Baahubali 2 producer Shobu Yarlagadda: We knew it'd be a success, but the speed surprised us

Sreedhar Pillai

May,11 2017 16:23 54 IST

Shobu Yarlagadda and Prasad Devineni of Arka Media, the producers of the Baahubali franchise, have become a case study on how to market a blockbuster. After the stupendous box office success of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (also spelt as Bahubali 2) which became India’s first film to gross over Rs 1,000 crore from worldwide theatricals, Shobu Yarlagadda spoke exclusively to Firstpost on how they pulled of the feat. Edited excerpts:

Congratulations on the phenomenal success of Baahubali 2

Thank you!  It's still sinking in... We knew the film will be a success, but the speed and rate of its achievement has taken us by surprise.

So what made it such a roaring success — the content, packaging, actors or special effects?

It's a combination of a good story and emotions rooted in Indian storytelling, a larger-than-life canvas, great action made possible with great sets and VFX and technical values like photography, sound and music.

What made you back SS Rajamouli, when he came up with the concept for Baahubali: The Beginning? And how did The Conclusion come about? 

I backed Rajamouli because if there is one filmmaker in India who can handle larger-than-life storytelling with great action, it's him. Plus, we share a great personal relationship and trust which is very important on a big project like this. We had decided that Baahubali would be a two-part film once the story was completed — much before we even started production on Part 1.

Prabhas in a still from Baahubali 2: The Conclusion/Bahubali 2

Prabhas in a still from Baahubali 2: The Conclusion/Bahubali 2

No Indian film has crossed Rs 1000 crore in worldwide theatrical gross so far. What made it possible for an SSR film to accomplish this?

I can tell you this, which I had already mentioned in our pre-release event, about SSR: He is amazingly talented, works hard (that's actually an understatement), and is not affected by money. He works purely for the love of cinema. These aspects make him what he is today!

To what do you attribute Baahubali 2’s Hindi version’s runaway success?  A lot of people still cannot fathom that it is a Telugu film dubbed into Hindi. 

Good cinema with a universal theme and emotions, when presented in the right manner, should work in any language or territory. Baahubali is a case in point. It is not region-centric and broadly Indian in theme and content. Technically it's well made and care has been taken to ensure that the dialogues and lyrics in every language are well written and the dubbing is good. Moreover, our partnership with Karan Johar and Dharma Films and a solid distributor like Anil Thadani of AA Films ensured that we got a release comparable to that of any big Hindi films. As you can see, Hindi — and for that matter, a pan-India release — was not an afterthought, but a well thought through strategy, and the results are showing in the box office success.

How important were Karan Johar and Anil Thadani’s contributions?

I think both of them played a crucial role in taking the film and connecting it to Hindi audience. Dharma and Karan Johar's name and him talking about the film and presenting it as India's biggest motion picture got us the necessary attention. This along with Anil's solid distribution experience ensured the results for both Baahubali: The Beginning, and The Conclusion.

Tell us how Baahubali 2 was able to penetrate the US market and emerge as the first Indian film there to collect Rs 100 crore?

Again here too, the distributor believed in the film and ensured that he got the biggest release ever for an Indian film across all three languages. They carefully selected theatre locations for each language. IMAX and large format screen release worked well, as the audience wanted to see the film on bigger screens and it was intentionally programmed not to clash with Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which was releasing on 5 May — giving (our film) a one-week window in large screens. They promoted it well and the film did its job after that!

In the final India domestic market analysis, what would the percentage breakdown be, of the Telugu, Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam versions' contributions to the total box office collection? 

Very broadly speaking, Hindi: 50 percent, Telugu: 25 percent, Tamil: 15 percent, Kerala: 10 percent.

Baahubali producer Shobu Yarlagadda

Baahubali producer Shobu Yarlagadda

You have congratulated UTV and Aamir Khan for “opening and then consolidating the China market with PK and Dangal. Do you feel Indian filmmakers should take a closer look at the international market?

I strongly believe so, yes. In the era of internet and globalisation, there is an audience everywhere and we should be confident to look outward without restricting ourselves to the markets where we come from. It's not easy and takes consistent effort, but we should try nevertheless.

Why did Baahubali: The Beginning not perform up to expectations in the China market?

Firstly, China is a very difficult market and they are not used to Indian films. They prefer big Hollywood franchises and local films. But more than that, specifically for Baahubali 1, our release there was delayed and happened a year after our India release — by which time there was lot of piracy and also, we didn't get a sufficient number of shows.  It was a learning curve for us. Hopefully we will do a better job for Baahubali 2.

When are you releasing Baahubali 2 in China? How are you gearing up for it?

We have started working on the China release and we would like to release it at the earliest and not delay it, like last time. Our local distributor has started the process. We will focus on this market as much as we can.

Do you think Baahubali 2's lifetime theatricals have the potential to cross Rs 1500 crore?

I think so.

How is the Baahubali merchandise doing?

I don't have numbers but all our merchandising and licensing partners are very happy and the merchandise sales are good and have been well received by fans and movie lovers.

Now that you have a tentpole franchise in Baahubali, when is part 3 coming? What is Arka’s next film?

There are no immediate plans for a Baahubali 3, but the animated series is on Amazon Prime Video, with more episodes coming from 19 May 2017. A live action series is also under pre-production. The mobile game is doing extremely well and our VR experience — The Sword of Baahubali — is also being worked on. So there is lot for fans to look forward to! Arka Media has no plans as of now to start a new film.