All movie industry eyes in India this weekend will be turned not to Bollywood, but to Hyderabad and the release of Telugu-language epic action “Baahubali.” The film sets out on some 3,500 screens on Friday (July 10).
The picture is not only the biggest budget Indian film of all time, weighing in at some $40 million for two parts, it is also shaping up to be one of the biggest movie events the country has seen in years.
That’s because the Tollywood (Telugu-language) and Kollywood (Tamil-language) movie industries, though generally less well-known than Mumbai-based Bollywood (Hindi-language), lack nothing in showmanship or entrepreneurialism. They have their own star systems, distribution circuits, and often inspire Bollywood (Hindi-language) creations or remakes.
Produced by Shobu Yarlagadda of Hyderabad-based Arka Mediaworks, “Baahubali,” however, has been engineered to be a nationwide sensation on its own terms – without need for a Bollywood retread.
Each corralling massive social media followings, Prabhas (Varma) is the film’s lead star, while SS Rajamouli is its director. Other top cast include Rana Daggubati and Anushka Shetty.
Arka has carefully managed numerous build-up events from the unveiling of the soundtrack to the trailer launch on June 1, which took place in a sports stadium. In February, Twitter India was keen to make it known that Rajamouli announced the film’s release date on its platform first.
Rajamouli says the film’s story is a simple one — “a father who has been back-stabbed, a mother who has been enchained for no wrong of hers and the story of a son who takes revenge” – set in a fictional era, with the two parts spanning two generations.
While the weaponry and folklore are distinctly Indian, the presentation is high tech and modelled on the stylized look of “300.” International VFX firms including John Hughes’ Tau Films and South Korea’s Macrograph providing effects sequences.
Production itself took 450 days, with some location work in Bulgaria, but the majority taking place in Hyderabad’s Ramoji Film City, a vast 2,000 acre studios and services complex that is one of the two largest film production platforms in the world and has dozens of different sets and backlots. One battle scene took 40 days to lens.
Arka is overseeing the release in South India and has widely pre-sold the film in other regions of India, giving it a rare all-India wide release. The film scored another coup as Bollywood icon and TV presenter Karan Johar is handling the Hindi release through his Dharma Productions in partnership with Anil Thadani.
“Baahubali – The Beginning” releases this week, with the second part targeting an early 2016 outing. International territories where Indian films don’t normally play will receive a shortened, single version, rather than the combined 290 minutes running time of the Indian two-parter.
The ancillary strategy includes a spinoff TV series, graphic novels and a clothing line. Arka is also in discussions with tech giant AMD to create a “Baahubali”-themed Oculus Rift experience.