Four of the team came to London for the British Film Institute screening this week and talked about inspirations, ambitions and just what it means to be part of India’s first real franchise blockbuster…
MAJESTIC and opulent, director SS Rajamouli’s record-busting ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’ has put down a marker for cinema – everywhere.
Tuesday’s screening (May 2) at the British Film Institute (BFI) on the Southbank in London was recognition of an auteur who deserves to be up there with the very best.
Talking to www.asianculturevulture.com before the evening premiere, he urged filmmakers not to limit themselves in the stories they tell and be bold in their characterisation and also encouraged actors to be fearless as well.
He said these elements could in some part explain the phenomenal success of both ‘Baahubali: The Beginning’ and its current sequel.
Both films have crossed the ₹100 Crore (approximately £10m) barrier – widely seen as the measurement for a hit film in India.
‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’ has done this in just a matter of days.
It was released worldwide last Friday (April 28).
Reportedly, it was no.3 in the US in its first weekend and anecdotally, there were reports here in the UK of sold out screenings with extra ones being added within the space of one screening of ‘Baahubhali: The Conclusion’ starting and ending.
It is set to become the highest grossing Indian film of all time. The latest will surpass the ₹500 Crore mark, taking the earnings of both to a cumulative ₹800 Crore (£80m).
This is all the more amazing when you consider this is not a Bollywood film, has no India-wide stars in it, (at least before the first instalment) and is made in Telugu, a regional language spoken in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, of which Hyderabad is the joint capital.
Rajamouli told acv he was inspired by two elements in the beginning and both are interconnected.
He said: “Firstly, I was inspired by all the epic stories we heard from our childhood – The Mahabharata, The Ramayana, our folklore, our history and Kathas (Indian tales), there was definite inspiration there and it translates to all my work, not just Baahubali – but Baahubali more so, because it is a folk story.
“Secondly – by the characters created by my father, (script writer and filmmaker) Vijayendra Prasad (also responsible for Salman Khan smash ‘Bajrangi Bhaijan’) he created the characters.
“They are very clearly written with their own aims and ambitions.
“Never before have I worked with so many fearless actors, and it is the actors who were my inspiration to make this film.”
His lead, Prabhas, is a big star but for Baahubali, Rajamouli took a slightly different tack.
“I’ve always had a mass masala (formulaic) kind of hero and quite macho, but in in this, he is a very soft guy, very subtle and he never says anything about being a god – but other strong characters do.”
In the post screening Q&A (see video below) Rajamouli said that Baahubali is loosely based on Lord Ram, the central figure in The Ramayana, who is a king and is exiled to the forest with his wife, Sita, before returning and slaying the demon Ravanna.
Rajamouli gets great performances from all his actors, not least from South Indian film star, Anushka Shetty.
You should remember that outside the South Indian film community (which has considerable interconnectivity), she was not that well-known.
However, she is now.
Like most of the team behind Baahubali, she is effusive in her praise for director SS Rajamouli. This isn’t just industry protocol or etiquette (though it might be the norm), it is genuine and heartfelt and gives you some idea that Rajamouli is a very special talent.
Having made one previous film with him, there was never any question of her involvement (see video below as well).
“The first thing was working with him,” she told www.asianculturevulture.com. “He’s a great director – the kind of nuances that he takes care of, he really explains things, and he knows how to extract things from you, both pluses and minuses, and he elevates it.”
She has had offers from the bigger Hindi and Bollywood film industry but she has been particular about her choices.
“There’s been nothing that’s interested me. If it is a good story, I would. And in any and every language, however good the character is, the most powerful thing is the story,” she explained to acv.
The worldwide attention and success of Baahubali means a lot to the whole team, and its transcendence has touched all.
“No one is calling it a Telugu movie, they are just calling it ‘Baahubali’, like it is their own.”
Her character ‘Devasena’, the first Baahubali’s wife, is one of the most memorable (all the principles ones are) – dashing, brave, and beautiful with a hint of wiles and seductive power.
Like her equally fierce mother-in-law and Queen Mother Sivagami (played superbly by Ramya Krishnan), she will not let any man – including her husband – blithely decide her fate.
