artists, they were people of business, they were people from many, many different fields, and I have many friends, I have people in society who still don’t choose entertainment as a career.
Now, we are at TED. It’s technology, entertainment stands right in the center, Sir, and the design after that. So, we need people from business; we need people from technology, people from design and every other field that can help us tell better and better stories.
And there is one thing that I have to tell all of you guys is if you guys back the filmmakers that are here, if you start innovating for them, if you start giving them technology, empowering them with all the business ideas that all of you have, Sir, we have made Bahubali once, and our filmmakers will go over and over to do it again.
Now, you can really think, “How is this possible? How can we do this?” I mean, to do this, we need a business format; we spoke about technology, we spoke about infrastructure, we spoke about every single thing that all the other businesses have, come look at this as a business. This is going to be definitely the largest largest growth pattern in this country because we still have a big margin to hit, and that big margin is only possible with all of you here helping us tell stories better.
So, ladies and gentlemen, sir, the artist is going to be there, the artist is going to be there in television, in film, in your cell phone, in every single place a story is told. It’s just that he needs you to empower him. The web, the web is suddenly open now to telling stories. All of you could be storytellers. Every single person is actually a storyteller because I have a story to tell, you have a story to tell, so do you.
And like that, the web has offered solutions for every one to come and tell stories. So, let’s come together on these platforms and tell these things.
Now, technology, we spoke about augmented reality, we spoke about virtual reality, and there is many more coming, and every single day I am at a new forum, there is a new technology and a new ever-evolving way of telling stories. Now, how do we tell these things? This is not a storyteller’s job, to figure out these new ways. So, the first time I met somebody who’s doing augmented reality, they were actually doing it for construction work and trying to make it look like, OK, furniture is here; this is how it’s going to look.
We just picked that technology up, plastered it on a film poster, and things changed. Things changed because cinema has the power, stories have the power to communicate to every single person living on this planet. And that’s what a cinema can really do. And there you go Sir.
So, all I have to ask you guys by the end of all of this is if you can empower us with innovation, if you can create better ways for us to tell stories, if you can help us with your great business practices that you have from across various business platforms, come in here, and let’s tell stories together.
And, Sir, we have done it once, we will make sure all the artists, and I speak for my entire fraternity, that we will do everything that’s in our might to tell great stories to the rest of the world. And India, Sir, is a land of culture and the greatest stories. So, thank you very much. Let stories be told.