Baahubali 2: Why Bollywood can't make a film like Rajamouli's magnum opus
No one from Bollywood made quite as much noise as Ram Gopal Verma before the release of Bahubali 2. RGV might be a pale imitation of past glory and razor sharp wit, but his comment on Bahubali 2 was telling.
“Like world was divided into BC and AD (before death of Christ and after) Indian cinema is going to be BB and AB (before Bahubali and after),” was his post on Twitter and that said it all.
Like world was divided into BC and AD (before death of Christ nd after ) Indian cinema is going to be BB and AB(before Bahubali and after)
— Ram Gopal Varma (@RGVzoomin) April 28, 2017
A tsunami of box office business was expected with the sequel’s release. It hit right on time and created an avalanche. Both in domestic and international movie theatres, Bahubali 2 devoured records set by Khans and Akshay Kumar over time.
The combined might of Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Sathyaraj and SS Rajamouli ensured that Tom Hanks’s latest The Circle was trumped at the box office. (Source: IMDB, Bahubali 2 -$10.1 M, The Circle –$ 9.3 M). And the irony of it all is that the Hindi dub of Bahubali 2 has amassed Rs 100 crore in the opening weekend.
In more ways than one, the Mahishmati mythical saga has put in question accepted facts and standards of Hindi cinema’s power brokers. Steadily and silently, a produce of regional cinema, often considered limiting in appeal, tore down myths of Bollywood’s business, also dismissing the holy grail of festival release dates and star flicks.
So what is it about Bahubali that sets it apart from Bollywood? Is it scale, size, magnificence? How has this Non-Hindi film smashed all records made and held sacred by Hindi cinema?
The answer lies beyond the wizardry and VFX. It rests in terms we all learnt at school.
The key to success — single-minded dedication and love for cinema
Rana Daggubati aka Bhallaldeva had mentioned during the film’s Hindi trailer launch that he was once told by a renowned Bollywood producer that the dedication and focus Prabhas and he gave to SS Rajamouli’s project for five years is something that’s unimaginable in Bollywood.
Not for once did the actors associated with the film think about their career if this film failed at the box office. Nor did they measure the revenues lost or years spent telling just one story.
Rajamouli dreamt of this mega film in 2011 and gave it six years of his life. One is yet to come across such an instance in Bollywood.
The makers of Baahubali deserve nothing less than a salute for peeping into the future and pumping in 430 cr into this colossal project. The pre-production work, which took more than a year, witnessed the making of a whole new language (reminiscent of Avatar by James Cameron), original weapon design and a powerful central role for women smartly in sync with contemporary times. Any such act by a Bollywood producer would be unthinkable.
In 2015, Karan Johar who presents the film in Hindi prophesied before the film’s release, “Bahubali is something that Hindi cinema has not witnessed before.”
Perhaps that’s why he bet his money on this film and Hindi cinema audiences lapped it up. For four years, Prabhas, who plays the title role of Baahubali, lived and travelled like Bahubali, was restricted from cutting his hair and followed a regimen that included dozens of eggs everyday with rigorous training sessions punctuated with broken bones and a surgery. Daggubati let Prabhas play the god like good guy, even as he bulked up to look menacing and mean; staying that way for years.
Egos made way for teamwork, and boy, has that paid off
Now, picture this — Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor, the two reigning stars of this generation — cast together in one mega flick. Imagine them assigning three years to one film. I can't.
With endorsements, dates for ad shoots, magazine covers and the occasional paid (or unpaid) performances, three years for one film would be viewed as loss of revenue. If not actors themselves, retinues surrounding them would definitely prioritise the economics of stardom over art.
The witty and subtly powerful Karan Johar might have united Ranbir and Ranveer on the couch, but even he will be hard pressed to cast them together in a Bahubali like mega project in Hindi. In the current crop, competition is stiff, public image is key and making hay while the sun shines is gospel. So sharing screen space is not a favorable option.
Singh and Kapoor are still actors who push the envelope with their cinema (Bajirao Mastani and Barfi! stand testimony to that). It’s more common to plan a film signing around potential future endorsements and revenue making opportunities for this generation’s stars. That a film, in its magnificence, can be reward enough, is not a predominant thought.
