Big is better
BOI: What kind of response have you received for the trailer from the audience and the film fraternity?
SS Rajamouli (SS): It is phenomenal. It is overwhelming as it’s not just nationwide but worldwide.
Karan Johar (KJ): We just launched it a few hours back and already I can feel my phone buzzing non-stop. I think the strength of its visuals and, of course, sir (SS Rajamouli)’s legacy has created this entire phenomenon that is Bahubali. I can just tell that unusually for our belt and the fact that it is a dubbed film, I don’t think any film has ever generated so much curiosity and excitement. I feel this is the first of many more such collaborations. I feel our cinema should finally come together and become one strong platform.
BOI: Do you plan to release a series of trailers of the film or is this ‘the’ trailer?
SS: As of now, this is ‘the’ trailer but as we go forward, then why not? We will think about it. Since we have already had such a tremendous response to the trailer in a matter of hours, why not?
KJ: (Cuts in) I think while we are at it, we should actually discuss it. Maybe pre-release, we could have a trailer which will be another kind of take on the film. Very smartly and intelligently, the element of holding back the plot from the trailer was a conscious decision that Rajamouli sir concentrated on and made it a visual spectacle so that when you go and see the film, you realise there is a story, a beat and an emotional heartbeat that the film also has.
BOI: Typical Bollywood cine-goers sat up and took notice of Rajamouli sir when he made Eega. Was it the same for you?
KJ: I am a student of cinema along with being a part of the world. So I have been completely aware of his work. And apart from a few films that I haven’t watched, I have seen a lot of his films. He is somebody I had heard about and I am sure we were aware of each other’s work but hadn’t really interacted much. The awareness was there, for sure. At least at the business end and the creative end of our industry, he was one filmmaker that everyone was very aware of and reveres.
BOI: Your film Eega not only enjoyed commercial success but it also went to many film festivals, breaking the barrier of only non-commercial films going to festivals. Does Bahubali also have the same potential?
SS: Actually, if you present a film well and it works with one section of the audience, it should work with the rest of the audience as well. That is how I look at it. Human emotions are the same, whether in Mumbai or Hyderabad or Japan or the US. But the relationships and the emotions remain the same. If you base your films on those emotions, they will work everywhere. How you present it is a completely different issue. I don’t know how to present my films here, so Karanji is here to do that as he is the master of that. He will probably do that worldwide.
BOI: When did Dharma Productions step in and become a part of the film?
KJ: I think talks were on for over a year but everything shaped up and was finalised in the last six to eight months.
BOI: What was it about Bahubali that attracted you to present the film?
KJ: Just the fact that it is a first of its kind in terms of visuals and narrative. Also, the fact that I don’t think that a feature film has been made on this level and this scale, with this kind of hold to integrate technology. When you see the visuals, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘who has made this film?’That is, if you don’t know anything about him. I was so keen that the Hindi belt, the Hindi film-watching audience, also gets a feel of the scale of the film. They should also feel the kind of pride that I feel because it is integral that the cine-goer and every living Indian and Asian should see this film to know that India is totally capable of walking the path of an international arena of filmmaking. He is one filmmaker who gets his vision translated to celluloid and I think his level of discipline and the tenacity to do so is commendable.
BOI: Creatively, were you involved…
KJ: (Cuts in) Not at all. I have nothing to do with the film but I so wish I was involved. I so desire that I was a part of the making of the film, not only as a student of cinema but also as a filmmaker. I feel I would have learnt so much and I wanted to be on the sets but couldn’t manage it because of the timeline. But maybe when sir makes his next film, I will assist him for a week or something. And we have young filmmakers at Dharma like Ayan (Mukerji) who is making a computer graphic film. I want him to come and meet sir just for a chat. There is so much for young filmmakers to learn from him.
SS: (Cuts in) Please don’t send him or he will get to know what a novice I am (Laughs).
KJ: No I am sending him (Laughs).
BOI: Will we see Karan sir assisting you in your next film?
