Bollywood returns to mythologies
New Delhi: Earlier this week, filmmaker Imtiaz Ali announced a project on the epic love story of Radha and Krishna. Not too long ago, director Kunal Kohli had disclosed details of his next film—a take on the Ramayana titled Ramyug, even as a three-part trilingual on the Ramayana has also been announced by producers Allu Aravind, Madhu Mantena and Namit Malhotra. Malayalam superstar Mohanlal has confirmed playing a role in a big-budget take on the Mahabharata, while Baahuabli director S.S Rajamouli was reported to be interested in a film adaptation of the same starring Aamir Khan though there hasn’t been a formal announcement on that yet.
To be sure, mythology was a Bollywood favourite years ago with films like Ram Rajya (1943), Mahabharat (1965) and Jai Santoshi Maa (1975). The industry abandoned the trope in favour of more contemporary themes but it seems to be slowly making a comeback because of the opportunity it offers.
“The mythological space is vast and unlimited, we’re talking about our culture which is so rich and there are so many stories to draw from and so many life lessons that still remain relevant that it’s not possible for anyone to make the entire text (into a film),” Kohli said. “There are so many ways of looking at the epics, so many smaller parts of bigger stories that you can take, so different chapters can be adapted which will make it even more interesting for the audience because they’ll get to experience so much more.”
But unlike television that has long demonstrated its love for mythologies, cinema’s distance from it may be attributed to specific factors.
“Mythology is a space that cinema just left for television, and TV has been doing a good job of it. Also, all the mythologicals that have worked in the past have all been with fresher faces which tend to connect more as the character as opposed to a star. And films have always been a star-driven industry. So once you start putting in all the star prices and the visual effects, the budgets may possibly start looking a little unviable,” Kohli explained.
But that is slowly changing. As is obvious, the biggest advantage of mythological films remains their grand, visual appeal, a trend that is increasingly catching on in Bollywood as the key to drive audiences to theatres particularly after the success of the blockbuster Baahubali franchise. While the Mohanlal film is reportedly pegged at Rs. 1,000 crore, Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema said none of the other films would cost less than Rs. 150 crore on an average. Even the television mythological series cost Rs. 75 lakhs- Rs. 1 crore per episode, higher than the Rs. 45-50 lakhs per episode for a regular show.
“Till now, in India, we haven’t invested big money in subjects unless they were backed by big stars. I think after Baahubali (which itself was a re-telling of the Mahabharata), the market has opened up and we’re more ready to invest in stories,” said VA Shrikumar, director of Mohanlal’s Mahabharata. “Of course, a mythological will be opulent and superior visual effects will warrant investment.”
Shrikumar added Indian audiences today are exposed to global content thanks to video-on-demand streaming platforms like Netflix and expect the same production quality in local offerings. And while these are ancient epics, there is no doubt about their universal appeal.
“The surprise to me is we did not make more movies on mythology,” said Amish Tripathi, author of the Shiva Trilogy and the Ram Chandra Series. “We’re the last surviving major ancient culture, and one of the reasons for it is that we simply refuse to forget our stories and still believe in them. And which Indian, regardless of caste, religion or language does not like to hear stories of our Gods? The interpretations could be different but there is appeal for everyone.”
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