It doesn’t matter whether you are living a sheltered life in a valley, or struggling to scrape a living in exile, the war always finds brutal and ingenious ways to come to your home or school. I wrote “Kohram – The Wailing” at the height of the people’s war in the Himalayan territories, before the red rebels signed a comprehensive peace accord with the ruling parties in 2005. Already in my late teens, I covered those turbulent years as a young citizen journalist and blogger, writing and reporting for my blog (now private), “Kathmandu Speaks,” national and foreign publications. Two years later, I would decide to quit journalism, and leave the city in which I grew up to become a lifelong student of arts, technology, film. Wow, it’s been quite an incredible journey!
S.S. Rajamouli’s epic blockbuster Baahubali has energized and inspired a whole new generation of young, emerging and established filmmakers in India and beyond. These are ten lessons for those of you who want to think big and strong, and make your own Baahubali:
1. Make your film in your own language.
You don’t need to make a film in Hindi to win big. Yes, you can make your film in your own language, for your own people. We can always dub later or deploy subtitles, and still reach the maximum number of audiences not only in India but around the world.
2. Work on your visuals. Minimize dialog.
Baahubali relies on memorable visual spectacles – not witty or punchy dialogs. And it makes sense. If you are making a film in your own language, please do us, who don’t speak your language a favor, by telling the story through moving pictures i.e. visual storytelling.
3. Spill blood. Build suspense, and end with an intrigue.
In one of his interviews, the Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman said that he builds his films with a mood—whether happiness, sadness, a sense of defeat or loneliness—which he wants to capture. The whole movie then is an exercise to arrive to the exact emotional state where the audience could experience that mood again.
In an epic movie like Baahubali, we see different moods for different scenes, but the overall theme of the hero’s quest overwhelms them all. We want to know why the hero’s family is facing a crisis. We want to know whether, when and how the hero returns to face his enemies. The first film starts with killings, and ends with the same—the hero kills people without a moment of hesitation or regret. Which brings me to my next point.
4. Don’t overthink your story or narrative arc.
Keep it simple. Follow the simple three-act structure: beginning, middle and end, with some lazy flash backs thrown in between. That’s it.
You can’t make a movie like Baahubali if you start bothering about how to reinvent the wheel or breaking new ground, or lose your sleep over deep, philosophical or academic questions or issues like whether this is the hero that people deserve. Is this hero a man of conscience, or a man so blinded by love or lust that he will do anything for the wants and needs of his woman?
5. Make sure people can count on you to deliver.
Go out of the box, each time, to create a massive blockbuster. Even though I hadn’t seen S. S. Rajamouli films before Baahubali—I don’t get to see many movies these days—I had heard about him from many friends.
If you dream to make a movie that’s big and global, your work begins now! Every film, whether short or long, every script, is a step toward that most-anticipated event in the history of cinema which you dream to create. Be professional and careful in how you handle your career. Rome wasn’t built in a day; your brand, and reputation is no different. If people can count on you to deliver, you can get your Baahubali made.
6. Focus on your story—don’t focus on the market trends.
Be aware of the trend, but slave for your story and vision. Pursue a great story, not money or celebrity. That’s what S.S. Rajamouli always did: he has always been a good storyteller.
7. Show business sense and economic maturity. Filmmaking is fucking expensive.
The total budget for Baahubali, the beginning and conclusion, was above 400 crores. The producers said they didn’t make enough money on the first film, and are hoping to cash in on the success of the second movie, and the Baahubali franchise.
Think about the high stakes, how many people’s livelihoods depend on you, and on this project that will keep you and them employed for years, and for the producers you will keep in business. If you want to make a Baahubali, you gotta man up and embrace the realities and limitations of working in the film industry—you can’t do it alone. Don’t fuck it up in the name of god of art or something, or whosoever the fuck is your idea of the ultimate filmmaker.
8. Find friends; connect with people.
Get your name out there now by finding and connecting with the right people. So how do you find the right people? It’s very simple. Don’t waste time around people who have neither time, nor a word of advice or encouragement for you or your projects; find people who inspire you, who fuel your energy, and help you move forward whether by their words of encouragement, free lunch or freelance gigs. And the same rule applies to you: hone your skills, collaborate, contribute to other people’s projects. Help them turn their vision into reality, and hopefully they will see you as a reliable comrade, and come to your rescue in your times of need.
9. Don’t forget movie making is a slow and arduous process.
Baahubali took five years, probably more, to materialize from concept to execution. I’ve known really talented people who have given years to a project. To survive the long period of isolation, where now and then you feel like you are wasting your life, where absolutely nothing happens, to manage and control the pain, the angst and anxieties of the creative business, you need close family and friends. So don’t push them way. It’s time to leave your cave, join a healthy collective, make comrades, and go for that big hunt of your life that people are going to remember till the end of our times.
10. Become a great person, and not just a great or successful filmmaker.
You watch S.S. Rajamouli’s film like Eega or Baahubali, and you know it’d be an honor to meet him in person! The way he handles his characters’ emotions and conflicts with care and patience, tells us a lot about him, I think, as a person. You watch his interviews and you cannot not like him.
