The release of part two of S S Rajamouli's magnum opus Baahubali: The Conclusion on April 28 will answer the 600 crore (yes, that's the amount which Baahubali: The Beginning earned at the box office) question - why did Katappa kill Baahubali? Baahubali: The Beginning released to blockbuster status in 2015. Never in my years of watching and reporting Indian cinema had I seen a country so intrigued by a climax. Memes jokes and conspiracy theories followed as fans tried to crack the infamous Katappa code. The two-year wait is over. As the countdown to this year's biggest release begins, we met up with team Baahubali. The fantasy-action film stars Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Anushka Shetty, Tamannaah Bhatia, Sathyaraj and Ramya Krishnan.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
NDTV: One question the whole country wants to ask you is, why did Katappa kill Baahubali?
S S Rajamouli: The question itself is not important. The actual question is how did it come to the point that Katappa killed Baahubali? That is more of an apt question to ask.
NDTV: Were you all sworn to secrecy? I'm sure family, friends must have pestered you as to why did that happen?
Rana Daggubati: Yeah, they did but then ultimately the ones who know would anyways know. It is not a simple answer that you are going to get out. It is something that we did for five years. It is not going to come out of my mouth in one go. That's for sure.
NDTV: Did you realise it was going to become such a phenomena. This one thing?
Rana Daggubati: This one thing? I knew the day we had a screening in Mumbai. I remember the night before the release and none of the cast and crew was there. I was the only one stuck in the screening. Then most of them didn't get up, when it was done and there was a director and a bunch of friends who were sitting next to me. They said is it done? I said yeah. The film is over? I said yes it is over. You knew it? I said yeah. That became the only discussion, post us leaving and then you know that is the biggest hook any sequel could ever have. To me as a moviegoer, as a film lover, this is probably the best hook that I've ever seen in cinema.
NDTV: Absolutely. And sir, what's with getting the climax out first? Usually, people work the other way around?
S S Rajamouli: Yeah, I didn't know it was going to become such a big hook line. When we made the story we had to end the first part at some point. So, I selected a point where the Kalakeya war is over, and Sivagami, selects Baahubali ahead of her own son Bhallala Deva and declares him to be the future king of Mahishmathi. I thought that was a nice end to the chapter. That was what we planned and thought like a nice extension, let's give a small shock to the people.
People may be satisfied with the war anyway. Let's give a small extension and we thought of it in a very poetic way. The way the RR was done and everything was not to give you a shock it was very lilting, poetic way. But when it came out it turned out that way. Everyone was putting accolades on me for thinking so far ahead. Saying I was a genius and all. So, I was like okay fine let it be.
NDTV: Everyone had this one question that has united the country. The moment the end credits came, everyone was like we have to wait two years for that answer.
S S Rajamouli: No, it was clever, at the end of the first movie, I said they have to wait for only one year. Later on, I changed it to two years.
NDTV: You've been rather unfair. But this is one film that has managed to unite the country and suddenly there is no North-South divide. Has it managed to do that?
S S Rajamouli: That is the biggest thing we achieved. We always believe that you have to tell your story based on human emotions rather than on regional emotions or something else. The film will go places because we always believed that we can cross the language barriers, regional barriers and be a national film. We are proud that Baahubali is a pan-Indian film. It is no longer a Tamil film, or a Telugu film. It is nothing. It is an Indian film.
NDTV: Absolutely. And did you anticipate the kind of reception it has got? It has out-performed itself?
S S Rajamouli: Definitely. We anticipated it, otherwise we wouldn't put so much money. However, we didn't anticipate this kind of adulation and this kind of fan following. Definitely not.
NDTV: With the kind of overwhelming response to the first one did you tweak anything for part two and any changes?
S S Rajamouli: No, because you should know that Baahubali is not a sequel. It is one story which we couldn't fit in one movie, so we made it into two movies. So, it is one story from beginning till end. There is not much we can change probably.
We added some amount on the action sequences. We enhanced it a little bit. We made it a little bit more grandeur on the visual front, except that nothing in the story changed, nothing in the character changed.
NDTV: Both of you have lived with this film for five years. Somewhere, has it changed you as actors?
Rana Daggubati: 100 percent. I got on this film when I was 27 or 28 and now I am 32. So yeah, that's a bit of growing up on a film set. It also changed me as an actor. I got to learn so much with so many fine people. It also changes you back as a human being, it gets you back into the reason why you are in the movies in terms of storytelling and to someone who believes in a tale and has just told it and that too at such a grand scale. It is just an honest story that is told so beautifully. I guess that will continue living with us as actors for as long as we continue to act in the movies.
NDTV: Are you going to carry the helmet as a souvenir once you leave?
Rana Daggubati: Yeah, there are many props and souvenirs on that set but this is my most favourite.
