Telugu cinema’s “hit-machine” Rajamouli comes to Bollywood

July 8, 2015

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The hero of S.S. Rajamouli’s most recent film was a fly – a garish, computer generated pink fly which caused traffic accidents and blew up houses. “Eega” (Fly), which initially released in Telugu and later dubbed as “Makkhi” in Hindi, was one of the most successful films of 2013, breaking all records in the Telugu film industry and gathering quite a decent amount for the Hindi version as well.

The story of a man being reborn as a fly and taking revenge on those who killed him might seem outlandish to many, but for Rajamouli, it was compelling enough to turn into a movie.

The film’s success vindicated his decision, and it caught the attention of Bollywood, which in recent years has struggled to churn out hits and is constantly looking for the next big idea. Rajamouli’s next film, “Bahubali” (The one with strong arms), a two-part epic fantasy that has a combined budget of more than 2.5 billion rupees ($39.3 million), is being released all over India by Bollywood producer Karan Johar and distributor Anil Thadani.

“It is the need of the film-maker to reach as many people as he can. After ‘Magadheera’, everyone in the industry knew me and my work. ‘Makkhi’ got me a foothold, and now that ‘Bahubali’ has the backing of someone like Mr Johar, I think it will help me reach that bigger audience,” Rajamouli said in an interview.

In the past, the 41 year-old film-maker has made fantasy films like “Magadheera” (Warrior) that had big stars and a big budget with lots of special effects, but also films like “Maryada Ramanna”, a small-budget film with a comedian in the lead role, later re-made in Hindi as “Son of Sardar”.

Stars, or the lack of them in films, don’t seem to matter to Rajamouli. “For me, the emotions have to be correct. When I start a film, that is what I think about – whether this story is correct for these characters or not,” he said.

Rajamouli’s films are known for their scale and sleek production, wooing audiences in South India with a mixture of action, fantasy and racy dance numbers.

“He’s taking risks that no one else in this industry is taking at the moment. His way of story-telling is unlike what we see in the Hindi film industry these days, and a film like ‘Bahubali’, especially, has a subject that will appeal to audiences pan-India,” said distributor Anil Thadani, who is releasing the film in the Bombay territory.

Rajamouli, with salt-and-pepper hair and a calm, almost monk-like demeanour, has given as many as 20 interviews in a day but shows no signs of fatigue, answering with patience and avoiding monosyllables.

“We aren’t used to so much publicity down south. Having stars on your poster is usually enough,” Rajamouli said with a laugh, while admitting that things work differently in Bollywood, whether it is publicity campaigns or the audience’s taste.

“If you are talking about sensibilities, they are different. Here, people like it a little more subtle in terms of emotion or colour or whatever … Down south, it’s a little louder, but that is just to do with the culture.”

But trying to appeal to a broader audience hasn’t led him to change his style, and he is hopeful that moviegoers all over the country will lap up his fantasy fare.

“When ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ came, they changed nothing for the international audience, but the emotions were right, and that’s why it worked,” Rajamouli said. “The emotions have to be correct.”

(Editing by David Lalmalsawma; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and David @davidlms25. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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