There's a scene in the final act of Baahubali : The Conclusion's epic battle between Mahendra Baahubali and Bhallaladeva, where Kattappa tells Mahendra Baahubali that it's impossible to win if the entrance to the fort remains sealed. Instantly, Baahubali smashes the massive chains with a mallet, a sight which is hard to forget long after watching the film. What follows is nothing short of an allegory to how a Telugu film broke barriers and stormed into the North Indian market, which has largely been impregnable for south Indian filmmakers.
In the past few days, a lot has been written about how SS Rajamouli and his team have created a pan-Indian blockbuster and trade experts are, understandably, shocked with the numbers that the Hindi version is making at the box-office. Down south, the story is no different. The film has been running to houseful shows and it's quite likely to set a bar so high that it'll take a very, very special film to break its records.
Having surpassed the magic number of Rs 1000 crores (and counting), the battle isn't over for Arka Mediaworks, the production house behind SS Rajamouli's magnum opus. In fact, the phenomenal success and overwhelming acceptance of the characters has come as a major shot in the arm for the studio which is betting big on all the properties, beyond the films, that they have built around the world of Mahishmathi. We are talking about novels, graphic novels, animated series, VR experience, TV show. and merchandise worth more than Rs 25 crores.
Shobu Yarlagadda, one of the producers of the film, began exploring the idea of expanding the Baahubali franchise beyond films way back in 2012. In the course of their research, they studied how various films franchises, particularly Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings, Harry Potter and Hunger Games, had evolved into a dominant force, which were all driven by fans themselves. Hunger Games, in particular, was a huge influence and the team at Arka Mediaworks learnt several lessons about fan-engagement over a period of several years.
Preetam Akkineni, one of the key members of Arka Mediaworks' marketing team, says, "Ever since we began working on Baahubali, we always felt that Eega was a lost opportunity. A mobile game or an animated series on Eega would have been really cool. When the film was screened in several foreign countries, we were quite surprised with how the Japanese distributors had created quite a lot of buzz about the film by venturing into transmedia."
Once the team made up their mind to explore all possible options, Shobu and SS Rajamouli tied up with Graphic India, a Bengaluru-based entertainer company, to develop comic books, animated series among several other things for the film. Graphic India's Navin says, "The best part was when our CEO Sharad Devarajan met Shobu and Rajamouli, everyone had the same vision to explore the world of Baahubali in various forms to reach out to a wider audience. We believe we are in the cusp of a new wave of digital revolution and every year, we see a big increase in number of people wanting to read graphic novels and also play mobile games. This is the first time that we have gone all out to build various properties for an Indian film and we see a lot of potential in it."
Graphic India has already unveiled a graphic novel Baahubali - The Battle of the Bold and there are plenty more soon in the offing. The team has also been working on an animated series, Baahubali - The Lost Legends, which is turning out to be an exciting space to explore. The first episode went on air on Amazon Prime in mid April and more episodes are expected to be unveiled in couple of weeks.
Not surprisingly, SS Rajamouli is said to have been involved in every minute aspect of the franchise, beyond the films. Prior to the film's shoot, the team spent nearly two years developing the characters and backstories for each of these characters and these have become the foundation to develop comic books and also the animated series. "People think that we've derived the world of Baahubali from the film, but that's not true," Preetam Akkineni says, adding, "The team spent a lot of time to build the characters of Baahubali and film is just one segment of this world."
As a result of this extensive pre-production, SS Rajamouli and his team developed a style guide about what would be the colours of each kingdom, the kind of fonts to be used, and Rajamouli was even very particular about the kind of expressions that each of the characters would have in the graphic novels and the animated series. After a few episodes, Graphic India's team got a sense of what the director would want and it's been quite a steep learning curve for everyone.
Saumin Patel, illustrator, says, "We had a lot of discussions about the look and feel of the characters with Rajamouli and he had a lot of suggestions to give. When it comes to comic books, which are based on real actors, it's tough to replicate their facial expressions in the exact same manner and that's the reason why Amarendra Baahubali in the graphic novel differs from the actor you see in the film. Once we came to a consensus about how a certain character would behave and express himself, we had all the freedom to go all out to make the tales heroic and intriguing."
Arka Mediaworks and Graphic India are also betting big on the Baahubali Mobile Game, which has been developed by Moonfrog Labs. Renowned game developer and co-creator of Farmville, Mark Skaggs, is part of the team and he recalls spending plenty of time watching Baahubali: The Beginning to understand costumes, traditions, and bigger-than-life action.
"One of my biggest challenges was to understand Indian traditions, architecture, and history. That's the fun part. I got to learnt a lot of stuff from Tanay Tayal (co-founder, Moonfrog Labs)," Mark Skaggs says, adding, "Baahubali Mobile game is a strategy mobile game, which you're used to seeing in Age of Empires and its likes, and something that's fun works no matter which market we cater to, but you've to tune to the experience that the audience has and also the local culture. In the US, people are used to playing such games because it's been in vogue for several years now; however, the exciting part about making a game like this for Indian audiences was learning how to make it fun for people, who have just begun exploring the mobile gaming space."
Tanay Tayal nods in agreement and confesses that one of the things that got Mark Skaggs excited was the fact that there's a large number of internet users who are getting into mobile gaming for the first time in India. "We've been working on the Baahubali Mobile game for almost a year now, primarily in Bengaluru, and we are very excited about the potential that the untapped market has," he says.
On the other hand, The Rise Of Sivagami, a novel written by Anand Neelakantan, based on the characters of Baahubali has become a huge success and it's already one of the best-sellers in the market today. With two more novels coming up, the franchise has given bibliophiles plenty to talk about for the next few months. The merchandise, in the form of T-shirts, action figures, notebooks among many other things, has already grabbed quite a few eyeballs and this is another big focus area for the team.
Putting all this in perspective, Shobu Yarlagadda says, "We are treating each of these transmedia storytelling as a standalone project and we hope that each one of them is going to be profitable in its own way. Baahubali VR is something that we are all very excited about and I really hope that it'll thrill the audience. There's also a TV series which we are very excited about, but it's too early to talk about it. We have distinct products for different segments of the audiences to enter into the world of Baahubali and film is just a part of the bigger picture."
Last year, when SS Rajamouli first spoke about all these products that the team and its partners are going to unveil, he was quite buoyant about the immense potential of Baahubali to turn into a big franchise. When asked how long he has planned to continue with the world of Baahubali, he said, "Forever! A franchise like this will outlast the film. Look at Star Wars - even though George Lucas doesn't direct the films anymore, Star Wars is thriving and how!" Well, it certainly doesn't hurt to dream big!