Indians are flocking to cinemas to see the Bahubali prequel. Photo: Flickr

I was on a 4.5-hour flight to Dubai from Kolkata. I looked at the movie listings and was elated to see that Bahubali was on the list. Needless to say, Emirates offers a broad selection of excellent films in all languages but I ended up watching Bahubali twice. I had missed the film on the big screen and didn’t understand what the brouhaha was all about.

But once it started on that small screen I was hooked. So much so that I wanted to watch the film a second time immediately. My 7-year-old son thought I was a bit out of my head and still tells me he finds it appalling that I watched the same film twice when so many other options were available.

I just tell him: “Son, it’s hard to explain.”

I guess this is what the thousands of people who bought tickets to catch the sequel, or rather prequel, to Bahubali 2 in India would also say.

India can be easily divided into two groups: Bahubali fanatics and Bahubali non-believers.

Bahubali 2 grossed Rs1.2 billion (US$19 million) on the opening day, something an Indian movie has never done before. It easily surpasses the Indian box office takes from Hollywood’s Boss Baby (Rs50 million) and Fast and Furious 8 (Rs70 million). In fact, Fast and Furious 8 broke all records for a Hollywood film in India. On day two Bahubali 2 grossed Rs1 billion and on day three it exceeded Rs4.5 billion.

There’s a reason why Bahubali 2 left Sultan, starring Salman Khan, and Aamir Khan’s Dangal way behind at the box office.

THE HOOK

If there is one question that half the population of India wants an answer to it is: Why did Katappa kill Baahubali?

The film Baahubali ended with Katappa, the trusted lieutenant whose strength of character is emphasized throughout the film, saying that he was the one who killed Baahubali Senior.

Director SS Rajamouli has a keen understanding of cinemagoer psychology. The very fact that an invincible man like Baahubali (in this case Senior Baahubali) could have been killed by conspirators had fans pining for a sequel.

And that was the ultimate hook.

SPECIAL EFFECTS

The storyline of Bahubali is nothing new. Wish fulfillment, treachery and revenge are the basic themes of most Indian films, but what has made people go gaga over Bahubali is the overall cinematic style. For the first time, an Indian film has, among other grand features, brilliant special effects.

Written and directed by SS Rajamouli, Bahubali was made in Tamil and Telugu, dubbed in Hindi and released in 2015. Made on a budget of Rs1.8 billion, the film collected Rs6.8 billion in South India and the Hindi version earned Rs1 billion, making it the highest grossing South Indian film in Bollywood.

India has been producing elaborately mounted magnum opuses for decades now, but when it comes to special effects it is still way behind Hollywood. You tend to cringe when you see the special effects in films like Krish 3 or Ra One, although Robot did make an impression.

Recently I was watching the superhit film MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. A simple scene showing Sushant Singh Rajput, who played Dhoni, playing cricket in his teenage years was a notably botched special effects job; a young body put together with Sushant’s current face in the most shoddy and ridiculous manner.

Bahubali selfies are everywhere and some fans are even donning Bahubali sarees.

In that scenario, when a Bahubali comes along people are bound to get very excited about it. The turbulent, plunging waterfall that forms the entire backdrop of the film, the huge kingdom of Mahishmati, and the war scenes – everything was flawlessly produced with computer-generated imagery (CGI). Ninety percent of the film was created in CGI and there were 2,500 VFS shots.

National Award Winner V Srinivas Mohan was the visual effects supervisor on Bahubali and the work was done in different studios in Hyderabad. There was no collaboration with any talent from abroad. It took two full years to bring the 1,500-foot waterfall to life on CGI. Bahubali 2, which has been described as a visual extravaganza by critics and viewers alike, is heavily dependent on special effects. This time the visual effects supervisor was RC Kamalakannan.

THE MADNESS

Since its release on April 28, social media users have been excitedly talking about Bahubali 2. It’s almost like if you are not watching Baahubali 2 you are not with the in crowd. Bahubali selfies are everywhere and some fans are even donning Bahubali sarees.

Surprisingly in South India, which is known for its solid work culture, many people did not turn up at work because they wanted to catch the film on the first day. In places like North East India, where people are usually not that interested in South Indian films, people are packing the movie halls.

In some places, tickets are priced at Rs1,000 each and people are happily paying it after standing for hours in serpentine queues. The film showing on 6,500 screens across India is a record in itself and one movie hall had 17 showings in one day starting as early as 4am.

The Bahubali madness is probably best summed up in English professor Nishi Pulugurtha’s FB post:

A packed 11 am show of Bahubali 2: The Conclusion (Telugu version) in Kolkata. Larger than life characters, huge sets, computer graphics-generated horses, elephants and bulls, mindboggling fight sequences, the swish of swords, shields, spears, chains, maces, bows and whizzing arrows – the film took me, for a while, to the world of Amar Chitra Katha. An entertaining film, lavishly mounted, declamatory speeches, so reminiscent of the older black and white Telugu mythologicals. Unlike most Telugu films where the comedy tends to get loud, this film had some fine comic moments. 
So, now I know why Katappa killed Bahubali.

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Amrita Mukherjee

Amrita Mukherjee is a freelance journalist and author. She has worked in esteemed publications in India and Dubai and she blogs on women's issues at www.amritaspeaks.com.

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