The 43-year-old director and his conviction in the story is what convinced producers Shobu Yarlagadda and Prasad Devineni to back a $67 million film. Bollywood producer Karan Johar called Rajamouli a “global film-maker” in the league of James Cameron and Christopher Nolan.
With a fortnight to go for the release of the second part of his two-part fantasy film, the director is spending hours in the editing suite and coordinating with 35 studios to make sure the CGI shots come in at the right time.
Rajamouli spoke to Reuters about the “Baahubali” experience:
Q: Back in 2012, when you started work on this film, what was the vision for “Baahubali”?
A: The vision was not just in 2012 - it kept building over a period of years, right from my childhood. I had this penchant for bigger films, larger-than-life characters. And as the interest for films started growing and (I watched) films like “Ben Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” or Telugu films like “Maya Bazaar”, I always had an inclination for that. By the time we came to 2012, I had fantastic producers like Shobu and Prasad who backed my vision and we jumped into “Baahubali”.
Q: Everyone associated with this film says it was their trust in you that made them back this film. What was your conviction based on?
A: I don’t know if I had the perfect conviction. The drive comes from my characters. When my father (K V Vijayendra Prasad) narrated the stories of Shivagami and Bijjaladeva, Baahubali, Bhallaladeva, Devasena, they were all so full of life. When he narrated those characters to me, I had a certain electrifying experience inside me. And I want to deliver whatever experience I had when I first heard about those characters. I wanted that to be felt by the audience. The fear of not doing that keeps me driven. It is as if I have put the characters up on a mantle and they are judging me to see how I am going to present them to the audience. I cannot do injustice by those characters. That is what keeps me going.
Q: Were you willing to give five years to this project?
A: Five years or six years or ten years doesn’t matter. Moulding those characters matters. I enjoy every moment of it.
Q: What was the toughest part?
A: The toughest part was to keep the focus of everyone on this project, on the story and on the work. We are not used to working on just one film. One year at the max. This is a new way of film-making, one we are not used to.
Q: Did you always mean for this to be a franchise and a pan-India one at that?
A: I always thought of it as a pan-India film. I was confident of it. The tent-pole franchise bit was -- I can’t find the right word -- it was what we looked forward to. We didn’t know that it would be one or not.
Q: Do you think “Baahubali” will set a template for future films?
A: I cannot speak for other films but basic human nature is [that] we follow by example. If someone makes an inroad into a new territory, a new market, people will follow their success. That way, I think we will be getting more pan-India films and not restricted to a region or a language. More and more films will come out on a bigger budget, on a larger-than-life scale. That is what I think will happen as a natural process, not that I am setting a standard or anything.
Q: Were there any moments of doubt?
A: I am always in self-doubt. Every moment of my film-making. I am supremely confident when the story is being written and everything is in our head. But the moment we get into the film-making, I start doubting myself. From the camera angle, to the re-recording, to getting the actors to do their shots. I always wonder whether I am going in the right direction. That is the reason if I take two steps forward, I take one step back. That is why the film takes longer to finish. I shoot a scene, edit it and then two days later I doubt whether or not it has turned out right. I reshoot a small part of it, go back to the first edit of it and do all sorts of things.
Q: More moviegoers in India seem to favour Hollywood hits over Bollywood these days. Why is that?
A: It’s an open market and there is nothing wrong with Hollywood franchises coming here and showcasing their films. See, they have heavy budgets. They have huge star casts and huge studios backing them, but if we make 10 percent of it in an Indian context, with our stories, our heroes and heroines … we can easily compete with them. Because predominantly, our audience is our audience. They might be watching English films or Hollywood films and getting used to it, but the blood doesn’t change, the DNA doesn’t change. It is the Indian DNA. We should look at it as -- they made inroads into a market and we use it.
Q: Did the budget of “Baahubali” weigh you down?
A: Always. See, you oscillate between confidence and fear. You go to the edit room and see one scene which has come out fantastically and you feel the film will set records. By evening you look at the budget figures or something that hasn’t worked out and ask yourself -- what if this doesn’t work?
Editing by Robert MacMillan