Alost prince who can scale mountains and carry gigantic lingams on his shoulder. His conniving uncle who has usurped his kingdom. A grieving mother waiting for her saviour. A woman warrior who is disrobed by the playful prince. And a loyal slave who does as he is told by his master, even if it is wrong. A budget of Rs 450 crore, and a mythical Mahishmati empire at Ramoji Film City with a palace, statues and mechanical animals created by 2,000 carpenters, painters and prop makers. The result: a stunning two-part movie, which seems to have effortlessly segued from a Telugu blockbuster to a made-in-India epic.
Baahubali makes the india today cover for several reasons. It’s the biggest movie ever made in India. It is a showcase of the potential of Indian cinema, in terms of narrative and technique. It shows Bollywood that it is possible to use money wisely, not merely to fund fat pay cheques for stars or finance exotic foreign locales. It also puts the auteur front and centre of the filmmaking process—Prabhas, who plays the roles of Amarendra Baahubali and his son, may have a superhuman physique but the real superstar is the Hyderabadbased director S.S. Rajamouli, who has shown Bollywood the way.
Baahubali shows the world that Indian cinema is capable of creating its own unique superheroes and superheroines, brows sweating, muscles rippling and swords glinting, battling evil and changing destiny. A collaborative effort of director Rajamouli, written by his father K.V. Vijayendra Prasad, and produced by Arka Mediaworks, co-founded by his friend Shobu Yarlagadda, the first part made Rs 600 crore at the box office. It also generated the kind of attention that has made it a textbook case study in good marketing. Social media was abuzz with questions like: why did Kattappa the slave kill Baahubali, Sivudu’s father? Was Sivudu’s disrobing of Avantika not misogynistic? Who is the rightful heir—Baahubali or his cousin Bhallaladeva?
The world of Baahubali is bigger than the movie. There is a book, The Rise of Sivagami, first of three, which will be turned into a TV serial. Two virtual reality shorts give a more immersive experience of the kingdom. There are graphic novels, video games and mobile games. An animated series for Amazon Prime Video is out in May. Clothes, accessories and wall art inspired by the films can be bought online. Clearly, the Baahubali story is likely to live longer than the films.
“People thought we were fools,” says co-producer Shobu Yarlagadda, in our story. “They wrote us off even before the release of the first film.” But the crew is having the last laugh. With it being shown on 6,500 screens, Baahubali is the biggest theatrical release for a film in India. It has had 100 million views on YouTube and Facebook less than a week after the trailer was unveiled, the most for any Indian film, and the film in four languages has such traction that it has sold distribution, music and satellite rights for an estimated Rs 500 crore.
But more than the staggering numbers, the movie shows that audiences applaud courage and reward the spirit of adventure. The cover story, written by Senior Associate Editor Suhani Singh, shows what imagination can do. It is a tribute to Indian ingenuity and a testament to the country’s soft power. As they say in the film, Saahore Baahubali!
Our June 25, 2001 cover on Lagaan