Why The Future of Period Films in Bollywood After Baahubali is Weak

By Soudip Chatterjee

Baahubali The Conclusion took the box office by storm. The SS Rajamouli spectacle managed to reach the pinnacle of excellence within a period which is unimaginable for other films. The visual extravaganza, the emotions, the larger- than-life characters and the edge-of-the-seat action scenes made Baahubali The Conclusion a modern-day classic. Now that the mandate from people is clear, whether it’s North India or South, they want bigger and better films mainly which have ample entertainment factors with universal appeal.

Period films were never safe baits until the typhoon named Baahubali hit the theatres. K. Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar and Sanjay Leela Bhanshali’s Devdas and Bajirao Mastaani are some famous names of Bollywood period films but they were nowhere close to the Baahubali phenomena.

After Baahubali The Beginning, we saw few filmmakers in South India come up with some period films to cash in on the Baahubali effect but they were immediate disasters. Now, news comes that more producers are jumping on to the period films bandwagon which they think is a safe genre (which it is usually not) and most of them are eyeing the two cult epics ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’. But here are some factors which worked for Baahubali may not work for the upcoming period films.

Lack of Visionary Directors
‘A blind man is better than a visionless director’.

The magic of Baahubali should be credited to only one person – the genius filmmaker, SS Rajamouli and his vision. His school of filmmaking is totally different. The way he emotes or makes a jaw dropping situation out of nothing is unique. The only person who comes close to him is Sanjay Leela Bhansali but his approach to the film is very artistic and allegorical which can be very harmful for a big period film. The chance of receiving flak from a mass audience is high.

People in pre Baahubali times were easily pleased but now Baahubali has increased their greed. They now want big canvas films but sadly there is hardly any one to do adequate justice to a period film. Most of the directors don’t have any knowledge of using VFX and at the same time, connecting with audiences emotionally. The scale and the scenes in Baahubali has set a benchmark now and anything less than that in an upcoming period drama will be considered as a blunder. Hollywood has directors like James Cameron, Peter Jackson, David Yates, Ang Lee to create marvels in each genre, sadly we don’t have such options.

Safe Subjects

Period films in India are divided into two parts – Real historical and Fictional historical. Real historical film characters are full of risks as there is no particular formula for their success. For example, Jodhaa Akabar and Bajirao Mastaani were accepted whereas Asoka and Mangal Pandey were rejected as audiences didn’t find anything interesting in it. Fictional historical films like Lagaan and Baahubali did well but a less gutsy Mohenjodaro spoiled the careers of everyone associated with it. So while choosing subjects, one has to be careful.

Less Gutsy Producers

If Baahubali is a product of the vision of the director and the passion of the actors, it took perfect business acumen to execute it. Shobu Yarlagadda and Prasad Devineni knew how to use the money and they had everything chalked out before they started making this epic. The ways they kept the buzz alive and invested their trust in SS Rajamouli’s vision were truly praiseworthy. But for most of the other big (period) films, the producers compromise on budget, interfere in the making and this affects the film.

Less Commitment and Big Salary from Big Actors
Playing a role in period films is no cake walk; one has to learn horse riding, sword fighting, rock climbing, action and a new body language which requires lots of time. While signing the film, an actor needs to give time to the project and remain in the skin of his character until it’s over. Most of our big stars, being busy in multiple projects do not have that dedication. Their remunerations are sky high too which make it doubly hard for producers. As a result, stars lose out on some memorable roles and the film fails to earn its full potential.

Ramayan and Mahabharat
When we talk about making big films, most filmmakers choose to remake the epics, ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’ . However, these stories being widely popular, the cinematic experience becomes predictable to some extent and there is little scope to re-modulate the narrative. No doubt, these two epics are a treat to watch on 70mm screens but the question is – can writers experiment with their imagination with these stories? If they do, there are chances of it turning out to be very controversial given the religious sentiments around it. So it will be very tough to bring something new from ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’ than their usual cults.

The problems that period films face are too many, and the challenges way too big. It’s high time to make or break something. Post Baahubali, we may hear a lot of period or war films being made in a lavish budget but which one will attain those heights is questionable. If a star dominated industry like Bollywood intends to show something out of the box respecting the mass audience, it will be saved because Baahubali has re-established the old school formula of entertaining everyone.

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