I am not ready to make Mahabharata: Rajamouli

The man of the moment, director SS Rajamouli, opens up about making the biggest film of the year

Each of the leading characters in Baahubali are introduced through their actions, not their words. Mahendra Baahubali is shown heaving an impossibly heavy lingam on his shoulders. Kattappa is shown settling an argument with his sword. Bhallala Deva is shown pummelling a beastly ox to the ground. SS Rajamouli is a self-confessed man of action. “I love action. In fact, I prefer to detail even the emotions through action. I don’t just express anger through it. I express love too.”  You’re instantly reminded of Baahubali mock-sparring with Avantika. You’re also reminded of Devasena first experiencing the presence of the young Baahubali, as he rampages into Mahishmati on his horse. Rajamouli grew up being fascinated by action films. “Braveheart, Benhur… I wanted to shoot action like they do in those films.”

The truly exciting aspect of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, however, is not its action, as the action-packed trailer will have you believe. “It’s the drama. We have created some memorable characters who are prepared to die for their philosophies. Audiences will see how electrifying their clashes are.” Well, that, and there’s also the delicious prospect of finally knowing the answer to the Kattappa-Baahubali puzzle. Everywhere he goes, Rajamouli has somebody asking why Kattappa killed Baahubali. “It isn’t so much a question as it is an expression of love for the film,” he says. Given all the hype, he better have an answer that is affecting enough. He laughs, “Trust me. It’s only because of how great the answer is that this question has captured the imagination of the audience. If it were a lazy one-line answer, people would have already figured it out, and moved on. It’s a big part of the second film.”

Even after almost two years since the release of the first film, people remain fascinated by the world of Mahishmati, and its people. Surely, his marketing team has done stellar work to keep the film relevant. He laughs again. “I wish we were as smart as you think. We didn’t even realise it would take us as long to make the second film.” The director’s original plan was to shoot both films together, and release them within a gap of three months. But the budget put paid to such plans. “We then thought we would try and shoot the second film in a year, but I guess it has taken us almost twice as long. We aren’t as smart as you think.”

The delay is also on account of the exhaustive VFX work involved. And yet, Rajamouli knows that the lengthy time spent on the effects are nowhere near as long as some Hollywood films spend on theirs. “Their approach is far more clinical, and yields better results.” Perhaps that’s why Rajamouli was forced to be clever enough to never linger too long on any one VFX shot for too long. “It’s a tool you must use very carefully. It can enhance, or destroy. That’s why I make sure emotions carry my film, not the craft. Craft can never be a substitute for storytelling.”

For long, our filmmakers, when prodded over the substandard VFX in their films, have responded with a question: “Are we spending as much money on our films as Hollywood does?” But Rajamouli disagrees it’s just about the money. “We may have tremendous artists, but we lack the drivers—the people with vision.”

Rajamouli may not yet be the country’s biggest filmmaker, but he’s definitely the maker of the country’s biggest films. Until very recently, he was known for outbursts on the sets. “A delay of one hour could potentially set us back by about Rs. 5 lakh.” When the film’s cinematographer Senthil pointed out that a unit would always work in the image of its director, Rajamouli realised the folly of his outrage. “I don’t yell on the sets anymore,” he smiles. Every media house across the country is shouting itself hoarse about Rajamouli’s film, but he doesn’t yet feel like it’s crowning jewel on his career so far. “That’s too big a word. But yes, I realise it’s an achievement. Sometimes, when I think about where I was, and where I am today, it’s a good feeling.” As an assistant director, Rajamouli used to look up to directors like Raghavendra Rao and K S Ravikumar. “Today, when I walk on the sets of my films, I sometimes hear assistant directors talking about me with the same reverence I had for those directors.” “Small joys, eh?” I ask. He laughs. “Big, big joys, to be honest.” And yet, he won’t get carried away by the nation-wide publicity for the film. “It’s the flavour of this season. Next week, there will be another film. This is simply seasonal hype.”


As much as he will have you believe, the Baahubali films aren’t just flavours of a season. They make the very seasons. And these grand films, these sweeping landscapes… they come naturally to Rajamouli. “I don’t try to write a script that will somehow be more extravagant than what is being made. But that’s how I end up writing. Big things appeal to me.” I ask if he sees himself doing a ‘small’ film ever again. “Why not? After Magadheera became a hit, I did a small comedy called Maryada Ramanna. I can and will make anything I want to.” If he follows up on this promise, there’s no doubt that he will make his version of the Mahabharata. “That’s my life’s ambition,” he says. “But I’m not yet there as a filmmaker. I have visuals in my head and ideas that I am not equipped enough to bring to screen. I should be able to bring all those emotions, intricacies, philosophies, life lessons into a movie. My skills aren’t good enough for the moment.”

This column was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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