When a big film wins, everyone wins: How Baahubali's success will change Tollywood

Money, market, and magic : Baahubali 2's success story ushers in new hope for the Telugu industry.
When a big film wins, everyone wins: How Baahubali's success will change Tollywood
When a big film wins, everyone wins: How Baahubali's success will change Tollywood

Ever since SS Rajamouli's magnum opus Baahubali : The Conclusion hit screens all over India and other foreign countries, it has turned into an unstoppable force at the box-office.

Not only has it become the highest grossing film of all time in the history of Indian cinema, it has also earned the tag of being India's first ever Rs 1000 crore grossing film. Rs 1000 crores! In the words of Taran Adarsh, trade analyst, "The UNTHINKABLE has happened!". The film also went on to gross more than Rs 100 crores in North America alone, which is a new record for an Indian film.

Smashing records in non-Telugu states

While the film's Hindi version alone is expected to land somewhere between Rs 400-450 crores (nett) in the next few days, Baahubali 2 stunned everyone with its terrific run in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.

Haripad, a small town in Kerala's Alappuzha district, saw the film running to houseful boards for 50 shows in a row in its first week. In Kochi, the film was screened with an occupancy rate of over 99% in its first week, which is said to be another record.

A group of movie enthusiasts, named Forumkeralam on Twitter, had kept track of how well the film had been doing across Kerala and the initial trend suggested that Baahubali 2 drew more crowds than Mohanlal's Pulimurugan, which is currently the highest grossing film in Kerala.

"Baahubali is a once in a decade phenomenon and it can't be compared with any other film. The occupancy in Kochi and Calicut was at an all-time high and even in small towns, the film ran to houseful shows even at midnight. We haven't seen anything like this in a long time," the team said.

Elsewhere in Tamil Nadu, Rakesh Gowthaman, the managing director of Vettri Theatres, revealed that the film shattered the first week records held by Endhiran and in the process, Baahubali 2 became the film with most houseful shows and highest number of footfalls. Even in other centres like Tirunelveli, Coimbatore and Madurai, the film drew huge crowds much to the surprise of theatre owners.

Why Baahubali is an event

While this has been the case all over the country, the theatres in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh tell a much bigger story. That Baahubali 2 has raked in huge moolah and set new records is just a minuscule part of the story. The enormous success of Baahubali: The Conclusion is expected to have far-reaching impact on the whole industry, if the latest discussions among film circles are anything to go by.

It's not without reason that Baahubali 2 has been hailed as an 'event' film, rather than just a blockbuster film. The footfalls in every single screen were at a record high and the film managed to draw crowds, which had stopped watching films for a while now.

Even though distributors and theatre owners anticipated this situation and sought permission to screen additional shows in Telangana (5 shows per day in the first week) and rest of Andhra Pradesh (6 shows per day for the first 10 days), the reception from the audiences was beyond all such calculations.

The film has surpassed previous records by more than a double margin and much to the shock of trade analysts, it has collected a distributors' share of Rs 1 crore in around 17 towns and cities in Andhra Pradesh alone by the end of first week.

The previous record was held by Baahubali 1 which collected a share of more than Rs 1 crore in 14 towns and cities in its full run. To put this in perspective, the percentage of movie goers who thronged to theatres to watch Baahubali 2 saw a quantum jump. The fact that a film has rekindled the desire to watch cinema on the big screen is bound to have a domino effect on the subsequent films churned out by Telugu film industry.

The domino effect

In 2015, when Mahesh Babu's Srimanthudu released a month after Baahubali: The Beginning, it went on to become the biggest blockbuster in Mahesh Babu's career. Industry insiders reckon that Srimanthudu was one of the earliest benefactor of the shift in audiences' perception about watching movies in theatres.

This year with films like Mahesh Babu's Spyder, Allu Arjun's DJ, Ram Charan-Sukumar's film, and NTR's Jai Lava Kusha lined up for release, all these big budgeted films too will be counting on the demand for quality content.

Recent hits like Khaidi No 150, Gautamiputra Satakarni, Sathamanam Bhavathi and last year's blockbusters - Janatha Garage and Soggade Chinni Nayana - are proof enough of this trend which is sweeping Tollywood season after season.

