'Bahubali,' India's Most Expensive Movie Ever, Gears Up for Launch

Bahubali Baahubali 2 P 2015

The $40 million warrior epic in two parts hopes for pan-Indian appeal with releases in multiple languages and could put the spotlight on Southern India's film industry that is often overshadowed by Bollywood.

India's most expensive film ever, Bahubali, has been described as India's version of Troy, 300 or Hercules, but makers of the $40 million warrior epic insist the movie's heart is all Indian.

Bahubali features superstars Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Anushka Shetty and Tamannaah. The first installment of the two-part epic hits the screens in India on July 10, and the industry will closely watch its performance. Previously, 2011 release Ra.One, co-produced by and starring actor Shah Rukh Khan, was considered India's most expensive film, with an estimated budget of about $27.4 million.

The movie is directed by S.S. Rajamouli, who helmed the blockbusters Magadheera and Eega. The film's creators say that any similarities to Hollywood movie 300  are purely coincidental.

"The idea is to go for an international audience, outside the Indian diaspora. It is always nice to see your movie do well outside your comfort zone, for as many people as possible to see it," producer Shobu Yarlagadda tells THR. He's enlisted big names at events like the Cannes Film Festival to encourage this result, such as Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a former shooter who took a silver medal at the Olympics in 2004.

Bahubali translates as "The One With Strong Arms," and it tells of two warring brothers battling for control of an ancient Indian kingdom.

"The appeal is not just because of the big-budget battle scenes, it's because the emotions are very basic and hard-hitting, so it will appeal to everyone," says Rajamouli.

Bahubali will be released in the Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam languages and was shot in Ramoji studios in Hyderabad. The two-part Bahubali, costing still a fraction of the budgets of Hollywood blockbusters, was made in the Telugu and Tamil languages for the Tollywood and Kollywood markets. But producers have been aggressively marketing the movie as one that will work in other language markets within India as well.

Southern India’s film industries are not as well known as their northern counterparts and are often overshadowed by the country’s much-better-known Hindi-language Bollywood films. But Bahubali is breaking the mold. Telugu and Hindi trailers crossed 1 million views each within 24 hours, and on Facebook the trailer surpassed 1.5 million views, 300,000 likes and 200,000 shares in 24 hours.

Shobu says the original plan was to launch the trailer in front of 30,000 fans in a sports stadium in Hyderabad, but the sheer scale of demand meant the police ordered the event closed.

"We wanted to give a large-screen experience to our fans and so we had a special free half-hour screening between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m on June 1 across 300 screens in the two Telugu-speaking states in India.  Fans turned up in large numbers to watch the trailer, and most of the shows across the 300 screens were full. In fact the theaters had to turn away many fans as they were full," says Shobu.

Indian cinema produces films in 39 languages and dialects. Last year, 216 Hindi or Bollywood movies were released, fewer than the 287 in Tamil and 255 Telugu. Bollywood — centered around the western city of Mumbai — is India’s biggest-grossing movie industry, accounting for $565 million in box-office revenue in 2013. But Tollywood and Kollywood were not far behind, bringing in a total of $468 million combined.