NDTV: You play Sivagami. She is obviously the backbone of the storyline because in a way the whole Baahubali, the Game of Thrones the movie is seen from her perspective. What is it that attracted you to playing this very strong protagonist?
Ramya Krishnan: Everything about it attracted me. When I was listening to the story for the first time I could just see myself in it. It was like seeing the film. When he narrates a story or scene, you can see the film in front of your eyes. It's clear. So, I could just see myself in it and it was just easy for me after that.
NDTV: You had the mammoth task of writing a prequel to an established franchise.
Anand Neelakantan: See, already the huge world had been created. Rajamouli sir had told me the basic framework. A good artist will only be one when he works within the constraint and produces a great thing. So, it was also an experiment for me. I had to create a kind of great storytelling which the movie did.
NDTV: Rajamouli sir, the rise of Sivagami - in history, we never see the war or the kingdoms being made and broken, they always say "a women can destroy a kingdom." We've seen it in history but in Indian mythology we never see the women's perspective. Was that intentional and will it also lend itself to another movie being made by you?
S S Rajamouli: I am not a feminist nor an anti-feminist. I am just a human being. So, it is not a conscious decision that a woman should be made a hero or should be made a villain or something should be changed according to her perspective. There is no women perspective of it. Why we named it the Rise of Sivagami is not just the story of her. It is story about Katappa, about Bijjaladeva, it is a story of other numerous characters who helped Sivagami to mould her character. All of them helped mould the character of a strong queen mother that we've seen in the film. In the beginning of the film she is "raj maata" who is willing to kill or die for the kingdom. The best thing is in the beginning, she is a 17-year-old orphan, whose sole aim of life is to destroy the kingdom of Mahishmati.
So, the character of a 17-year-old orphan, who wants to destroy a kingdom and the king's family from that point, to the point where she becomes the queen mother, the sole protector of the kingdom. That is the story arc that he has come out with. In the trilogy and this is the first part and with the rise of Sivagami it is, especially the pre-climax the way he has written the pre climax, I just couldn't get out of it. I was shooting my climax the most important film and thing I was shooting with.and I read his pre-climax of the book and it just didn't leave me. It just didn't let me sleep. The way it was written was absolutely fantastic.
NDTV: Is that your next?
S S Rajamouli: Pardon? Yes, That was an idea. Not a movie because we cannot encompass what he has written in a two-hour film or a three-hour film. So our idea is to make a TV series. Not a daily serial that you are seeing now, definitely not that. But as a 10 or 13 episode season. A seasonal kind of thing. I don't want to bring the name of Game of Thrones because it is not like that. It is our Indian story in our Indian emotion the way you want to see that..but we want to make it on that scale yes.
NDTV: And one thing that Baahubali has done is earlier we would only watch Ramayan, Mahabharat and those characters. It has brought more Indian stories and characters to the fore.
S S Rajamouli: Yes.
NDTV: It is as you said it is not easy to live with something for five years. So has it kind of overwhelmed you? And what is your trick for something for five years to sustain that momentum?
S S Rajamouli: I don't know. I mean actually my father has written those characters and in the beginning he didn't tell me the story. He just told me the characterisation of Sivagami, of Katappa, of Bijjaladeva, Baahubali and Bhallala Deva. He just told me two-three scenes and their philosophies and their characterisations.
Each and every character gave me a very strong and electrifying experience. So my aim was to give the same kind of experience my father has given me, I had to give it to the hundred, thousands, lakhs crores, of audiences. I had to give it to them. The fear of not being able to do that is my driving force that sustains me all these years, and I have fantastic actors and fantastic technicians. I don't need to strive hard to do that, but keeping the focus on it for five years is a difficult thing.
NDTV: What was the most challenging aspect of this film for you? I know the boys were like building their bodies, slaying it. But, for you there also very strong women characters.
Ramya Krishnan: When I started doing this film, I didn't know it was going to be such a huge film. I just blindly did what he asked me to do. What was challenging was to sit in the theatre and watch the film which was the most challenging, overwhelming, I can go on about it. While on it I just did exactly what he wanted me to do.
NDTV: Also it is India's first multimedia project, of this scale so and there were 33 studios involved with the VFX and all. So what was it like for you actors involved also for the graphics and the visual effects also putting and getting your whole craft into the whole project?
Rana Daggubati: You know your question for the five years, that lead into this. You know every time you do something, what does an actor want? Something to do what no actor has ever done before. For every day of this film, 200 odd days, over these four years. I am stepping forward and doing something no actor in this country has ever done before or in the world. So that's the real driving force that's actually getting us here.
NDTV: So many visual effects and your own narrative and all. How do you it?
