In his most comprehensive interview yet, S S Rajamouli talks about the making of the Rs 250-crore flick Baahubali, the inspirations behind the film, and the sacrifices his cast and crew had to make
The release is just around the corner and yet you appear unusually calm and composed. Aren’t you nervous?
Looks can be deceiving (laughs). There’s a storm brewing inside me and with every passing minute, it’s getting stronger and wilder. Like everybody else associated with this project, I’m nervous too but unlike them I don’t let it be shown on my face. I’ve been nervous before the release of all my films and it’s quite normal. On the contrary, I’m eager to see how audiences across the country will receive our film.
Did you plan to make the film in other languages from the beginning or did the thought strike you midway?
Given the budget of the film, it’s impossible to recover the cost involved if we release in just one language. Right from the start, the plan was to make it as a Tamil-Telugu bilingual. Hence, we cast actors who are popular in both the industries. Following the success of Eega (Makkhi in Hindi), we had planned to release Baahubali in Hindi as well. And as we were looking for a partner to distribute the film in the Northern belt, filmmaker Karan Johar came on-board. We’ve been lucky enough to be associated with the best producers from other industries, making it possible to release our film in as many screens as possible. We’re releasing the film in a record number of 4,000 screens worldwide in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam.
Does the budget really make Baahubali the most expensive Indian film?
We’ve only shot about 30-40 percent of the second part. Roughly about another 120 days of shoot are still pending. Taking all that into consideration, the budget will be nearly Rs. 250 crore or even more. Remember, this is exclusive of the stars’ remuneration.
A second part to a film is usually made based on the success of the first. You’ve already started working on the second…
I don’t think that’s how it always works. In some cases, film-makers decide much in advance in how many parts they plan to tell their story. Though it’s common in Hollywood, I agree it’s quite new to us. But we tried compressing the entire story under three hours into one film, but realised a lot of emotional core was missing. Despite being very commercial, all my films have been high on emotions. And as much as Baahubali is a war drama, it has lot of emotional content and I think Indian audiences will enjoy it more as a two-part film. Within a gap of a year, we’ll return with part two of the film.
Baahubali is being compared with Hollywood films such as 300 and Troy. Were you inspired by these films?
My biggest inspirations were Amar Chitra Katha comics and Mahabharat. For many years, Baahubali has resided as an idea in my head. It was through the pages of these comics, I envisioned the world of Baahubali. My father had introduced me to these comics at a young age. Ever since then, I’ve been living in this world of larger-than-life characters. I love fantasy, history, folklore and mythology. I dabbled a little with these genres in my previous films. The success of those films gave us confidence to make Baahubali, which is more or less my tribute to Mahabharata. The epic war drama between the Pandavas and Kauravas has always fascinated me. There was absolutely no need to be inspired from Hollywood, but I really don’t mind the comparisons.
But it must have been draining emotionally for all these years…
I developed an emotional attachment with the characters my father had narrated. To showcase these characters in the best possible way remained my motivational factor over the last two-and-a-half years. Having said that, staying motivated throughout was not easy. We struggled towards the end, especially to complete the last 20 percent of the film as most actors by then had almost given up having shot for over a year. But I always believe the team draws its motivation from the director, so I had to push myself and others without losing my cool.
Despite the long wait, the buzz around Baahubali was always alive. It’s probably the best-marketed south Indian film ever.
A lot of planning went into all this. Over the last one year, we’ve been very active on social media platforms. We needed to create the buzz, make audiences, irrespective of the region, curious about our film. And the only way to do it was through marketing.
With so many deadlines to chase, exorbitant budget and growing expectations, it must’ve also been physically taxing…
You know, the film wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my team. For instance, my producer Shobu Yarlagadda would never let the pressure of the budget and deadlines come near me. And my line producer Srivalli single-handedly managed the mammoth scale of production. Had it not been for them, Baahubali would’ve remained as an idea in my head or on a piece of paper. Unlike a regular producer, Shobu was not someone who gave the money and asked us to make the film. He was involved with us in every discussion. He convinced us to release the film in Hindi as he believed my films have nationwide reach. The shooting part did take a toll on us but thanks to a great team, it wasn’t worse.
