“Adipurush,” starring Prabhas (the “Baahubali” films), is one of the most anticipated Indian films of 2022. It is directed by Om Raut, who directed Ajay Devgn-starring “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior,” the biggest Indian box office hit of 2020 with $50 million.
“Adipurush” is Raut’s take on Indian mythological epic “Ramayana,” which has been adapted for film and television numerous times in India, including a series which ran for several years on state broadcaster Doordarshan. However, the idea for the film was born when Raut attended a screening of Japanese filmmaker Yugo Sako’s anime version of the epic, “The Prince of Light,” which he watched at the Mumbai Film Festival in the early 2000s.
“I was mesmerized. This is the way this story has to be told, very condensed… precise, yet you feel for the characters, you are rooting for Prabhu [Lord] Ram — and at the same time the presentation was so modern and so fresh and very children friendly,” Raut told Variety. “The teachings and everything was said very simply as opposed to making it a little heavy and mundane and boring and monotonous.”
Raut, an engineering student at that time, was also fascinated by Japanese technology. “I said that if these foreigners can come and make our epic into such an interesting piece, what are we doing?,” said Raut. “We should do something like this and I need to tell the ‘Ramayana’ in my own way.”
The idea gestated a few years while Raut moved to Syracuse University to study film and television and then worked at MTV in New York City until 2010 before deciding to return to India. Raut learnt the ropes of Indian cinema for a few years, producing “City of Gold” (2010) and “Haunted” (2011) and took the plunge into direction with “Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush” in 2015. The film is a biopic of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, one of India’s best known freedom fighters, known as ‘Lokmanya’ or leader of people.
“I drew parallels of the society of that time of India, with back in the days before independence, and I realized that Lokmanya Tilak was the man who really believed in the youth of this country. He was a man who created his entire foundation of freedom struggle for our country, based on youth power,” said Raut. The film was selected for the International Film Festival of India, Goa, and was a box office success upon release.
Next up was the story of another Indian hero, Tanaji Malusare, a general in the army of Chhatrapati Shivaji, who played a pivotal role in the Maratha kingdom’s battle against the Mughal empire in the 1600s. The spark for the film’s visual treatment came from Zack Snyder’s “300,” which Raut watched in New York during his MTV days and had a “huge impact” on him. Drafts of the screenplay were written before “Lokmanya” but the budget was astronomical for a debutant.
After the success of “Lokmanya,” Raut took a fresh draft of the film, “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior,” to top Bollywood actor Ajay Devgn who liked the subject so much that he not only decided to star in it but produce it as well alongside Indian studio T-Series. “Tanhaji,” which pits Devgn’s character against Saif Ali Khan, who plays a general in the service of the Mughals, released in Jan. 2020.
By March 2020, India had gone into its first COVID-19 lockdown and Raut took the opportunity to revisit his “Ramayana” based script “Adipurush” and rewrote it in 45 days. His team was excited with the result and the only actor Raut had in mind to play the lead was Prabhas, an actor he barely knew at the time. Raut called Prabhas and, after just three scene descriptions, the impressed actor told the filmmaker that the rest of the discussion was best done in person. A loaned private plane took Raut from Mumbai to Hyderabad for a few hours.
Prabhas said yes, T-Series came on board again and “Adipurush” was on.
While no official figures have been revealed, industry sources tell Variety that the budget for “Adipurush” is in the region of INR4 billion ($54 million), making it one of the most expensively produced films in the country. “While it’s an expensive film from Indian standards, it’s not an expensive film given the global standards, because it does involve a lot of technology, which is quite state of the art and used by a lot of films across the world,” says Raut.
In the “Ramayana,” by Valmiki, Rama, the king of Ayodhya, travels to Lanka to rescue his wife Sita, who has been abducted by the king Ravana. “Adipurush” is set 7000 years ago and all the “touch points” are as in the “Ramayana,” but with modern storytelling techniques, says Raut. In the film, Prabhas’ character is not called Rama, he is Raghav, another name for Rama. Sita, played by Kriti Sanon, is called Janaki, while Saif Ali Khan’s Ravana is Lankesh, also derivatives of their “Ramayana” names. Adipurush literally means “first man,” but here the interpretation is that of “best man.”
Raut says that calling the lead character Rama makes him automatically divine in the eyes of the audience, whereas naming him Raghav makes him human and approachable.
Rama is often prefixed with “Maryada Purushottam” where the latter word means “Supreme Being.” Raut wants his audience to imbibe the spirit of ‘Maryada.’ “The word ‘Maryada’ means staying true to one’s principles throughout their life,” said Raut.
“Adipurush,” filmed in the Hindi and Telugu languages, is due a theatrical release in the second half of 2022, and will also be available in dubbed Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada-language versions.