“She’s a very strong character, no matter what the situation is, none of the characters lose their true essence,” declared Shetty.
Already a TV series is in the works and there is strong speculation that it will focus on some of the character’s back stories and a clash between two different ancient Indian cultures – the Dravidian (indigenous to the South) and Aryan (more from the North and possibly from Central Asia in its furthest origins).
This is already being dubbed India’s ‘Game of Thrones’.
“We do have a live action series based on the books being written,” explained Shobu Yarlagadda, the films’ producer. It’s been reported that Rajamouli’s father is writing it.
“The series will go back to when Sivagami (Krishnan) was a small child. We are looking at streaming partners,” he told acv.
Yarlagadda was there from the beginning and it’s his production company, Arka Media Works, which is responsible for Baahubali and all the spin-offs.
“We (SS and he) did the previous film together and we wanted to do a large canvas film, that’s how it all started,” he elaborated. “We knew we wanted to make it big, but we had never done anything like this before and we didn’t know what we were getting into.”
Baahubali started as one story and then realising that it would be too long for one film was split into two.
Yarlagadda raised the finance – thought to be in the region of £50m – though it started out somewhat lower.
“We had a lot of credibility with the director in the local market and the local buyers were willing to push the limit with Prabhas (the Baahubali actor). The combination was not difficult to sell.”
From the outset, there was an idea that film would need to be an all India affair and as is the way with most Bollywood films, foreign distribution also comes into play.
Yarlagadda was able to persuade hit Bollywood director Karan Johar, and a star name in his own right to come on board, through his Dharma Productions outfit – most screenings in the UK are in Hindi and not in the original Telugu, because there is a more established network of cinemas in the UK that screen Hindi/Bollywood films. But some local cinemas are thought to be showing Tamil and Malayalam versions, as well.
“We were clear from day 1 that we had to go beyond traditional markets and take it as far as possible. We looked at outside India early on, we took it to film festivals, and were in discussions with foreign markets and buyers,” he explained.
An animated series spin off is already available on Amazon Prime, he told acv. More episodes are expected to be added later this month.
Earlier this year, acv was at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival when the cover to the first novel in the Baahubali book series was unveiled.
Baahubali is a recognised franchise now – a virtual reality spin off is also available and was on demonstration prior to the screening at the BFI.
Rajamouli says that the scale and vision of Baahubali was first inspired by another Telugu producer.
Some years ago, the well-established Shyam Prasad Reddy, told an audience of filmmakers and others, they needed to think big, and outside of the box essentially. It was not good enough simply to think of catering for a regional market.
“He was very angry, very passionate, it was about 12/13 years ago. He said we were just limiting ourselves to a regional market.”
Rajamouli had enjoyed success with his previous film, ‘Eega’ (2012); a science fiction type thriller where a murdered man returns as a fly to avenge his untimely death. It led him to Baahubali.
“I’ve always believed if you have a good story, people will flock to it. A story with good characters, and intense dramas, people are there to listen to them, you’re just not telling them.
“We are limiting ourselves to telling certain kinds of stories, there is nothing wrong in that, I’ve been doing it myself. But there is so (much more) potential in making great stories like this work.”
The first film, released in 2015, ended with a rather enigmatic scene – with one of the central figures Katappa (Sathyaraj) swording Baahubali (Prabhas) himself and sparking the question, why did Katappa kill Baahubali? #WKKB
He has been surprised by the success of ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’ and put forward a charming analogy based on India’s most famous cricketer.
“It’s like when Sachin Tendulkar comes into bat and you might expect him to hit a century in 80 or 90 balls, but actually he hits one in 20 balls! That is the kind of feeling we have, we expected a century in 90 balls, not in 20!”
For the time being, there are no plans to make another ‘Baahubali’ film though in the Q&A after the BFI screening, he had quipped that he might want to make a film on The Mahabharata on – but only in ten years.
Earlier, he told acv: “I can’t think of anything beyond ‘Baahubali’ right now, I need to take time off and not think about films at all. I want to enjoy the success of the film and take a big holiday and then look into what I can make…”
* ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’ is in on release worldwide
Get a taste of the atmosphere when the Baahubali team were at the BFI in London…