Baahubali 2's success shows up the north's ignorance of south Indian cinema

TS Sudhir

Apr,30 2017 09:24:36 IST

Since Friday, 28 April 2017, some TV anchors have been attempting to reduce the success of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (also spelt as Bahubali 2) to a match result of "South Indian filmmaker defeats Bollywood" narrative. The indignation is over how a Telugu filmmaker could pull off a Bahubali 2 when ideally it should be Bollywood with deeper pockets that should have created this Rs 450 crore worth project.

In fact, in its ignorance, or perhaps the callous notion that South India is one homogenous entity, a channel and another channel's anchor credited Bahubali 2 as a Tamil movie that has been dubbed into Telugu. Enough — and justifiably so — for members of Tollywood's film fraternity to go into a collective sulk. And why not, the industry produces India's biggest film project and (everyone) north of the Vindhyas assumes SS Rajamouli must be from Rajinikanth-land.

It betrays a terrible condescending attitude that it should surprise Delhi-based journalists that the south has delivered this lavish visual spectacle. If nothing else, it only perhaps exposes their ignorance of Indian cinema and the fare that comes out of the south.

Still from Bahubali 2/Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

Still from Bahubali 2/Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

A bit of history would have helped. South Indian cinema based in Chennai (then called Madras) has traditionally been at the forefront of high-end cinema technology. From the 1950s, Madras has been home to several studios like AVM, Gemini, Vijayvahini, that ensured the city was the first to embrace the newest movie tool — from 70mm to Dolby to special effects — to hit the market.

K Hariharan, an author and professor of Film Studies, points out that Chennai has always been the National Film City which "also made Tamil films''. "Mumbai in contrast, is essentially only a regional Hindi centre, that never diversified into any other language except Marathi, which in any case is the city's default language,'' says Hariharan. The only reason why Mumbai has acquired a larger profile is because of the size of its audience.

If you ask a south Indian film buff, it is quite possible he or she will refer to the epic fantasy film Mayabazar, starring NT Rama Rao, as the baap of Bahubali. Rajamouli himself has acknowledged that the 1957 classic was an inspiration for Bahubali. The movie — considered "true cutting edge'' in terms of use of technology in that time — has been acknowledged even by Kamal Haasan as a fine example of "visual appeal going hand in hand with content''. In fact, Rajamouli tweeted about the film in May 2013, writing : "About 20 of us watched Mayabazar in Blu-ray. Kids of age 7-17 enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed it in our childhood. Timeless classic!''

In fact, in the '60s, even Bengali and Sinhalese remakes of hit Tamil films would be produced in Madras at the studios. In the '80s and early '90s, the likes of Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna, Anil Kapoor worked mostly in Hindi remakes of successful south films.

For the Khan-obsessed non-south India, a reading of Salman's filmography too would have provided a clue to why the south could do a Bahubali. A majority of Salman's superhits — from Wanted to Judwaa to Biwi No. 1 to Tere Naam to Ready to Kick to Bodyguard — are remakes of Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam prototypes. Ditto with the other big Bollywood success story, Akshay Kumar. Proof, that in terms of both story telling and using technology to translate ideas on to the big screen, the Peninsula has been many steps ahead.

The problem with most of the north audience is that it consumes south films through badly dubbed movies telecast on SET MAX. That sets the bar really low. Which is perhaps why it thinks the best movie to have come out of south cinema must have been Sooryavansham — given the number of times its Hindi remake, starring Amitabh Bachchan, is telecast on telly.

Malayalam cinema with its brilliant storywriters, directors and actors have always stood out in their choice of subjects and treatment. Yet you have self-proclaimed "number one film critic'' called Kamaal R Khan, an uncultured boast, taking a dig at National Award winning actor Mohanlal, calling him Chotta Bheem-like. When taken to the cleaners by Lal fans, he apologises saying he did not know of the thespian's body of work. The problem is with Bollywood's unintelligent assumption that it represents Indian cinema and that one can call oneself a student of Indian cinema without studying the likes of Lal, Mammootty, Kamal Haasan, Ilaiyaraaja and Mani Ratnam.

So what do we do? We look for reasons why Bahubali clicked pan-India. And we zero in on Rajamouli's decision to partner with Karan Johar. The takeaway is that if not for Johar, Rajamouli would not have managed to have 'Koffee' with India. This is not to say that Johar's presence did not add value. If nothing else, it brought to the table a certain level of acceptance that here is a product with which a discerning producer-director who knows his craft is associating. I do not think Johar would have put his money if the movie was trash material. So the value-add was limited to handing over a certificate.

It is more to do with the attitude. AR Rahman, despite what he has achieved for India including the Oscar, is reduced to being called 'Mozart of Madras'. We never call Salman Khan, the Galaxy Apartments Hero, do we? Vinod Khanna, God bless his soul, is referred to as an Indian actor but Raghuvaran when he passed away in 2008, did not even manage ticker space on TV channels. I remember a news editor asking me if he can push for the news to make it to the rundown by telling higher-ups that he is the Amrish Puri of the south.

This is not to say south cinema comes out smelling of roses every time. Far from it... the industry in the four language states produce a lot of nonsense as well. But the scale of Bahubali, Rajamouli's audacity to dream big and the success of the movie will have a domino effect on filmmakers from this part of India. That their products could fly if treated the right way creatively, aided by the right technological tools. And then you can even dare to release the film on an ordinary day in April, and not wait for Eid, Diwali or Sankranti.

P.S. His name is Rajamouli. There is a 'U' in the name, that is not silent. TV journalists would do well not to hyphenate the name and make it Raaja Moli.

Updated Date: May 02, 2017 16:16 PM