KJ: Well, ‘assisting’ might be pushing it. But I would very happily sit as an observer on his set. That is something I really aspire to do.
SS: Bahubali is a two-part film. In the second production, we will take his valuable advice in the production aspect of the film.
KJ: (Cuts in) And I really believe this collaboration is core essential because it will open many doors. Not every film warrants this kind of nationwide viewing. But I am sure there are more films that do and I think it is wonderful that we are being given this opportunity to take his vision and give it a larger platform. Which filmmaker doesn’t want maximum eyeballs? I mean, that is what we all aspire for. When you work this hard and create this kind of labour of love, the biggest dream of a filmmaker is that more and more people see it. I don’t think any of us, even Rajamouli sir himself, aims to walk the red carpet at the Academy Awards. I mean, it is not everyone’s dream. The dream is maximum viewership of their film.
BOI: So this is not a one-off for Dharma Productions?
KJ: When I really feel passionate about something, I go ahead with it. Like with The Lunchbox, we did the same thing. The Lunchbox was the exact opposite of Bahubali. While Bahubali is the biggest motion picture, The Lunchbox is the tiniest film. But it is never about scale, it’s about soul. Sometimes even a scale shot can be soulless. But in his world, every opulent shot has a heartbeat, it connects to something larger emotionally. I think that has to resonate. Just putting in big shots and spending money… anyone can do that. But not everybody can connect with the audience with that level of opulence.
BOI: Is that the common thread between Dharma Productions and Rajamouli sir… your films always connect emotionally with the audience?
KJ: I think filmmakers don’t need to be compared. I wish I could be compared to him but I don’t think I have the talent or the totality or the ability. But what I do have is the passion and I think that is what we have in common. I am sure he would agree with me that it is the sincerity and passion to tell a story, and to tell it with the utmost conviction that you have. Rajamouli sir himself has said that his characters have been with him since a long time and he had visualised this world a long time ago. It had become a part of his ethos. Like I grew up loving Yash Chopra’s films but we all tell our stories in our own different ways.
BOI: How was Bahubali conceived?
SS: That is a long story but to cut it short, right from my childhood, I was raised on Amar Chitra Katha. My father would take me to the library in our small town, so that I could read comics. I don’t know what I learnt in school because these stories were what I grew up with! Even in college, these are the things I leaBOIt from, whether our history or our folklore or our human emotions and even our mythology.
All the larger-than-life characters stayed with me. So from childhood, I have been living in those fantasies. Becoming a filmmaker, getting these characters and getting the story happened in the course of time. But I am living there, I was always living there. As far back as I can remember, I was living in that world. But bringing that world to celluloid took a lot of money and luckily I had a string of successful films and I had producers who believed in my world. Everything fell into place.
BOI: How tough was the pre-production and production of the film?
SS: Everything was very tough in a way but also not very tough. Tough because a film like this was never made and tough because we were shooting with different technologies and used visual effects that were never done before. So there were so many new things that we were doing and that was tough. But I had a set of technicians who are masters of their craft and each one of them has knowledge of every other department. Thanks to the team I had, we were able to make Bahubali.
BOI: Why didn’t you opt for Hindi film stars to dub for the Hindi dubbed version of the film?
KJ: Because then there would be a level of heftiness for no rhyme or reason. I think the story is the hero and the narrative is the strength of the film. The scale of the film is a huge add-on and I did not want to make it gimmicky by asking well-known Hindi artists to dub. In animation, you can do these things because it is a created pop culture world. But, here, they are entities in their own right and to add the voices of known actors would have only confused the audience. I think it is nice to have alien voices so that you focus on the story and the narrative and not something that people would feel, arey, yeh Shah Rukh (Khan) ki awaaz hain or Salman (Khan) or Aamir (Khan) ki awaaz hain.
BOI: How large a release are you planning for the Hindi version of the film?
KJ: Anil and I are going to sit on it much later. It all depends on the other releases before and after the film. But it will have the biggest release for a dubbed language. Fortunately, we are the solo release of the week. At least, I hope we are, and I think we have got the exhibitors very excited.