S. Rajamouli’s Telugu fantasy epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is shattering many a myth about film-making in Bollywood on its way to breaking box office records in India.
The second instalment in the two-film franchise that combines Indian mythology with Hollywood-style special effects opened to packed theatres across India and in less than two weeks has become the highest-grossing Indian movie of all-time.
The feat is all the more impressive because audiences in Hindi-speaking north India hardly watch films made in the south and vice versa. The first film in the franchise, about warring kings in a magical kingdom, released in 2015.
The latest film, which was released on April 28th, has become the first Indian film to cross the Rs 1,000 crore ($155 million) milestone internationally.
It also ranked third in North America, raking in just over $10 million in ticket sales over three days (till April 30), according to website BoxOfficeMojo – the biggest ever opening for an Indian film in the world’s largest film market.
But it is the movie’s business in India that has analysts running out of adjectives. In the Hindi-speaking belt, where a dubbed version was played, Baahubali 2 made more on its first day than what Bollywood’s top grossers Bajrangi Bhaijaan, PK and Dangal did on their respective opening days.
Baahubali 2 has already overtaken the domestic tally of Bollywood’s highest-grossing movie of all time, Aamir Khan’s Dangal.
‘The biggest lesson is that the size of the market is huge. In the last few years, people (from the industry) have been saying that we need more screens or that the younger audiences are moving to digital, but this movie has shown that the medium is there and so are the audiences,’ said Shailesh Kapoor of Ormax, an agency that tracks box office results.
‘You just have to give them something worth coming to the theatres for.’
India has around 10,000 screens, out of which Baahubali 2 played at more than 7,000. Many theatres gave it as many as ten shows a day at premium pricing. The film also broke the notion that audiences look for big stars to draw them to theatres or that dubbed films don’t work.
‘The average occupancy has been the highest ever for any Hindi film. On Sunday, it was around 95 per cent and that has never happened for any Hindi film, especially on all four days,’ said Anil Thadani, whose AA Films was the distributor for the Hindi version.
‘It is a dubbed film, without a big star, so to speak. And yet it is doing the kind of numbers we are seeing.’
That is the kind of success Bollywood would give an arm and a leg for. The Hindi film industry finds itself in a rut, with audience footfalls decreasing and growth slowing down to a trickle. It relies on two big stars – Salman Khan and Aamir Khan – to give them the blockbusters. But both men are in their 50s and do one film a year on an average, which means that an increasingly younger audience is turning to Hollywood films to get their thrills on screen.
When Kapoor of Ormax and his team were interviewing focus groups last month in cities like Lucknow and Indore, most youngsters they spoke to mentioned Hollywood’s The Fate of the Furious as the movie they were most looking forward to.
‘Their first answer was Fast and Furious and Spider-Man, which comes out later in the year. Bollywood didn’t figure in their calendar,’ Kapoor said.
The success of Baahubali 2 holds many lessons for Bollywood, including the limits of depending on stars and the importance of building a film property. For producers outside of Hindi, it also means that they can dream of making a pan-India film, one that does not have to contend with language as an obstacle.
‘For us, the biggest thing is how much love it has found across the country, irrespective of which language people watched it in,’ the film’s producer Shobu Yarlagadda said from London, where he is promoting Baahubali 2 with its star cast.
‘The Hindi speaking belt has always focused on the multiplex audiences, but I think we realise now what a huge audience the single screens are. There should be more focus there too,’ he said.
Filmmaker Karan Johar, whose Dharma Productions distributes the Hindi version of Baahubali, announced on Twitter that the second instalment of the franchise has become the first Indian film to collect Rs 1,000 crore worldwide.
‘The biggest milestone has been reached by the biggest blockbuster of Indian cinema!!!! #1000croreBaahubali @ssrajamouli,’ wrote Johar, alongside the poster of the film.
The film’s star Prabhas, 37, who is currently holidaying in the US, wrote an emotional Facebook post where he expressed his gratitude to his admirers from around the world for their love and support.
‘To all my fans, a big hug to each one of you for all the love that you all have showered on me. I have tried my best to go through a lot of the efforts that you all have put to express your affection for me from different parts of India and even overseas. I am truly overwhelmed with everything.
‘The journey of Baahubali has been a long one but among the few things that I will take away from this, is all of you. Lots of love back to you all,’ wrote Prabhas.
The actor thanked Rajamouli for his unwavering belief in him.
‘A big thank you to SS Rajamouli sir for believing in me to carry his huge vision to the masses, giving me a once-in- a-lifetime character of Baahubali and making the entire journey so special.’
When it opened in cinemas in 2015, dubbed versions of Baahubali: The Beginning, made in the Telugu language widely spoken in India’s southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, resonated with audiences nationwide.
It used computer-generated imagery to depict ancient kingdoms and bloody wars in a quintessentially Indian battle of good versus evil.
Inspired by Hollywood epics such as Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments when growing up, Rajamouli wanted to create a tentpole franchise that delivered a memorable movie experience.
But younger audiences were looking to Hollywood franchises such as The Fast and the Furious, and the superheroes of the Marvel and DC Comics universe for the big-screen thrills Indian cinema was unable to provide.
‘They have heavy budgets, they have huge star casts and huge studios backing them,’ Rajamouli, 43, said in an interview in Hyderabad, his home city.
‘But if we make 10 percent of it in an Indian context, with our stories, our heroes and heroines … we can easily compete.’
To keep down production costs on a budget of $67 million, work on the CGI-heavy movie was distributed among 35 studios across continents.
‘We didn’t have any studio backing us. Raising capital was a challenge,’ said Prasad Devineni, one of the producers.
The record-breaking run for Baahubali 2 has been a wake-up call for Bollywood, where cinema attendance has halved from a decade ago.
In 2016, Indian box-office collections fell to 99 billion rupees ($1.5 billion), down from 101 billion a year earlier.
Bollywood, reliant on a tried-and-tested formula of romances and masala thrillers, has failed to develop its own big-ticket franchises, piggy-backing instead on Baahubali, with top producer Johar marketing the movie in Hindi this month.
With a spinoff TV series, an animated offering for Amazon videostreaming, a comic book and a possible third film in the works, “Baahubali” could lure back Indian audiences.
‘It has shown us the way – how to market, build euphoria around it,’ said Rajkumar Akella, India managing director at global box-office tracker comScore.
The makers always envisaged the film as a franchise, with many narratives branching off its storyline, to hook the maximum number of viewers later.
‘Our audiences might be watching English films, or Hollywood films, and getting used to them, but the blood doesn’t change, the DNA doesn’t change,’ said Rajamouli.