Would you buy a ticket to watch a 2.25-minute long trailer in a theatre?
Of course, if it’s for SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.
On March 16, a multiplex in Mangalore charged Rs 80 a pop to usher in devotees of Rajamouli’s period fantasy. Fans have been waiting for the sequel ever since its predecessor left the cinemas in 2015. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion rolls into view on April 28, and is arguably the biggest, loudest and most audacious A-list release in recent memory.
The sequel will complete the back story of the warring cousins, played by Prabhas and Rana Daggubati, and deliver the answer to the question that has plagued fans right since the closing credits of Baahubali: The Beginning: Why did Kattappa (played by Sathyaraj), Amarendra Baahubali’s most loyal warrior, kill him on the battlefield?
The movie’s producer Arka Media Works, run by Sobhu Yarlagadda, has weathered the storm caused by remarks on the Cauvery river water sharing issue made by Sathyaraj nine years ago. Kannada groups had threatened to disrupt the movie’s release, but were placated after Sathyaraj apologised.
Thank god it’s Friday
April 28 will be a one-of-a-kind Friday for Rajamouli and Arka Media Works. The sequel, like the first movie, will be released in Telugu, Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam across 6,500 screens in India, and will have the playground all to itself. No Hindi or English movie is being released alongside Baahubali 2, and the contest in Tamil and Kannada is imperceptible – Enga Amma Rani and Kolanji in Tamil and Porki Huccha Venkat in Kannada.
Dubbed titles have been given pan-Indian releases before – the examples include the Tamil productions Jeans, Endhiran and Kabaali and the Telugu film Sardar Gabbar Singh – but none of them has been given a free run in the cinemas.
Robot, the Hindi version of Endhiran and the most successful crossover film before Baahubali, was released on October 1, 2010, alongside the Ranbir Kapoor-Priyanka Chopra drama Anjaana Anjaani and the comedy Khichdi. Shankar had set his eyes on the pan-Indian market with Endhiran – apart from the lead actor Rajinikanth, who is well-known among Hindi audiences, he cast Aishwarya Rai and Danny Denzongpa in key roles.
In contrast, Baahubali 2, whose star cast is still largely known to North Indian audiences, has no rival in sight.
Outside India too, Baahubali 2 has emerged as the big-ticket release of the week. The movie will be screened on over 1,050 screens in the United States of America – one of the Telugu diaspora’s strongest markets – as well as in the Gulf countries (it will dubbed in Arabic for the United Arab Emirates), the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and France. It will be the first Indian film to be released in the IMAX format overseas.
The release of Baahubali in 2015 wasn’t a minor affair either. Rajamouli has a massive reputation across the South for his imaginative and ambitious handling of diverse subjects. Magadheera (2009) and Eega (2012) brought Rajamouli wider recognition, and exposed Telugu cinema’s worst-kept secret to the rest of the country. Baahubali was a pan-South Indian film, bringing together actors from the Tamil, Telugu and Kannada industries, including Ramya Krishna, Anushka Shetty, Nassar and Sudeep. Since it was presented by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions banner in Hindi, it was seen in Bollywood trade circles as an A-list production with top-level endorsement rather than yet another dubbed movie trying to break into the Hindi market.
“One can conceptualise a film like Baahubali (in Hindi cinema) but no one has done it so far,” Johar said at the sequel’s Hindi trailer launch in Mumbai in March. “Baahubali has given opportunities to Hindi cinema. There are many young filmmakers from my company who are inspired by it. I hope it translates into more films like this.”
The movie’s handling of scale and spectacle, its visual effects and epic storytelling style has resulted in admirers far beyond the traditional Telugu markets. Baahubali: The Beginning went on to become the only non-Hindi film to reach the Rs 300 crore box office mark worldwide, a record that The Conclusion aims to break. The combined budget of both films is Rs 450 crore. The sequel has reportedly already collected Rs 500 crore by selling satellite and theatrical rights.
Arka Media Works has been cranking up the hype machine to ensure that the sequel raises the benchmark even further. “For the last one year, we have invested our time in social media, mainly Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,” Arka Media Works co-founder Shobu Yarlagadda told The Hindu. “This has attracted the youth. The resulting word-of-mouth has created curiosity among older audiences, hence helping us create a buzz in a cost-effective manner.”
The Baahubali fanverse
The sequel’s success will owe a great deal to the Baahubali fanverse, which perhaps matches the sub-culture built around the Games of Thrones television series. The hashtag WKKB (Why Katappa killed Bahubali) has been trending on social media for months. The theories range from lost love – Amarendra (Prabhas) and Bhallaladeva (Daggubati) were both in love with Devasena (Anushka Shetty) and Bhallaladeva blackmailed Kattappa into killing Amarendra – to Kattappa being framed for a murder he perhaps didn’t commit.
Although Rajamouli seems weary of answering the question, it is without doubt one of the biggest drivers of interest in the sequel. “How many theories do I have [for WWKB]? Only one,” Rajamouli said at the Mumbai trailer launch. “But I have lost count of the number of theories proposed by various people.”
On April 28, cinemas in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala will be organising 6am shows, a privilege usually reserved for Rajinikanth films.
Arka Media Works has been supplying fans with enough crumbs to keep them hungry, such as making-of videos and behind-the-scenes footage. Anand Neelakantan’s The Rise of Sivagami is the first novel in the Baahubali fantasy fiction trilogy. The series, titled Baahubali: Before the Beginning, is a prequel to the movie franchise.
The movie’s visual effects, by the Makuta VFX company, and its production design, by National Film Award winner Sabu Cyril, have been crucial to distinguishing Baahubali from other such period fantasies about family feuds and internecine warfare.
Arka Media Works intends to milk the franchise beyond the April 28 release. Amazon Prime has already launched the animation series Baahubali: The Lost Legends. Created by Graphic India and Arka Media Works, the series features new stories about the characters made popular by the franchise. The Amazon Prime collaboration follows numerous brand endorsements, including with Nestle, Fueladream, Ola, and the Status Quo clothing brand.
Rajamouli owns the April 28 weekend, and possibly many more. He has raised the bar for A-list movies across the country, and has increased the stakes for Shankar’s sequel to Robot, titled 2.0. Apart from starring Rajinikanth as the humanoid, the January 2018 release features Bollywood star Akshay Kumar as the villain – a meeting of North and South that has the potential to unite audiences in a way that politicians have been unable to.