The man of the moment, director SS Rajamouli, dismisses the hoopla around the Baahubali films as ‘seasonal’ hype. He says he isn’t ready to recreate the Mahabharata on celluloid but is more than willing to make a ‘small’ film.
Each leading character in Baahubali is introduced through actions, not words. Mahendra Baahubali is shown heaving an impossibly heavy lingam on his shoulders. Kattappa settles an argument with his sword. Bhallala Deva pummels a beastly ox to the ground. Clearly, SS Rajamouli is a self-confessed man of action. “I love action. In fact, I prefer to detail even the emotions through action — both anger and love.” Rajamouli grew up being fascinated by action films. “Braveheart (1995), Ben-Hur (1959)…I wanted to shoot action like they do in those films.”
The truly exciting aspect of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, however, is not its action…“It’s the drama. We have created some memorable characters who are prepared to die for their philosophies. Audiences will see how electrifying their clashes are.”
There’s also the delicious prospect of finally knowing the answer to the Kattappa-Baahubali puzzle. Everywhere he goes, Rajamouli has somebody asking why Kattappa killed Baahubali. “It’s only because of how great the answer is that this question has captured the imagination of the audience. If it were a lazy one-line answer, people would have figured it out, and moved on. It’s a big part of the second film.”
Even after almost two years since the first film’s release, people remain fascinated by the world of Mahishmati, and its people. His marketing team has done stellar work to keep the film relevant. He laughs again. “I wish we were as smart as you think. We didn’t even realise it would take us as long to make the second film.”
The director’s original plan was to shoot both films together, and release them within three months. But the budget was a problem. “We then thought we would try and shoot the second film in a year, but I guess it has taken us almost twice as long. We aren’t as smart as you think.”
The delay is also due to the exhaustive VFX work involved. Though Hollywood movies spend a lot more time on VFX, Rajamouli was clever enough not to linger too long on any one shot. “VFX is a tool you must use carefully. It can enhance or destroy. I make sure emotions carry my film. Craft can never be a substitute for storytelling.”
When prodded to respond on the substandard VFX in their films, our filmmakers raised a question: “Are we spending as much money on our films as Hollywood does?” But Rajamouli disagrees it’s just the money. “We may have tremendous artists, but we lack people with vision.”
Rajamouli may not yet be the country’s biggest filmmaker, but he’s definitely the maker of the country’s biggest films. Until recently, he was known for outbursts on the sets. “A delay of one hour could potentially set us back by about `5 lakh.” When the film’s cinematographer Senthil pointed out that a unit would always work in the image of its director, Rajamouli realised the folly of his outrage. “I don’t yell on the sets anymore,” he smiles.
Every media house across the country is shouting itself hoarse about Rajamouli’s film, but he doesn’t yet feel like it’s a crowning jewel on his career so far. “I realise it’s an achievement but that’s too big a word. Sometimes, when I think about where I was, and where I am today, it’s a good feeling.”
As an assistant director, Rajamouli used to look up to directors like Raghavendra Rao and K S Ravikumar. “Today, when I walk on the sets of my films, I sometimes hear assistant directors talking about me with the same reverence I had for those directors.” And yet, he won’t get carried away by the nation-wide publicity for the film. “It’s the flavour of this season. Next week, there will be another film. This is simply seasonal hype.”
And these grand films, these sweeping landscapes…it feels like they come naturally to Rajamouli. “I don’t try to write a script that will somehow be more extravagant than what is being made. But that’s how I end up writing. Big things appeal to me.”
Does he see himself doing a ‘small’ film ever again? “Why not? After Magadheera (2009) I did a comedy called Maryada Ramanna (2010). I can and will make anything I want to.”
If he follows up on this promise, there’s no doubt that he will make his version of the Mahabharata. “That’s my life’s ambition, but I’m not yet there as a filmmaker. I have visuals in my head and ideas that I am not equipped enough to make. I should be able to bring all those emotions, intricacies, philosophies, and life lessons into a movie. My skills aren’t good enough for the moment.”
‘Baahubali 2: The Conclusion’ is supposed to release on April 28