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Inside the Theater as India’s ‘Baahubali’ Premiere Gets Rowdy

HYDERABAD — A world premiere at 6am was meant to keep enthusiastic fans from getting too rowdy. But the tactic only partially succeeded, as South Indian action epic “Baahubali: The Beginning,” substantially lived up to the hype and got off to a big start at box offices across India.

The Sri Bramaramba theater complex in Hyderabad was surrounded by thousands – mostly young men – from an hour before the start of the show. The crowd surged back and forth at every opportunity, receiving canings from a couple of desperate security guards with sticks. A glass door was shattered.

The police were nowhere to be seen, but other security personnel were surprisingly efficient at swiftly spiriting the film’s superstar male lead Prabhas, actress Anushka Shetty, director SS Rajamouli and producer Shobu Yarlagadda from their cars and into the theater. (Co-stars Tamannaah and Rana Daggubuti had been dispatched for other premieres in Mumbai.)

Early morning outings are standard practice in Tollywood on the first day of a big film, but this was a benefit show and some 850 fans had paid some $30 apiece for the privilege of being at the same show as their screen heroes. They felt they had a right to get a close up.

Inside the split level hall, more beefy types provided a cordon around the cast and crew. Few fans bothered to look at the screen or sit until the opening credits had finished.

Throughout the movie’s two and a half hours fans participated with wild catcalls. Whistles split the air, competing with the meaty soundtrack. Handfuls of ticker tape were tossed and remained aloft, adding flicker that the pristine 4K projection lacked. A 20 minute battle scene after the intermission drew cheers and shouts.

As the film finished with a cliff-hanger ending, Rajamouli and Yarlagadda looked tearful and gave each other grateful hugs before retiring to a cast and crew breakfast in the morning sunshine of a carefully hidden open-air food court.

There, leading producer and cinema owner (and father of Rana) Daggubuti Suresh Babu told Variety that substantially all cinemas in South India, including most of his own, were playing “Baahubali,” with tickets to the opening three days all pre-sold.

That was to be expected, but the ambitious film is also a test of how far South Indian film can push back the boundaries within India and abroad. Awaiting firmer numbers, Yardlagadda said he was pleased as reports came in of sell-out shows in Mumbai – albeit without the near rioting.

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