10 Lessons from the Success of S.S. Rajamouli’s Baahubali for Indian Filmmakers

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.

All the best!

The Capra Hyperbole : One Man, One Film

Meet John Doe is nothing short of a triumph of Riskin the individual over Capra the institution.

meet-john-doe

The last day of December demands introspection, and I sense a now all-too-familiar pressure to choose the right words for this end note. The year on the calendar upsets my plans. These plans have now become ‘old plans’; plans that stopped my time a long ago. And to watch Frank Capra now means to freeze this time even further.

Capra’s world is the one of hope—often, the oldest hopes of man. There’s a childlike simplicity that characterizes these men. His women are strong-willed and independent. In this world the greatest villain is self-centeredness. Honesty and kindness come across as something worth striving for, and because you want to believe so. ‘Be nice.’ ‘Be good.’ That seems to be at the heart of his best-known films: It Happened One Night (1934), Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Meet John Doe (1941), among others.

robert-riskin-y-frank-capra
Screenwriter Robert Riskin with director Frank Capra

It’s a shocking discovery then: the voice in these films doesn’t belong to its director Frank Capra. This voice that we admire so much belongs to the writer of his films who could sympathize with the underdogs, who sailed the boats for Columbus but never got their due share of credit or recognition. Sadly, his partnership with the writer of his best films, Robert Riskin, can be described as the relationship that D.B. Norton had with John Doe in Meet John Doe.

Even the choice of the title of Frank Capra’s autobiography, The Name Above The Title, clearly propels his reckless attitude. The star director refused to visit the lowly writer who was slowly dying in a hospital. Throughout his life, Capra attempted to shroud the genius of the great scenarist. The truth is that Capra eschewed the funeral of a man whose creative vision and distinct voice was widely mistaken to be Capra’s own. Nothing could be more ironical for the man who reaffirms the Christian doctrine of forgiveness in his works.

Robert Riskin seems to have no problem with accepting the true nature of the director-writer relationship in the studio era. Riskin helped to set up the Screen Writers’ Guild and fought as a screenwriter for the screenwriters, and the fight still continues. Riskin needed Capra as much as Capra needed him, or any writer needs a director unless they are both one. The collaboration, between the man with an idea and the man with the means to sustain it, couldn’t be less lopsided:

                        JOHN DOE
Do you mean to tell me you’d try to kill the John Doe movement
if you can’t use it to get what you want?
                      D.B. NORTON
You bet your bottom dollar we would!

Such a reading of Meet John Doe’s text then adds an autobiographical quality, on Riskin’s part, to this last collaboration. And it seems Meet John Doe is nothing short of a triumph of Riskin the individual over Capra the institution. Yet it cannot be denied that the brief marriage between Riskin’s idealism and Capra’s pragmatism was responsible for the birth of some of the finest classics in Hollywood.

In the beginning of the last year or was it the year before that, I left the oblivion of a film that I had co-written to return to the oblivion of advertising. The oblivion grows on you, no matter whether you’re a director-in-the-making or a director who’s made many films.  Capra did his best films with Riskin, and Riskin did his with Capra. On the first viewing, a Capra film is a dialog film—hence a Riskin film. It’s all drama, and then when you keep playing back your favorite scenes over and again, you begin to notice the mise-en-scène. Capra clearly knew how to translate the text on to the silver screen, and all so well. Only if he were less ‘mean.’

Postscript from In Capra’s Shadow: The Life and Career of Screenwriter Robert Riskin by Ion Scott:

Jo Swerling, a mutual friend and colleague of Riskin and Capra, and himself a wonderful Hollywood screenwriter, once paced around Riskin’s wheelchair while he was ill, complaining that Capra’s reluctance to visit his old friend was just not right. In the end, however, Riskin lost his temper with Swerling and revealed a deep-seated loyalty to his former partner by dismissing what seemed to be a reasonable claim with the comment, “You’re talking about my best friend.”

Also published on MoiFightClub on Jan 6, 2012

Being Charlie Kaufman

ee cummings: To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.

charlie-kaufman

“Here’s a recent quote that I found: ‘we do not talk, we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines and digests,’. That was actually written in 1945 by Henry Miller, and I think it’s timely. I think what it says is that the world has been on its present course it’s on for a long time. People all over the world spend countless hours of their lives, every week, being fed entertainment in the form of movies, tv shows, newspapers, YouTube videos, the internet. And it’s ludicrous to believe that this stuff doesn’t alter our brains.

“And it’s also equally ludicrous to believe that at the very least this mass distraction and manipulation is not convenient for the people who are in charge. People are starving, they may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking ‘what can we do to get people to buy more of these?’.

“And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making, they’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now, politics and government are built on this, corporations are built on this. Interpersonal relationships are built on this, and we’re starving, all of us, and we’re killing each other, and we’re hating each other, and we’re calling each other liars and evil because it’s all become marketing and we want to win because we’re lonely and empty and scared and we’re led to believe winning will change all that. But there is no winning.

“What can be done? Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time, it can’t help but be. But more importantly if you’re honest about who you are you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognise him or herself in you and that will give them hope. It’s done so for me, and I have to keep rediscovering it, its profound importance in my life. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world, don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Try not to.

“This is from ee cummings: ‘to be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting’. The world needs you, it doesn’t need you at a party having read a book about how to appear smart at parties – these books exist, and they’re tempting – but resist falling into that trap, the world needs you at the party starting real conversations, saying ‘I don’t know,’ ….being kind. (link)

Resources Online:

On Charlie Rose (Part I & II) (17 min)
On Synecdoche, life, work (with Tom Tangney) (17 min)
On writing, television years (Thinktalk) (12 min)
Charlie Kaufman On Being — And Directing (NPR– audio) (30 min)

Read:

Wikipedia
Being Charlie Kaufman (Salon)
Interview with Kaufman (Bluntreview)
BFI – Screenwriters Lecture Series  (Close-Up Film)
Anurag Kashyap’s notes Kaufman’s master class