Baahubali 2: SS Rajamouli and other south directors have reinterpreted epics. Why Bollywood lags behind?

What is an epic? Most cinema historians cite Mayabazar, starring the then Telugu upstart NT Rama Rao (NTR) as Krishna, as a classic of the mythological genre. The film has been called an epic, its genre being mythological/period fantasy. But over the years, in Bollywood, the term ‘epic’ has taken on multiple and varied meanings. Another Khan (Aamir Khan) tried his luck with the genre in Mangal Pandey: The Rising, but it tanked. Karnan, 1964, was another Ganesan extravaganza in which he essays the titular role. (Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai)
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© IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd NTR also dabbled in Tamil cinema with Sampoorna Ramayanam, 1958, where he was once again seen as Lord Ram while Sivaji Ganesan was Bharatha. In 2015, the Telugu import Baahubali: The Beginning managed to achieve something that Big Brother Bollywood can only hope for – it blended spectacular, The Lord of the Rings-level VFX with a rooted and traditional Indian mythology narrative. One of Bollywood’s greatest epics is Mughal-E-Azam which may fail the historical accuracy test but works wonders as a dramatization of the Mughal court. Of contemporary stars, Hrithik Roshan seems to have a proclivity for epics. Reportedly, at first, NTR was reluctant to take on the role of Krishna, and wanted to essay Karna but the director convinced him otherwise. In Lava Kusa, NTR played Lord Rama while in Nartanasala, the popular star was seen as Arjuna from Mahabharata. The Spaghetti Western is pure fiction, with not a shred of history in it. Talking of 70s, the star-studded Sholay springs to mind. 1963 saw two legendary epics starring NTR, one retold from Ramayana and another, from Mahabharata. One of the earliest films to be mounted on a lavish scale in India was a Telugu blockbuster, 1933’s Savitri, a Mahabharata legend retold on cinema. Poster of SS Rajamouli film Magadheera. That should explain why most legendary South Indian stars who made their name with mythological and historical epics went on to have successful innings as politicians. It’s also about the scale and canvas. In the following decades, the historical epic more or less disappeared, only making its presence felt in 2000s. After the smashing success of Mayabazar, Rama Rao, later the CM of Andhra Pradesh, went on to play Lord Krishna in 17 films. A true passion project, the Tamil historical drama Chandralekha, released in 1948, was at one time the most expensive film ever made in India. The Nargis-starrer Mother India, of 1957, is sheer epic in terms of its scale and the narrative linked to the epitome of an Indian woman. As Hindi cinema got into another stage, with our political and social landscape changing rapidly historical epics gave way to happy-go-lucky musicals of the 1960s and the emergence of the angry young man in the 70s. The film’s star-studded second and final instalment, Baahubali: The Conclusion with a repeat troupe of Prabhas as the superhero-like Shiva, Anushka Shetty as Maharani Devasena, Tamannaah as Avanthika and Rana Daggubati as the baddie Bhallaladeva, opens with much fanfare and loudly enthusiastic pre-release fireworks. Nargis is Mother India, a virtuous and quintessential Indian woman who can kill her son to save the honour of another woman. Its director, SS Vasan sold his personal belongings to complete this epic. Also count Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Bajirao Mastani, based on the romance between Bajirao Peshwa and Mastani Bai. Shah Rukh Khan appeared in Asoka, playing the Maurya dynasty emperor. But few films have reverberated in the Indian psyche as relentlessly and powerfully as the Ramesh Sippy dacoit drama. Salman Khan’s Veer, with shades of 300 and other Roman gladiatorial epics, was grand and much-hyped but failed at the box-office, much like the star’s earlier dud Suryavanshi. The film has been called an epic, its genre being mythological/period fantasy. As it turns out, SS Rajamouli, the director of Baahubali, himself is no stranger to epics. With that one masterstroke, the film’s director SS Rajamouli succeeded in drawing largely home-bound masses (and the classes) away from their TV sets to the theatre making Baahubali: The Beginning not only one of the greatest box-office forces to ever rule the Indian marquee but also created enough hunger for the sequel. In Bollywood, the term ‘epic’ takes on a different meaning altogether. Its exquisite sets, sword fight scenes and intricately picturised dance sequences (its popular drum dance can be found on YouTube) has made Chandralekha a Tamil classic. Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa-Akbar and the much-panned Mohenjo Daro, featuring the star, are cases in point. 2017-04-27T10:59:26+00:00″>
Published:April 27, 2017 10:59 am

Completed at an estimated cost of Rs 250 crore, Baahubali: The Conclusion is already the costliest film ever made in India. With their messianic popularity and God-like status, helped considerably by their movie persona, stars like MGR, NTR, M Karunanidhi and J.Jayalalitha took their theatrics to politics and made rhetoric flourish both their trademark and a political art. 1965’s Thiruvilaiyadal was a Sivaji Ganesan epic that depicted the lives of Lord Shiva’s devotees in an episodic storytelling format. ‘Epic’ in cinematic context refers to a triumph of vision and imagination. His 2009 blockbuster Magadheera starring Ram Charan was one of the highest grossing Indian epics of all time. The country’s other regional cinema is still lagging behind miles in terms of lavish budgets. The film’s roots lay in Parsi theatre. Made at a budget of Rs 10 lakh, a hefty sum then, it was one of the most expensive films of its time. As Baahubali’s final instalment enters the box-office battle fray (trade pundits are predicting massive ticket sales), it looks like Rajamouli’s magical run at the box-office will continue. Its technical wizardry and extravagant visuals were far ahead of its time. Also read | Baahubali 2 first review out from UAE and the critic is awed by everything
When it comes to filming on epic scale and blowing money like explosives, few native film industries in India can beat Telugu cinema, Andhra Pradesh’s home-grown popcorn factory. Also read | Baahubali 2 box office collection breaks Dangal record with 1 million online tickets sold in 24 hours
In all these films, the common thread is the messianic power of the Tamil and Telugu superstars, all of whom play Hindu mythological legends with whom the masses can connect with easily and even worship and a visual razzle dazzle all rolled into an epic show. Note that mythological epics played a key role in the formative years of Tamil, Telugu and even, Hindi cinema. Completed at an estimated cost of Rs 250 crore, Baahubali: The Conclusion is already the costliest film ever made in India. Its lavishly mounted songs, the classic music, and the overall grandeur along with legendary Urdu dialogue and dramatic performances by Madhubala, Prithviraj Kapoor and an understated Dilip Kumar makes Mughal-A-Azam one of the most-watched Hindi classics. The wait for many Baahubali fans is now over.