Your actors deserve to be commended. It’s not a joke to shoot for 400 days…
You should also include a few months of training before the shoot. The actors underwent special training in sword-fighting and horse-riding. All of them gave more than what was expected from them. This is the second time Prabhas and I have teamed up after Chatrapathi, which was a blockbuster. With three consecutive hits, he’s in great demand. Nevertheless, when I asked him to set aside one year for the shoot, he felt we’d required more and kept himself free for two years. Rana (Daggubati) on the other hand, had to gain a lot of weight and grow his hair. He was our energy-booster on the sets. Rana was instrumental in getting Karan Johar on-board. Everybody contributed to the successful completion of the film. It’d be unfair to shower all the laurels on my actors because the contribution from every single team member mattered on this project. For instance, we shot the war sequences for four months. At one point of time, we were shooting with 2,000 extras with about 600 technicians assisting them with costumes, makeup and weapons. There were hundreds of metres of chroma screens, while about 30-35 assistants’ job was to ensure the chroma mats weren’t blown away. There were always two ambulances on set, a medical camp for people and a vet on standby for the animals. Then, there’s visual effects supervisor Srinivas Mohan who dedicated the last three years of his life. Along with his team, he collaborated with over 15 VFX studios and 600 artists and spent so many sleepless nights to complete the project on time. And before I forget, I also need to include my art director Sabu Cyril, who brought the imaginary ancient kingdom to life.
Given the budget and the scale on which Baahubali is made, do you think it will match Hollywood standards?
Hollywood is much ahead of us in writing and execution. There’s no need to compare our work with theirs. I think getting 80 percent of their quality in our content with 20 percent of their budgets will be an achievement. Going by the feedback the promos have received, I think audiences are happy with the visuals. The VFX team has done a splendid job. Pete Draper of Makuta is responsible for the magnificent waterfalls and the palaces from the trailer. Firefly and EFX Hyderabad have contributed a lot of VFX shots through the course of the film, especially in the war sequences. Tau films worked on the scenes featuring the bison.
Amitabh Bachchan recently heaped praise on the film. He also wished to be part of it. Any plans of roping him in the second part?
When I was in Mumbai, I was asked would I be working with the Khans. In Chennai, I was asked if I’ll work with Rajinikanth. I’m a successful director because of the hits the stars gave me. I’d love to work with all the stars, provided I have a suitable script for them. I can’t approach them just because I want to work with them. When I write a script, and if it requires Rajini sir, I’ll definitely try and convince him. For Baahubali, I had decided long back Prabhas was my hero. I let my script choose my actor and not vice versa. It was so nice of Bachchan sir to say lovely things about our film.
Mahesh Babu had apparently postponed the release of his film Srimanthudu for Baahubali…
I was touched when I heard Mahesh and the producers of Srimanthudu postponed their film for us. He had said in an interview that a big film like ours deserves a solo release. I can’t thank him enough for that. Even in Kerala, I was amazed by the craze and anticipation for our film. This has given us lot of confidence.
Do you think Baahubali will break records, become the first South Indian film to enter the Rs 200-crore club?
I’m not motivated by money. If it does, everybody associated with it will be happy because lot of money is riding on it. Film economics is important but that’s not what drives me. It’s the creative success of a film that satisfies me as a film-maker. And if I easily get satisfied, I’d have to stop making films.
At any point while working on this project, did you feel like giving up because you couldn’t handle it?
Just before the start of the shoot, the sheer enormity of the logistics hit me. For about three to four days, I contemplated quitting. But the feeling washed over and I never looked back.
What’s next? Do you wish to work on something even bigger?
I really haven’t thought about it. But it definitely won’t be bigger than this.