Mahabharata, Baahubali, 2.0, Sangamithra: With big budgets come bigger risks

In March 2017, when Shobu Yarlagadda, one of the producers of Baahubali, confessed to the media that the production house - Arka Mediaworks, which bankrolled the two parts of Baahubali - didn’t make any money from the first film, he was clearly outlining the risks involved in playing a high stakes game.

Making a film which has a budget of more than Rs 100-150 crores is always going to be bit of a gamble, not just for the producers, but also for the distributors and exhibitors involved in the film’s release.

Prabhas in a poster for Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

Prabhas in a poster for Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

What if the film doesn’t turn out to be a blockbuster? What if the film doesn’t get the kind of opening in the first three days of its release, which would assure everyone that their investments are safe?

As tantalising as the prospect of making India’s most expensive film sounds, from a promotional campaign’s point of view, it’s also akin to walking on a double-edged sword.

On one hand, more budget means access to better resources, bigger sets, more equipment, and with proper planning and execution, there’s a good chance to make a big film.

However, bigger a film gets, the higher the stakes are.

In a recent interaction with the media in Hyderabad, when Baahubali star Prabhas was asked about whether he was tensed before the first part released, he said:

“We were so tensed that we went numb after a point. If the film hadn’t worked, then the producer would have lost everything. No matter how many films Rajamouli or I would do for him after that, he’ll never be able to recover from the losses. Thankfully, the film did extremely well and we were fine in the end.”

With a budget of around Rs 450 crores, Baahubali is the highest budgeted Indian film so far; however, there’s a strong buzz that Shankar’s upcoming sci-fi thriller 2.0 too is going to billed at around Rs 450 crores and more by the time the film releases.

There’s little doubt that the film will justify its budget, given Shankar’s penchant for larger-than-life sets, 3D technology used to make the film, and the remuneration for its stars — Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar and Shankar himself.

Recently, the satellite rights of the film were sold for Rs 110 crores. Lyca Productions, which produced the film, has won half its battle to recover the cost.

Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar's 'looks' in '2.0' were recently unveiled in Mumbai. '2.0' follows from (although it may not be a direct sequel to) 2010's 'Enthiran/Robot'

Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar's 'looks' in '2.0' were recently unveiled. '2.0' follows from (although it may not be a direct sequel to) 2010's 'Enthiran/Robot'

But then, once again, for the film to make a ‘handsome’ profit, it has perform extremely well in every region it releases, including North India, which has long remained an enigma for South Indian filmmakers when it comes to big budget films. Baahubali : The Beginning has been the only exception, so far.

Then, there’s Sundar C’s much-talked about period drama Sangamithra, starring Shruti Haasan, Jayam Ravi and Arya.

The film too is expected to be made with a budget close to that of Baahubali and the pre-production is already underway with Sabu Cyril coming on-board as a production designer and Shruti Haasan training for the film in London, where she’s learning sword fighting and several other art forms to prepare for the titular role.

However, all these three films pale in comparison to the multi-lingual adaptation of MT Vasudevan Nair’s classic novel Randamoozham, to be produced by Dr. B R Shetty, UAE based billionaire businessman and philanthropist, with a budget of Rs.1000 cr (close to $150 Million).

Noted ad-filmmaker VA Shrikumar Menon is going to direct it and Mohanlal will play the role of Bhima in the film, which is scheduled to go on floors by September 2018 and will be released in early 2020.

Does one need Rs 1000 crores to make Mahabharata? Probably, yes.

Besides, money might not even be an issue when a billionaire is more than willing to fund a film. In theory, such big budgeted films give plenty of reasons to feel proud that South Indian filmmakers are pushing the envelope in terms of making epic films, but the limitations of the regional market need to be taken into consideration.

No matter how big the star cast or how big the film is, unless it releases with an unprecedented hype, there’s little reason why people would flock to theatres in droves.

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Shruti Hassan learns sword fighting in London for her film Sangamithra.

It’s only in the past couple of years that people in North India have warmed up to dubbed content from the South, but it’s still a hit-and-miss scenario at the moment.

This in turn begs us to question the whole idea behind making such big films without a proper strategy in place. At least, films like Baahubali and 2.0 can get away with it because of the pan-Indian appeal of its starcast and directors; however, for any other filmmaker or producer, it’s a million dollar question about what they have in mind to ensure a respectable return on investment (ROI).

Right now, epic period dramas are in vogue and apart from Baahubali & Gautamiputra Satakarni, there’ll be plenty of other films that’ll be made in near future, but for the time-being, it’s time for everyone to tread with caution and hope that it all ends well.

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Mohanlal will plays the character of Bheema in the adaptation of Malayalam novel 'Randamoozham', touted to be a film on Mahabharata. Images from Twitter.

The downside of films going wrong could be devastating. Take for instance, Rajinikanth’s Lingaa. The film was made within Rs 100 crores; however, when the film didn’t do well at the box-office, the distributors appealed to the producer Rockline Venkatesh and actor Rajinikanth himself to repay their losses. In fact, Rajinikanth seemed so upset with the turn of events that he warned distributors in the industry to not fall for publicity gimmicks of the producers.

“A producer will do a lot of promotional gimmicks to sell his product, you should not fall prey. While buying a film, do proper research, consult with experienced people in the trade. Don’t buy films at exorbitant prices and blame others for your losses,” Rajinikanth said.

In doing so, Rajinikanth also highlighted a problem that’s part of film industry’s DNA - A producer will try to shift the risk on to the distributors long before the film’s release.

It’s how the business is done. In the producer’s defense, it’s normal business - to sell the film to the highest bidder. However, the procedure is detrimental to a lot of stakeholders when the film doesn’t work.

The mad rush to make India’s most expensive film might grab a lot of eyeballs and clicks on the internet, but if not planned carefully, it could also turn into a nightmare.


Published Date: Apr 20, 2017 11:52 am | Updated Date: Apr 20, 2017 11:52 am

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