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How Rana Daggubati helped take ‘Baahubali 2’ across India

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-06-2017 Lata Jha

New Delhi: At last count, S.S. Rajamouli’s blockbuster war epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion had netted Rs1,000 crore across all languages in India alone, a figure as staggering as the success story of the film. At Rs490 crore, however, the dubbed Hindi version of the film remained far ahead of others, including the original Telugu version. Released across 6,000 screens nationwide, the film broke the record for any big-ticket Bollywood film for which the highest screen count is typically 4,500-5,000. And while he may currently be Indian cinema’s most hated character as Bhallaladeva, the evil cousin of Baahubali, Rana Daggubati should be credited with making the film a success in Hindi.

“There was a decision taken right at the beginning to make Baahubali a national film, we always wanted to dub it in Hindi and release it properly but were unsure of how to go about it. I was one of the few (team members) who’d worked in Hindi films and understood a bit of the Mumbai industry structure,” said Daggubati, who was a visual effects supervisor and production executive in the south long before he took to acting in 2010 with Telugu film Leader, a political drama that not only garnered box office success but also won the newcomer multiple awards and nominations.

Daggubati also has a lineage to speak of. His paternal grandfather D. Ramanaidu is one of Telugu cinema’s most successful producers having founded film production and distribution company Suresh Productions that Daggubati’s father, Daggubati Suresh Babu, runs. The actor’s paternal uncle Venkatesh and his cousin Naga Chaitanya are also actors in Telugu cinema. Born in Chennai, the film industry child worked as a visual effects coordinator in around 70 films, besides producing National Award-winning Tamil film Bommalata-A Belly Full of Dreams (2004). His acting hits include action drama Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum ( 2012) and epic historical fiction film Rudhramadevi (2015). Daggubati’s Hindi movie debut happened in 2011 with Rohan Sippy’s crime thriller Dum Maaro Dum and he has since followed it up with critically acclaimed outings like Baby (2015).

“Once Rana came on board for Baahubali, we would brainstorm on the different opportunities for the film in India and he would pitch in with his connections and suggestions wherever and whenever possible,” said Shobu Yarlagadda, co-founder and chief executive officer at Arka Mediaworks, the production house behind Baahubali. “He was the bridge between us and Dharma and AA (Anil Thadani’s company), introducing us and the project to them, following up and coordinating meetings and was a regular participant in the promotional plans and positioning of the film in Hindi, especially the first part.” Dharma Productions and AA Films, owned by Karan Johar and Anil Thadani, distributed Baahubali films in the north Indian market.

Daggubati also introduced the Baahubali production team to Spice, the public relations and communications agency for both films.

“Rana’s contribution has definitely gone beyond acting in the film. He has been our most vocal supporter and flag bearer especially in Hindi,” Yarlagadda said. “But having known him personally and professionally, I think he would have done all that he has done even if he was not involved as an actor in this project.”

The reason for that is pretty clear. Many big regional language films have been dubbed in Hindi and have done particularly well on satellite TV, Daggubati said, but for long, have lost out on the opportunity for a proper theatrical release pan-India.

“My father was one of the producers for Eega (Rajamouli’s previous film) and we really believe it was a lost opportunity since it was not given the right platform at that point because we didn’t know any better,” Daggubati said. “With Baahubali, we had taken a call right in the beginning that we’d have the same release date to start with and it should be out there as a single product. One year into the film when we had some material, I reached out to the right partners. It was important that Mumbai had a voice that could speak about the film, since we were not really from the Bollywood industry circle.”

Dharma wasn’t the first door Daggubati knocked on. Most Bollywood corporate studios they approached were still looking at the film as a regular dubbed product, not understanding the scale of Rajamouli’s vision.

“It sounded too far-fetched then, at the end of the day, we were still a regional language and I didn’t have enough visuals to support, only a filmmaker could understand what we were trying to say and obviously though Karan Johar’s own films are very different, he understands great cinema and saw what Baahubali could eventually become,” Daggubati said.

Once on board himself, Johar handed the Baahubali team a list of distributors eventually getting Anil Thadani of AA Films to join.

“The first part, Baahubali: The Beginning, was released with Bajrangi Bhaijaan and theatre owners would obviously go for the bigger film. It was Anil who helped us put the showcasing together in a very solid way. The combination of Karan and Anil really catapulted the film and it was presented well to the Hindi audience,” Daggubati said.

Post Baahubali, Daggubati did the same for his submarine war film The Ghazi Attack, partnering with Dharma Productions and AA Films for a north India release. He said he would be happy to strategize even for other regional films that can deliver nationally, even if they don’t feature him in the lead.

“Nothing has ever stopped regional cinema. Films like Roja and Bombay that Mani sir (Ratnam) made were Tamil films. But in the Hindi auditorium, they were all seen as Hindi films only. After that, there has been no follow-up. There are many more films that could have taken that edge but did not,” Daggubati said. “There is no reason why a story that works in Telugu should not work in Hindi unless it’s really region-specific because ultimately many of those films are remade successfully. So it’s clear that content is travelling.”

The actor, who is currently filming and dubbing two Tamil-Telugu bilinguals, doesn’t see any radical difference between the Hindi and regional industries.

“If you go to the primary level of filmmaking, the madness and method are pretty much the same though Mumbai is a lot more mature in terms of the studio system,” Daggubati said. “I did my first film in Telugu and the second in Hindi so it was always a search for finding newer content. As an actor, right now, I’m trying to do stuff that is nationally relevant. The film will actually define what language it is in as opposed to what career path I can take.”

To be sure, Baahubali has opened the doors for regional filmmakers who were earlier bound by logistic and linguistic hurdles. And while the idea is to make the most of this evolution in any industry, north or south, it is the content that will dictate Daggubati’s decisions.

“I don’t know anything beyond movies,” said the 32-year-old actor who has been in the industry since he was 16. He’s currently writing for some Telugu films besides editing promos.

“I’ve just been growing in the movies and know I’m going to be around for a long time. You have to keep the film bigger than yourself, it’s ultimately an industry of art, you just have to find a way to correctly put the economics together. Baahubali, as a film, is bigger than Rajamouli, Prabhas and all of us put together. We didn’t know we were making such a big film. That story took us wherever we are, so it’s really how you approach things.”

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