Prem Rakshith. (By Arrangement)
Prem Rakshith has the entire country grooving to Natu Natu, one of the most-watched songs of recent times, and a very popular meme, with crores of viewers in the digital world. But when he was told about the dance number in RRR, his initial reaction was ‘Wow! "Watching two beautiful dancers — Ram Charan and Jr. NTR (Tarak) — in one frame will be a treat. Since it is a groovy number, the focus was on composing interesting steps," says the choreographer, who was determined to bring out the best in both stars.
So what exactly made this song a rage? Prem says since both Charan and Tarak are unique and have their own swag, the emphasis was on harmony.
"Rajamouli Sir gave me the song and the situation. I composed steps that complement the lyrics and the beat, so that all three aspects are in sync," says the award-winning Prem.
The Natu Natu song was shot in Ukraine because at that time, India was yet to relax the lockdown rules for film shooting. While both Tarak and Charan rehearsed for 30 days, the song was shot for two weeks. Prem worked around 30 days to compose some 97 dance moments.
The choreographer says, Rajamouli taught him how to see things from the camera’s perspective and told him that irrespective of the camera angle, both stars should have equal prominence. Apparently, Rajamouli had to ultra zoom in on every frame to make sure that Charan and Tara were in sync.
"It’s a very rare opportunity that one gets to compose for two superstars. I am blessed to get the opportunity, and all thanks to Rajamouli Sir," Prem says, describing his guru as a passionate and dedicated filmmaker. He adds that he is humbled by the response to the song.
Prem earlier worked with Ram Charan in Magadheera, Rangasthalam and Acharya (upcoming) while he had worked with Jr NTR for Yamadonga, Brindaavanam, Shakti and Dhammu. Hence, he had a strong understanding of the talents of both actors. "I think my past work experience with them came in handy in understanding their body language and rhythm," he shares.
The song originally had over 100 dancers behind Charan and Tarak but on second thoughts, they were dropped.
"Our thinking was, why have extras when we already have two of the country’s best dancers grooving together?" says Prem, adding that, though he has won praise and several awards earlier, the Natu Natu song is at a different level.
Journey with Rajamouli
Although Prem’s debut film was Vidyarthi, he came into the limelight with the Rajamouli directorial Chatrapathi. How he got that offer is a story worth hearing.
"One day I got a call from Rajamouli Sir, asking me whether I could teach his son Karthikeya, and Simha and Bhairava (Keeravani’s sons) dance at home," reveals Prem.
He took up the offer as he was desperate to make ends meet. The choreographer was surprised to learn that Rajamouli was trying to find out who had composed the dance moves for a number in Vidyarthi. "Initially I was reluctant to tell him it was me, fearing that I might lose my job as dance master," says Prem. But when he eventually told him, Rajamouli asked him to compose some moves for a mass song in his next film, Chatrapathi (2005).
And Prem came up with cool steps and came on board for the action drama.
Since then Prem has been the go-to choreographer for all Rajamouli’s films. "I put in the same effort for all the songs I compose," he stresses.
Prem, who has composed for around 70 films in Telugu and Tamil films, hails from Tamil Nadu. While his father was a diamond merchant, his mother was a homemaker. He has a speech and hearing-impaired brother.
"Ours was a joint family, but due to some difficulties we moved out in 1993. The going became tough for the family. My father was a good friend of Sundaram Master, so he started working as a dance assistant in his films while I worked in a tailoring shop," the choreographer reveals. The family was in dire straits financially. Prem couldn’t get a good job, though he had taken graphics and VFX courses, he was focussed on dance. He was frustrated.
"I knew that if I died, my dance union federation would give my family Rs 50,000 as compensation. So I decided to commit suicide. I cycled to the Marina beach in Chennai. But I realised that the guy who loaned me the cycle would ask my parents to return it, so I went back to give the cycle to my father," shares Prem.
He then started out to walk to the beach, but his father called him back and told him about an opportunity to work as a dance extra.
After that, he grabbed whatever opportunities he got and moved to Hyderabad in 2002 as choreographer. He choreographed for the film Vidyarthi (2004) whilst working as a dance master at Rajamouli’s house.
"I was constantly shooting in Hyderabad and missed my family in Chennai. I missed playing with my son (Parikshithh) and couldn’t see him growing up," shares Prem, who relocated to Hyderabad a few years ago.
"If I look back on my 17-year journey, I have learnt a lot, not just in films but also in life. I want to thank my parents for the sacrifices they made, my wife (Rajyalakshmi) for her rock-solid support and my uncle (Gunaselan) who helped me back then," reflects Prem, whose original name was Sathish.