I’ll be honest—I can complain about many technical and story aspects of Baahubali and his other films. But I don’t think it’ll do us any good. I like his stories—there was a time when I couldn’t stop complaining about every story. These days, I judge films from the standard the filmmakers have set for themselves than my own.
I hope Baahubali will do some good in the world—it’s already done a lot of good by inspiring a whole new generation to think big and epic. But it’s only when we start working toward becoming a better person, I think, that we start finally contributing to the society, country or the world in meaningful ways, and the universe conspires to assist you.
I have always believed in the luck of hard work. And the hardest work is to keep working on yourself, your thinking and actions; unlearning what you’ve learnt, and be willing to learn again. Don’t forget a great movie is the result of your never-ending creative tussles, memorable experiences, and hard-earned, life-affirming insights.
That’s it from me. What are other lessons or insights that you could think of from S.S. Rajamouli’s Baahubali? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below, here or on Youtube, or tweet them to me @salik.
Need help with your short, ad, corporate, feature films or web series? I’m available for consulting, planning and development, screenwriting, production, editing and direction: salik.shah@gmail[dot]com.
Mithila is a glorious kingdom ruled by philosopher kings in the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. Millennia later, say in an alternate universe, it’s a decolonized terrain beset with intolerance and violence, a symbol of a civilization in decline.
Science fiction and fantasy that draws its power from actual science and history—a scientific spirit based on evidence, logic and rationality—could be a fluid and powerful language of protest in the new era of demagogues; science fiction could be a new language of awakening and enlightenment in the post-truth world. This was the core belief around which Ajapa and I built Mithila Review, a new kind of open journal with an inherently global bent in an increasing privatized and closed world.
Mithila Review grew out of our innermost fears, needs and concerns. We wanted to counter the growing climate of hate and injustice that surround us, and we knew we couldn’t do it alone, from an invisible, electrified patch of our planet. From the beginning, it was self-evident that we couldn’t hope to win against our enemy—the ideology of segregation and hate—without recognizing, addressing, or overcoming the many differences within and outside SF communities.
We chose to stubbornly believe that Mithila, as a referent, could speak to the times when we have felt that we don’t quite belong; when we liberated our anger and pain in ways that have fed the creative river within us. It’s been deeply gratifying to see that we were not wrong in our belief. Flash-forward a year, Mithila Review is a beautiful example of what we can accomplish together; it’s the result of a global mindset and collective effort. With contributors from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, Mithila Review has evolved into a global platform for a spectacular gamut of humanity—not a single language, gender or race, its singular tribes or colorful nationalities.
A Brand New Anime Series From the Makers of Badass Buddha
Zig flickers against the static wind, resisting the strong pull of the Furnace, a dark skeletal figure sucks the blood off the horizon. The contour of Zig’s body vibrates like strings. All around him the phantom city falls to eerie shambles while the wordcreatures feed on the radiation off the glowing abyss down where the asphalt road ends and the heart of the Furnace begins.
Awakened like wrath of the god with a million eyes, the Furnace rumbles and shakes the earth like a kamikaze bomber. A spear of black light, emitting hatred, turning into radiation, rise to pierce the starry veil of the night sky, followed by an ear-splitting boom. The first wave of the dark light cracks Zig’s chest, knocking him off his feet on the charred ground. Hungrily, the Furnace scorches everything—man obsessed with his machines, women with their décor magazines, children working on models of rockets and spaceships—that lay on its path, extending from its reactor-heart to edge of the island coast, a dead mass unmoored from its orbit, drifting aimlessly until it settled in a new course, if not worse.
“Come, Kid,” says Boar, the leader of the sounder. His body a smooth bump against the raggedy landscape. “Offshore safe and pretty, let us go.”
So Zig follows the snorting succession of the boars, trailing each other like holy monks, their hooves barely touching the charred ground. He still feels it was wrong to leave the city in ruins. “We could start rebuilding.”
“Can’t, Zig,” Boar says. “Worse than poison, the dark force; nay, it doesn’t kill. Wordcreatures shine, glow, and then p-u-f-f—boars or not, out like shooting stars everything goes.”
Boar is right, of course. He is a radiating halo among other death stars. Every second they stay on the coast, they grow more dependent on the evil force—the radiation is corrupting something within them, and they know it. Perhaps their soul.
“We swim to the new island,” Boar says. “Build home. Come now.”
Reality is always difficult to recreate. The boy who dreamt of these worlds lies entombed by a planet.
The curator projects the hand-drawn cartoons stored on a micro-ship on a giant white screen aboard Yama IV. A thick wall of light, modified aluminium and carbon shield them from the vast burning cold of the space outside.
We change a few details here and there, lift source materials and transpose them in worlds that we build.
“I was better off dead,” Zig declares, raggedy and torn, bending time and space and pulsating everything about him like a teenager. “You wake horrible and wicked things with wordmagic.”
“Harmless Zig,” asks Boar, “What wicked things?”
“The Furnace,” he replies. “You soak and scrub the air and water, but it’s no use.”
“We feed on radiation without getting eaten up. Isn’t that enough?”
“Not for every wordcreature.”
“You have a plan?” Boar feigns interest.
“Something like it.”
“You don’t know a thing.”
“What did I miss?”
“The whole point,” the boar snorts, his back turned against the grim coast. “We’re deader than dead, and everything on this coast. The coast yonder and beyond. We all ghosts here on a phantom planet. One big hell.”
The curator is a short man in his fifties with taut features of Asian stock. His audience is fifteen something.
Hiro was four, he said, when he first saw a boar in the wild. They had trapped the boar for a relative’s housewarming party. It was a huge menacing beast with sharp rows of grating teeth, save for its clown ears and snout. They put the poor beast in a cage in the back of their van, which would later reek of urine and shit and fear.
You have seen green-blue egg picture of Earth. Pretty, yes, from long distance. But closer you went, the filth shot at you. The innards of the cities were filthy, ugly—much like it is today.
The curator pauses for effect.
They slaughtered the boar for the party later that evening, but Hiro couldn’t bring himself to eat it. Next morning he went back, gathered the mess of hair and scattered bones in the boar-pelt, and buried it in a hole in the riverbank. Afterwards, he moved to the city to study arts, and apprenticed to a popular animator of his time. You probably already know that story.
Years later, when he returned to the village to scatter his father’s ashes in the Lai River, he saw the ruins of a tall and spent brick furnace, where he had once buried the remains of the boar, preserved by a tangle of weeds and grass. Old memories shook him like cold waves of the sea.
There were big holes along the riverbank. But the river had long changed its course, and then dried up. He could count the inhabitants of the village on his fingers, he said. Young people like him didn’t want to live there anymore. So they moved to the big cities. The whole place was almost deserted. The shocking clarity of the moment, he said, became the basis for the film that we just saw, and his subsequent fantasies. You can’t erase or incinerate that sort of childhood encounter from your being, the place where no instrument of man can reach.
We don’t know much about the circumstances of Hiro’s father’s death. But I tend to believe their relationship was similar to the one the boy has with the boar in this film. We are a million years away from Earth, but we can still experience the emotions that were the basis of his work. That is genius—a gift of humanity, which we carry with us, within each one of us as our common inheritance.
Cut to Zig swimming back to the old coast with a dark shadow. A blue and red line of ghosts bound with tattoo spells protects the Furnace from wordcreatures. The skeletal beasts look less intimidating than the towering figure itself, rising hundreds of feet above the ground, daring the Sacred Buddhas to confront it. Gathering courage, Zig steps inside the line of spell, and begins to turn to dust, white as children’s bones and teeth. Slowly, the dust gathers and moulds, and takes the shape of a boar. Every cursed spirit that comes near him transforms—their skin no longer appear inked or incriminated.
“They are now free from the cycle of karma,” the curator informs his rapt audience.
Soon more animated boars arrive at the scene. “Kid, you done it,” their leader snorts. The boar kid smiles as he leads them to the massive heart of the radiating monster. They lick and soak all the waste and ionizing heat. When they return outside, the first green saplings curl and breach the reclaimed territory. “Welcome to postcalypto!”
Now old seeds buried deep within the breasts of the ocean drift ashore, followed by a rapid-motion of a new wave of evolution. The red-green vegetation encroaches the rim of the coast, and then the Furnace. The first saplings touch the spirits freed by Zig, and they start to lift toward the sky as if propelled by life—“pure energy,” Boar calls it—with calm and grateful expression on their round, blanched faces.
All the boars huddle around Zig, the boar-kid, as they snort and watch the spirits leave, without a trace of contempt or envy.
“They are Bodhisattvas,” the curator intervenes, “All of them bound together by suffering.”
The crowd bursts into a loud applause when he turns back the light.
“Thank you,” the curator starts. “We’ll now open to the floor.”
Manokamana – Poetry on Film Series #4
Title: Report, Length: 45 seconds
Language: Nepali, Subtitles: English, Nepali
I don’t remember exactly when I wrote this short poem. “Report” is about the relationship we have as poets and artists with the country we choose to take refuge in, build a home, serve. It’s about the desire to see peace and prosperity flourish in the lands we traverse, be it our own or foreign. It’s about the collective failure of a people, a nation, which has become a Salusa Secundus of the modern world. (more…)
Become a space traveler, star trekker and adventurer for a few minutes!
“Instructions for Astronauts” appears in April 2017 issue of Mithila Review, an international science fiction and fantasy magazine. Written by Michael Janairo in nine parts, it’s about our destiny—humanity’s epic journey through time and space. What is this form? Is it art, poetry, film? You decide, please!
It was a stroke of good luck. I was a struggling writer/filmmaker in Mumbai — or more appropriately for the theme of struggle, “Bombay”— when I discovered this wonderful poem by Bhagwati Charan Verma in my niece’s NCERT textbook in 2010. And I knew immediately that “Deewano Ki Hasti” was going to be the single most defining poem of my life. (more…)