Anand Neelakantan, Prasad Devineni, S.S. Rajamouli, and Rana Daggubati in conversation with Sudha Sadhanand
Harish Alagappa, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature 2017 Festival Blogger
Despite India’s long and varied association with mythological story-telling, it was a surprise when Baahubali, a 2015 South Indian historical epic, became the highest-grossing film in the history of Indian cinema. In a session that saw some of the largest crowds on Day 2 at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, the minds and cast behind this blockbuster took the first step in creating an extended Baahubali universe, with the launch of the cover of its prequel novel, The Rise of Sivagami, written by the author of Asura and Ajaya, Anand Neelakantan.
This session was moderated by Sudha Sadanand, Managing Editor of Tata Westland, who began with the film’s iconic opening scene, asking whether it portrayed weakness in the character of Sivagami, otherwise represented as the epitome of strength. Baahubali’s director, S.S. Rajamouli responded, ‘She was only weak physically, never mentally. She is not asking or begging to the heavens, she is demanding that the baby she is protecting should live.’
Sivagami is the central character of the tie-in novel, the first of a planned prequel trilogy that will focus on the history of the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati. Author Anand Neelakantan, whose previous novels focused on mythological antagonists such as The Asuras, Ravana, and Duryodhana, joked that the book is ‘the first time I am writing about a positive character… If I had my way, I would have written from the villain’s point of view.’ When discussing the choice of focusing the prequel trilogy on Sivagami, Neelakantan said he believed that she ‘resembles many strong women from history’, citing famous figures from Indian mythology, such as Kunti from the Mahabharata and Sita from the Ramayana.
The loudest cheers from the audience were directed at the star, Rana Daggubati, who plays Bhallala Deva. When asked about the impact that starring in Baahubali has had on him, Duggabati said it had reinvigorated his love for his craft. ‘After seven years of doing only commercial movies, I had forgotten why I had wanted to become an actor,’ he explained, ‘Baahubali reminded me why.’
Producer Prasad Devineni outlined the Baahubali team’s vision to create an extended universe that would incorporate the sequel, releasing in April 2017, the trilogy of prequel tie-in novels, more tie-in novels to further flesh out characters and the world they inhabit, an animated series, and a Virtual Reality experience, that would incorporate any of the film’s ground-breaking visual effects. While critics and audiences praised Baahubali’s visual effects, some wondered whether its success at the box office was due to the spectacle of the film. The panel disagreed with that analysis, with Devineni stating that ‘no film is going to be successful only because of special effects. ‘It’s the story and strong, relatable characters that make it successful,’ while Rajamouli believed that ‘special effects only work if they can be used to convey an idea to an audience.’
The session concluded with the panel taking questions from the audience, though they did mention beforehand that they couldn’t answer the ‘Katappa question,’ a reference to the cliffhanger ending of the film. When the audience nonetheless tried to draw the panel on this, Rajamouli reminded them that all their questions would be answered in April.
Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill