Last night, after a heart-wrenching conversation with a childhood friend regarding an anti-Gorkhaland signature campaign, I tweeted: New Delhi needs to understand its supremacist attitude towards its neighbors takes an intellectual and emotional toll on genuinely simple, good-hearted people.
I didn’t fully realize what was actually happening until I saw some new threads on my timeline. Sadly, Nepali people are now fighting “Nepali” people outside their border. Secretly they are still mourning the loss of their Greater Nepal after losing the Gurkha war (1814-1816), and there has been a deep-seated resentment against people living in these territories since: “How could they? Traitors!” It’s a tragedy to see how fragile and touchy Nepali nationalism is, how their corrupt and self-centered body politic is so easily threatened by the demands for dignity, equality and freedom, be it within their own country or beyond. (more…)
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.
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…)
Field Notes: A photograph from my debut poetry reading at the Partition Museum project – Oxford Bookstore in Delhi / August 2016
War deadens you; street hardens you. I’ve seen boys beaten to pulp, and could do nothing to help them. I’ve come this close to getting smashed, cut or shot, and during those darkest moments of rage, considered violence, its violent delights. Art saved me. Somehow I would end up pouring all that vengefulness and anger, fear and blood, into whatever I was doing at the moment: drawing, journaling, poetry, screenwriting. And find peace. A kind of solace. (more…)
Apart from excellent poetry, fiction and essays, Issue 7 of Mithila Review features my interview with Hugo-winning Chinese author Cixin Liu (translated by Shaoyan Hu), roundtable discussions on the state of speculative fiction in Czech Republic and Latin America!
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Cover Illustration: “Enclosed” by Ashim Shakya, from Issue 4 of Mithila Review.
In my new Strange Horizons column, I talk about Geoff Ryman’s story that inspired the Mithila Review / Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy project and my earliest forays into SF as a reader. My childhood revolved around comics and other things but none as vital and transfixing as some of the stories in “Perilous Journey,” a high school textbook edited by Northrop Frye and W. T. Jewkes in 1973. It was a miracle of a book for me. Then there were McLuhan and Gibson, the two towering influences in my life even before I knew it.
I plugged into a mind-space that couldn’t exist in the real world ever since I coded my first website as a pre-teen in the late 90s. The “cyberspace” offered me an escape from the hard truth of reality and violence that was going on all around me. I remain t/here even as I’m still confined, physically, to the fringes of the “empire” that is Anglo-American. That’s why, I think, Ryman’s work means so much to me. But I didn’t know yet which “genre” I belonged to when I thought and pitched my films during my early 20s. Now that I know there is a language in which I exist, I’m truly grateful.