Baahubali films remind us how VFX in Indian cinema still has a long way to go

Pradeep Menon

May,03 2017 15:43 29 IST

In more ways than one, the Baahubali films are an event of spectacular proportions. The box office numbers – national and global – are unprecedented because the films themselves are.

Yet, realistically speaking, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is a victory only in scale and vision. From a technical standpoint, it may have the best VFX an Indian film has seen, but that’s a low bar to aim for. There is much to analyse in Baahubali films, to see how far we have come, and how much longer there still is to go.

Baahubali: The Conclusion

Baahubali: The Conclusion

For starters, the second film has arrived nearly two years after the first one, but there seems to be no significant improvement in the quality of VFX over these two years. Plumes of dust and gushes of water still look awkwardly artificial in the second part; in the first film, at least the sheer size of the waterfall made up for the rough edges.

Yes, the difference in budget between the Baahubali films and a typical Marvel film for instance, is staggering - which is why the VFX in Baahubali frequently breaks the spell of the imagery on display. Another scene that looks tacky because of the quality of VFX is the one where Baahubali leaps over and rides a stampeding herd of bulls. (Cows, buffaloes, oxen? Who knows what’s politically correct in the bovine world anymore.)

The wild cattle look bad, and Prabhas riding them looks unconvincing.

Other scenes that suffer include the ones where groups of people form human cannonballs and catapult themselves over the walls of Mahishmati. A well-conceived scene, it would have been several times more effective if it had the VFX to support it.

Since The Conclusion is even more VFX-heavy than The Beginning, consequently there are many more chinks in its armour than the first part.

One also can’t help but wonder why CGI sets are used so frequently in scenes that don’t demand them, instead of attempting to capture as much as possible on camera, and adding CGI only to embellish it. Observe the sky during Bhallaladeva’s coronation scene, or even some corridor scenes within the palace, and you’ll see the characters looking like cut-outs against the background.

Some shots look so tacky, they’ll remind you of the atrocious work done in 2016’s Rustom.

Even the sweeping battle scenes or ones where the camera shows crowds of people on the ground look like they’d belong more to an animated film from over a decade ago, than to a live action film in 2017.

For his next film Dunkirk, for the aerial shots of the army in battle, Christopher Nolan is reportedly using scores of cardboard cut-outs, so that he can achieve as much as possible on camera, rather than adding crowds during post-production. In fact, go far back in Nolan’s filmography, and you’ll see that some of the most grand and complex scenes were all achieved in camera. (Remember the hospital building blowing up in The Dark Knight, or the 18-wheel trailer turning all the way over head-first in the same film?) There should be a balance between what is achieved in camera and what’s added using VFX; and this is definitely one area where Baahubali could have been better executed.

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Prabhas and Anushka Shetty in Baahubali 2.

From a staging perspective, the one scene that completely manages to stand out is the scene where Baahubali teaches Princess Devasana the art of firing multiple arrows at once. Beautifully choreographed, imaginative in concept and supported ably by the visual effects, it rises far above the story and context; and into the realm of sheer visual poetry.

One frequent problem you’ll notice in the film is that of certain shots being slowed down.

Usually, slow motion shots are planned in advance and shot at a higher frame rate, so that when you slow it down, the motion is smooth. In Baahubali 2, many shots that were clearly shot at the regular frame rate have been slowed down.

What you end up with are sinfully jerky visuals that betray a lack of planning. This is what amateur filmmakers do, when they discover at the edit that the shot they took either wasn’t long enough to convey what was required or didn’t fit into the rhythm of the edit. The scale and planning with which Baahubali has been made, such a blunder is truly puzzling.

Despite all the handicaps Baahubali 2 suffers from a technical standpoint, the reason the film is still managing to win audiences over is simply its imaginativeness.

Most of the scenes have been conceptualized in a thoroughly original manner, never once coming across as a bad copy of Hollywood. (Compare that, for instance, with Dilwale ripping a scene from Mission: Impossible 2. It’s the sort of thing that makes one feel ashamed to be a filmmaker from India.)

This originality is why Rajamouli’s two-part magnum opus is winning audiences over, and it’s why Shankar’s 2.0 is so highly anticipated. That’s the next big spectacle Indian cinema has to look forward to.

Here’s hoping it manages to overcome at least some of the limitations that bogged Baahubali 2 down.

Published Date: May 03, 2017 15:43 PM | Updated Date: May 03, 2017 15:56 PM