Baahubali is a new and epic experience thanks to Rajamouli's visual effects

Mihir Fadnavis

Jul 14, 2015 12:24:39 IST

When the trailer of Baahubali was launched, Telugu film fans frothed at their mouths, declaring the second coming of their Jeebus, aka director SS Rajamouli. To me, the film looked like one, giant, video game cut-scene, with unconvincing and obviously fake CGI to boot. Having really enjoyed Rajamouli’s previous film Eega and its audacious visuals, this was disappointing. Baahubali is rumored to be the most expensive movie ever made in India — this is not the film that should look visually gummy.

Technologically, Indian cinema has taken gigantic strides of improvement. From camerawork to editing to sound design, we’ve got the technical chops to match the gloss of any foreign film. But when it comes to visual effects, our films tend to be more embarrassing than impressive. Think of Ra.One, for instance. After collaborating with international visual effects studios and pushing the film’s budget to somewhere in the range of $20 million, there was only one word for the VFX in Ra.One: lame. From its trailer, Baahubali seemed to be walking down the same path.

Except with the opening scene itself, you knew Baahubali was taking the idea of being a VFX spectacle very, very seriously. It has an image of a woman’s arm, rising out of river rapids, holding a baby – the VFX is obvious, but there’s something powerfully iconic in that shot. That’s when you know Baahubali is going to be an adventure. Because a bad movie makes you aware of all the CGI at play; a good movie stitches the CGI seamlessly into reality; and a fun movie? A fun movie shows you the CGI, and makes you love it.

Baahubali is a new and epic experience thanks to Rajamoulis  visual effects

A battle scene from Baahubali

With Baahubali, it’s the detailing in the background that makes you want to suspend your disbelief. That shot of the baby-clutching hand in the river is surrounded by gigantic waterfalls and otherworldly hills. This setting and its atmosphere does all the heavy lifting.

Similarly, when we see the city of Mahishmati, massive temple structures are painted over with even more massive temple facades, lending a depth of field. There’s just enough detail to make you ‘go with it’, even when you know they’re not real. The secret recipe of Baahubali’s visuals effects is not the artistry that drives them, but the clever way they make you believe in the film’s world. It’s got just enough detail to ensure the settings don’t look flat and painted, and that’s all you need to get sucked into Bahubali’s world. So even when the CGI does dip into mediocre and obvious later on, the film has already won you over and you’ll forgive Rajamouli for his VFX blips.

This is why the CGI looks so fake and cartoonish in the trailers – the shots are seen out of context. On YouTube, the lack of detailing and the mediocre CGI is unmissable. On big screen and with the CGI as an integral part of the storytelling, Bahubali is a whole new and epic experience.

Ultimately, what makes Bahubali and its CGI work is the imagination driving it. Take, for example, the final 15 minutes of Rajinikanth’s Enthiran (Adel Adili headed up the VFX team for both Enthiran and Baahubali). The quality of the CGI isn’t really great, but what’s happening on screen is bonkers enough to make you cheer and whoop in appreciation. On more than one occasion, Baahubali follows that same make-something-totally-bonkers formula. For instance, the laws of physics are thoroughly abused when soldiers take some tent cloth and use it as a weapon in the following way. The cloth is soaked in kerosene and flung across the battlefield using a giant catapult. Then fiery arrows are shot at the oil-soaked cloth — which, incidentally, is fluttering like a chiffon dupatta across the battleground — and the cloth catches fire and wraps the enemy in flames. Logical? No. Spectacular? Hell yes.

You don’t need Weta Digital for this stuff. We would have enjoyed this scene even if it was presented in flipbook format. Not to mention the scene in which slaves erect a golden statue chanting their god’s name because the said god actually shows up and single handedly (with the help of a rope) prevents the statue from falling. Or when Baahubali is buried under a bunch of bodies and bursts out like Neo punching out of a horde of Agent Smiths in The Matrix Reloaded. The ludicrousness in Baahubali is a gift that keeps on giving. No wonder director Rajamouli has such a fan following.

That’s the other factor that makes Baahubali so much fun to watch. Step into the cinema and you can feel the collective wave of joy reverberating from Rajamouli’s fans. Over the past decade Rajamouli has dished out some of the biggest hits from South India and looking over his filmography, his love affair with VFX is unmissable. Even his lesser efforts render a cacophony of appreciative reactions from fans. Rajamouli's consistency in crafting big blockbuster spectacle and crowd-pleasing moments is matched only by Shankar, but the latter doesn’t have Rajamouli’s knack for humor. Eega may have been a CGI extravaganza, but it was more a comedy than a tech demo.

For Rajamouli fans, Baahubali was an ‘event movie’ from the moment it hit the theatres and so, when surrounded by them, you see Tamannah play a warrior who, for no reason, shows up like a fairy, gyrates at a waterfall and becomes the only reason the hero is able to do a life-changing, physically-impossible leap, you shrug it off and cheer for the hero.

This isn’t to suggest Bahubali succeeds only because it tricks you. A lot of the film’s CGI is amazing and really does live up to Hollywood standards. The marriage between the production design and the VFX is flawless at times - it becomes impossible to tell where the physical sets end and the CGI begins. All of the second half is one big action scene and even when it is reminiscent of 300 and Lord of the Rings, there’s so much visual panache that’s entirely Rajamouli’s own. Spider-themed barbarians attacking a golden medieval kingdom has never been this exciting.

The real victory of Baahubali’s visual effects is that Rajamouli has made a movie as big as a Hollywood blockbuster in a fraction of Hollywood’s budgets. Baahubali may be the most expensive movie ever made in India, but at an estimated Rs 120 crore, this first part’s budget is a fraction of what its counterparts cost abroad. The Korean movie, D-Wars, which used CGI on a similar scale as Baahubali, cost twice as much, and this was back in 2007. As special effects go, that might be the best one yet from Rajamouli.

Updated Date: Jul 14, 2015 12:24:39 IST

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