Prabhas: On crashing cars in Saaho and his next film, a love story

The 50-day shoot wrapped in Abu Dhabi on Monday: we spoke to the star Prabhas about the challenges of shooting and how he spends his money

Trilingual Indian movie Saaho wrapped 50 days of filming in Abu Dhabi on Monday. The lengthy shoot makes it the second longest Indian movie production to take place in Abu Dhabi, following last year's Tiger Zinda Hai. With around 250 crew and 37 vehicles used on the shoot, the film is also one of the grandest yet to shoot in the Emirate - with a budget estimated at around $46M (Dh169 million) it is set to be the second most expensive Indian movie ever made when it releases in 2019, second only to 2018's 2.0.

Prabhas on the action scenes in Saaho and 'legend' Kenny Bates

The movie's star Prabhas, however, revealed that, following the huge action sequences, including one epic car chase that took 20 days to shoot, not many of those vehicles will be in a fit state to star in any future movies: “We ended up crashing, I think, 27 cars and five trucks,” The actor recalls. “Whatever cars we had, we crashed them. They’re burning, blasting, it was great fun.”

The automotive carnage was, at least in part, down to the movie's stunt co-ordinator Kenny Bates, a Hollywood mainstay who has also worked on the Mission Impossible and Transformers franchises, as well as serving as an assistant or second-unit director on movies including Kingsman: The Secret Service and the rebooted The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Bates, Prabhas reveals, is a man who likes to do things properly: "Kenny Bates is a legend. Him and the European crew came to Abu Dhabi I think two years ago to reccie all the locations, and he wanted to do everything for real. He wanted cars crashing, cars flying, he really wanted to shoot everything for real, not use effects. Some of the films you watch the action is 70, 80, 90 per cent effects, but not here. The action scenes you'll see in Saaho are all real - it's going to look fantastic."

On shooting in Abu Dhabi: they 'closed the roads we needed' 

The Abu Dhabi location itself proved crucial to being able to shoot the kind of action sequences Bates required, Prabhas reveals: “It’s so rare to be able to get bridges and infrastructure and city locations like that,” he says. “But here was great. The team at twofour54 were really helpful. They gave us all the best roads, the best buildings, closed the roads we needed, whatever we wanted. It was a really smooth process and it’s hard to get that with these kind of scenes.”

Prabhas also admits that he had reservations about shooting during Ramadan – the first time he had done so in the Arab world. However, he says that his concerns proved unfounded in reality: “We were a little worried at first shooting in Ramadan, we didn’t know how practical it would be, but it’s not what I expected at all,” he reveals. “It’s been easy. You can definitely shoot during Ramadan, I would say to anyone else thinking about it. It’s not caused us any problems at all.”

What Prabhas does in his down time

Having spent 50 days shooting in Abu Dhabi, Prabhus says that his hectic schedule hasn’t allowed him to see too much of the city and surrounding Emirate, although he has visited Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Generally, however, his downtime sounds like it’s been a fairly simple affair: “I have a home theatre so I like to watch films on that, and I like to play volleyball on the beautiful white sands too. But mostly it’s about friends,” he says. “Even when I’m on set I’m always among friends. On this film, the producers, one is a cousin, one is a childhood friend. The costume designer is a friend, so there are 20 or 30 of us that are friends always. It really doesn’t feel like I’m working.”

One popular UAE hobby that Prabhas definitely hasn’t got into during his extended stay is shopping, even though many of his colleagues have been taking advantage of the many malls on offer to visitors: “Even in a big mall, maximum one hour, that’s all I can do,” he laughs.

“I’m a very fast shopper, I’m very quick, whether it’s big money or small money, it really doesn’t matter to me. I just get all my things that I need together and get out as quickly as possible.”

On getting the right take in Saaho in three languages

Fortunately, Prabhas says he doesn’t take the same approach to shooting his scenes: “No, no, I’m totally the opposite with shooting,” he says. “I might take three days, four days even, to get the right take. Like with this shoot here, we had 40, 50 days, so if it needs four days to get the shot that’s what I’ll do. It has to be right.”

The need for multiple takes was even greater than usual on Saaho, as the movie is shooting concurrently in three languages – Telugu, Tamil and Hindi, meaning that even a perfect scene would require at least three takes, one in each language: "It was very hard shooting a trilingual film," Prabhas, who has previously mostly shot Telugu films, admits. "Not just for the actors, but for the technicians and directors too. You get that moment and it's like 'Yes, good, ok, that's a wrap.' Then it's 'right – now do it in Hindi.' It was a big challenge."

What's next for Prabhas? A love story 

For Prabhas, with the epic Abu Dhabi action sequences now complete, as well as some more downtempo, dramatic scenes that the actor reveals were also shot in the city, his journey on Saaho is almost over.

He says that after the high-octane Abu Dhabi shoot, he intends to slow things down a little for his next, as-yet-unnamed movie: “When I’m finished with this I start on another movie in June,” he says. “That’ll be very different. It’s a love story and we’ll be filming mostly in Europe. You’ll see a very different side of me in that. I don’t only do the big action films, so I’m looking forward to a change of pace.”