Which is why, more often than not, younger movie stars are NOT part of films that you remember. Their highly visible faces might be popping out at you everywhere, but they aren’t in celluloid stories that you care to recall once you leave a theatre.
Sholay and Lagaan as examples
It’s been more than forty years and Sholay, the 1975 release, remains iconic. That Sholay still remains an iconic film is not because of the fact that Ramesh Sippy brought all the stars of that era under one roof or Salim-Javed penned a never-written-before script. One should not forget the fact that the entire cast made Ramnagar, on the outskirts of Bangalore, as their base for the entire schedule. It was single-minded focus to give their all and shun everything that came their way.
A pregnant Jaya Bachchan shuffled to and fro between Mumbai (then Bombay) and Bengaluru (then Bangalore) airport. Not being the first choice for the film played on Amjad Khan’s mind and he was ready to give it all.
Another instance that one can recall is Lagaan. Aamir Khan, with single-minded approach, said yes to a film that was rejected by Shah Rukh Khan. He then gathered his team, made Bhuj as his base and in the relentless weather, shot a film that took him to the Academy awards. He didn’t let logic and economics interfere with his vision and commitment to Lagaan.
The dates factor
Another key factor that dilutes the pursuit of excellence in Hindi cinema is the film industry’s obsession with dates. A suitable release date, one that will potentially maximise revenue, rules filmmaking decisions in Hindi cinema.
Similarly, a movie star also maximises his/her revenue earning time by breaking up their workdays across different commitments. For instance, Shah Rukh Khan, whose brilliant acting skills have come back to the fore, squeezed in the indie like Dear Zindagi while shooting for Imtiaz Ali’s next. The superstar is also known to juggle commercial shoots and similar commitments amidst his film shoots.
Dedicating bulk amounts of time to just one film is unheard of in Hindi cinema. Add to that, the pressure to ensure a film releases on a certain release date, and the entire machinery works on rushing towards it, making ‘adjustments’ that might not be conducive to the pursuit of excellence in filmmaking.
Akshay Kumar, steamroller of a superstar, allotted about 35 days to make Jolly LLB 2; his entire life is planned around his date calendar. Imagine how much time must he be spending actually reading or prepping for a role.
Contrast this, with Robot 2.0. Shankar has postponed its release from Diwali this year to ensure that the film’s visual effects do justice and compete with prevalent global standards. A Hindi film producer or studio might prefer to sacrifice quality in storytelling than give up a lucrative Diwali release date. But Rajnikanth and Shankar prefer not be burdened by the economics to this extent. Perhaps the only exception to segregated date calendars amongst Hindi cinema stars is Aamir Khan, but a release date is of significant importance to him too.
Is the camaraderie real?
It’s about making a big buck, making it quick and hitting the big league. Which is why, camaraderie too, is limited to suitable photo ops like award shows and parties. When two stars do work together in a film they tend to walk on eggshells around each other, with high levels of competitive anxiety. Look at the huge coverage around Padmavati - seems like Ranveer and Shahid Kapoor are on everybody’s mind not for what they deliver onscreen, but on how much screen time each one gets.
There was once a time when camaraderie amidst superstars delivered the goods for producers. Vinod Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor have worked together successfully and become friends while filming. Such friendliness and focus on a film above mutual rivalry is very uncommon among present day stars.
In fact, writers and directors prefer to not veer into stories that require two leading men of equal standing; casting is a nightmare. Just look at the Ram Lakhan remake that Rohit Shetty has been chewing over for a few years now; there are no takers yet. Ditto for Farah Khan and her chick flick.
Baahubali’s benchmarks make it clear — change is coming. And it is here to stay.
For the young and raring to go generation of Bollywood stars, it’s important to focus on this change. A paradigm shift is needed - from filmmakers, writers and actors - to create cinema that has universal appeal across age groups and languages. Otherwise, myths of success and stardom are meant to be broken.
Updated Date: May 02, 2017 16:12 PM