S S Rajamouli: You need some kind of confidence booster to do what we are doing. Lead actor Prabhas, he was one of the top actors in the industry and he could have done 7-8 films in this time and he could have earned so much and he gave all three-and-a-half years to this, to this project.
NDTV: A huge investment from all?
S S Rajamouli: Yeah, between the first film he had about 8-9 months gap, he could have done another film at that time. He said I'll just be in this mode and I'll be in this mindset and that. So when you have that kind of commitment from your lead actor and he has so much belief in you. He constantly comes up and says in his own way. You don't know what you were, you are not supposed to be here you are supposed to be somewhere else." You know the kind of confidence he gives you in his words is a huge boost to your morale.
NDTV: So do you have a cameo? There was a cameo in part one?
S S Rajamouli No cameos. No.
NDTV: Also this movie has proved we are no less than Hollywood. I don't know why that becomes the yardstick but we have far more talent here I would say. Also, if given a chance would you like to make a film in Hollywood?
S S Rajamouli: I wouldn't agree that we have far more better talent than Hollywood. I believe that Hollywood has better talent than us. But what we have is, we have a rich history of storytelling. Our strength lies in our stories. We are ignoring that and trying to ape the west. Then we are always behind them. So if we want to be like Hollywood we want to be equal with them.You can't follow their footsteps and be greater than them. You have to take what you have, see what you have and extract how they are doing it and take their craft and take your story. Try to grow and then we can compete.
NDTV: Also, both of you, your most favourite scene? It could be your favourite or the most difficult scene?
Rana Daggubati: It's very hard to choose a favourite scene.
NDTV: The most challenging, like I wish I was somewhere else?
Rana Daggubati: No no, I was very glad that there was no one else but me in that place. That is always my thought. It is hard to pick a scene.
S S Rajamouli: For me, my favourite of his is one scene where all the important characters - Baahubali, Sivagami, Bhallala Deva, Bijjaladeva, Devasena, Katappa - are there. One scene and all of them are having an emotional moment and all of them were talking, it was a lengthy scene before the interval and he doesn't utter one word. Bhallala Deva doesn't utter one word but he is the hero of the scene. That is my favourite of him.
NDTV: And of course, we have Sivagami. Her own?
Ramya Krishnan: I would like to hear it from him
S S Rajamouli: For me it is not one scene, the treasure of working with her is, it is quite different. It is a very emotional story. We were prepared for it. I didn't work with her before. We did one cameo song long back. We never really worked together and we started into the scene. We started with an emotional scene. So, I was very prepared and she comes onto the set and she's joking, she's laughing and she is not at all in the shoes of the character. I was worried what she was going to do and even till the last moment she keeps laughing as loud as all the set can hear.
I was worried. But the moment we started, the moment we say ready, she transforms into something else, she doesn't practice. She just looks at her lines once or twice and a lengthy dialogue she just practices it. Say "cut" she stays in the expression for 15-20 seconds, she just stays like that. The shot is cut, everyone is moving, we are shifting the lights and everything but you can see she is still in the moment. That was quite an experience for me. I have never seen an actor ever do that.
NDTV: You said these larger than life characters, larger than life situations, what you are most comfortable in, not many people say that.
S S Rajamouli: Sometimes I go out of my mould but this is my home ground. Larger than life characters and larger than life stories, are ones I am most comfortable with.
NDTV: So the rest of the stories would be regular, you know.
S S Rajamouli: I can't stand love stories.
Ramya Krishnan: I just want to say something here, when he narrated this story, I could visualise, I could picture something. But when I saw it on screen, I could see what kind of imagination one had to have to make it look like that. That's how large, how big he thinks. It was no where in comparison to what I was seeing.
NDTV: Five years with this franchise. Now, the story comes to an end. What next, for team Baahubali?
S S Rajamouli: Like I have been saying, the film might end, but the world of Baahubali will not. We are coming up with novels, story books, comics, animation series, visual reality films and theme parks.
NDTV: It's like what Star War was like, you know?
S S Rajamouli: Yeah, but our own Indian thing.
NDTV: Your personal favourite character from Baahubali?
S S Rajamouli: In the film, it is Sivagami. She is great, she is just mind-blowingly great. In the book, it is Katappa.
NDTV: Ramya, what is that one thing about Sivagami that really intrigued you, because sometimes women when they get into characters try to relate to it?
Ramya Krishnan: That introduction scene when she walks in, she deals with the issue that is happening, she deals with the child and then she takes a call on who is going to be a king. It shows so many angles of one character which I thought was the best scene, as far as I am concerned. It was so well written, I mean how will one scene you know? It was something which was really...
NDTV: Bhallala Deva, with that I'll take your favourite character other than your character. You being you.
Rana Daggubati: Me being me. I'd say Baahubali for me, that's the whole deal about.
Baahubali: The Beginning re-releases this week, ahead of the final chapter.