Interestingly, the success of mega blockbusters like Baahubali 1 & 2, Khaidi No 150, Srimanthudu, Janatha Garage to name a few have also had an impact on the exhibition sector of the Telugu film industry. In the early 2000s, there were close to 2400-2500 cinema halls spread across Andhra Pradesh; however, with rising expenditures and lack of footfalls in the subsequent years, several cinema halls were shut down, converted to malls or wedding halls. The number of screens fell to around 1700-1800, which is still the highest in the country.

With the advent of multiplexes in recent years, several single screen theatres were turned into multiplexes, and thanks to the slow and steady rise of movie goers, quite a few theatres were revamped and equipped with better sound and projection systems.

Bringing people back to theatres

In a Facebook post, filmmaker Sai Rajesh opined that the onus is on the filmmakers to deliver quality content to the large number of movie-goers who are slowly opting to watch films in theatres rather than small screens.

"The fact that Baahubali 2 is still running houseful even on 11th day of its release across the two states is heartening. A lot of people had stopped watching movies in cinema halls due to exorbitant ticket prices, food & beverages costing more than the movie ticket, black marketing of tickets among other things. Now that people are back in hordes, the onus is on us to not falter," Sai Rajesh said.

It remains to be seen if this surge in demand will lead to increase in number of theatres, even though multiplex chains like PVR Cinemas, Cinepolis and Inox have big plans to expand to smaller cities and towns in the two Telugu speaking states. But there's no denying that exhibitors will not think of shutting down a cinema hall if the Telugu film industry can churn out 4-5 blockbusters every year.

Not long ago, demonetisation had crippled the industry in more ways than one, but with the success of Baahubali 2 and recent hits, producers are confident that there’ll be a healthy flow of money into the industry in near future. Every distributor, associated with Baahubali 2, has reaped huge profits from the film, and producers of several medium and small budget films are hopeful that the distribution rights of their films will also get a good price.

This is precisely why there’s so much riding on every big-budget film and if they deliver the moolah, it gives everyone, even if they aren’t related to the film, a reason to celebrate. Baahubali 2 delivered and how!

Opening doors for Tollywood

The success of Baahubali: The Conclusion, across the country, has also led many studios and filmmakers, particularly in Bollywood, to focus on the kind of work being done in Tollywood. We could argue that Baahubali 2 is an exception and that SS Rajamouli is among the very few filmmakers in the country who have found acceptance across the spectrum, but the buzz that the film has created is expected to open doors for every other Telugu filmmaker wanting to pitch to Mumbai-based studios.

Filmmaker and producer Madhura Sreedhar opines, “No one will neglect Tollywood after looking at the numbers of Baahubali 2. Couple of years ago, when I pitched a story on cricket betting with Sreeshanth in the lead role, there were quite a few takers for the story. Post Baahubali 2, the opportunities for Telugu filmmakers will increase further, if they have a good script. The film has clearly changed the perception about Telugu cinema.”

The impact of Baahubali 2’s success is expected to be both at the micro as well as macro level. So far, the presence of Mumbai-based studios has been limited in Tollywood with only a select few studios & production houses like Eros and UTV buying local content; however, in the coming months, more producers are likely to collaborate with regional filmmakers or appoint someone to represent them while they finance various projects.

Dreaming big

 “Another big change I foresee is the change in the thought process of our own filmmakers. Every time we sit down to discuss a story, we restrict ourselves believing that certain content might not appeal to A centre audiences or B centre audiences. However, Baahubali 2 has showed everyone that if you can tell a story with great conviction then nothing else matters. It has given all of us to dream big and believe in ourselves,” Madhura Sreedhar adds.

It is perhaps this change which is the film's biggest contribution. The question now is who all will walk through these doors that have opened because of Baahubali 2’s success and how much Telugu filmmakers will capitalise on it in near future. By setting the bar so high, SS Rajamouli and his team have, to say the least, nudged everyone to dream big and aim high. And for the time being, we can only hope that tomorrow will be a better day for Telugu film industry.

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