Besides the cultural milestone that it has come to be seen as both Baahubali 1: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion are also films defined by numbers. Be it the budget (Rs 180 crore and Rs 250 crore approx. respectively), the visual effects or VFX shots featured, the number of VFX artists working across the globe to infuse life into director S.S. Rajamouli’s vision, the number of screens both the films released across the world or the box office collections of the franchise, almost everything about Baahubali is somewhere expressed by numbers.
When was the last time you came across an Indian film debuting at number 3 on the US box office charts and beating an eagerly awaited studio film, The Circle, that also features one of the most recognisable actor-star in the world, Tom Hanks?
And, yet if one were to ponder over the influence that the two films wield and would continue to in the years to come, you more than get a sense that Baahubali goes beyond numbers.
At the time of the release of the first part, Baahubali 1: The Beginning the response to the film was largely centered on the awe it inspired. Upon first sight, it was easy to brand the film as a mythological that was perhaps a tad too risky from a business proposition. The film featured Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Anushka Shetty, Tamannaah and Ramya Krishna or in other words hardly the names upon whom it made little sense to invest Rs 180 crore , at least to the uninitiated. Even as a genre mythologies have traditionally relied on the dialogue baazi rather than showing visual effects that support the narrative.
In fact, before Baahubali most of the mythological films in India be it Tamil, Telugu, Hindi or any other language were largely remembered because of actors such as NT Rama Rao, Sivaji Ganesan, Trilok Kapoor, Jeevan, Nirupa Roy and Dara Singh that portrayed our gods and demigods. The sheer 180-degree turn that Baahubali initiated within the genre to a great extent was due to the finesse of the visual effects of the film.
The alchemy between the story that Rajamouli was telling and the translation from script to screen for the very first time elevated the mythological genre in Indian films to not just a global standard but also to the level that Indian mythology deserves.
Helen Keller believed that the only thing worse than being blind was to have sight but no vision. She could very well be describing a majority of Indian and more specifically Hindi films. Baahubali is not a great work of art because of what meets the eye but more than that it is about what doesn’t and yet resonates with the viewer.
Rajamouli’s greatest achievement lies in the way he creates the mythology of the mythology that has been inspired by the rich textured storytelling traditions in India and also the cosmos that would allow it to go beyond expectations.
This is a film where the ethos of Indian mythology is given a tribute with great visual as well as aural detailing that saw a language being ‘created’ for the narrative. One of the film’s most innovative aspects was the language spoken by the Kalakeya tribe and Harsha Bhat highlighted how “a country which has thousands of languages was captivated by words uttered by an onscreen fictional “tribe” in a language that no one in the country at that point of time could claim to understand.” The invention of Madhan Karky Vairamuthu, who is also the son of celebrated Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu, the language ‘Kilikki’ has a 750-word vocabulary and more than 40 solid grammar rules. While doing his PhD in Australia, Karky used to teach children the difference between languages and came up a new language called ‘Cliq’ for them. He later urged Rajamouli to come up with a fictitious language for Baahubali that would evoke the same feeling as Elvish in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings, Klingon from the Star Trek series and more recently Dothraki and Valyrian from George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series.
Baahubali not only creates its own mythology and the universe that it operates in. It also features characters and a narrative that is inspired by the timelessness of Indian traditions and still remains free from the customary expectations of a religious or mythological tale. For many the manner in which Rajamouli didn’t try to rule the game (read the know it all belief that becomes the undoing of many a filmmaker especially when it comes to genre films) but played it by the rules (read juxtaposing a Baahubali to the global basic set by Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series etc.) is probably one of the biggest takeaways of Baahubali. In a silent way, Rajamouli has laid the foundation to liberate a very big segment in Indian films that up until now were clueless about striking a balance between the real world out there and the fantastical one within our stories.