Besides inspiring an entire generation of future filmmakers who would tell others that they first decided to make movies as they watched The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy, the Peter Jackson directed series also set a new standard for the perfect Indian mythological-fantasy. The chase for the elusive Hindi masterpiece in the genre became more pronounced once S.S. Rajamouli’s Baahubali became a runaway success. A lot changed in-between the three LOTR films and Rajamouli’s Baahubali in terms of technology and the magnitude of telling a costume drama compelling enough, however, the one thing that has remained the same is popular Hindi cinema’s failure to materialise this dream. While the status-quo continues, a significant piece of news about a proposed rupees 600 cr live-version Ramayana rumoured to be helmed by Nitish Tiwari with Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone as the celestial leads could finally shake things up.
Although no formal announcement has appeared regarding the film’s casting as apparently the project is still in the conceptual stages, the grapevine was also abuzz with Prabhas playing Ravana in the film. There has been enough talk about the proposed project, which would be a trilogy with both Nitish Tiwari and Ravi Udyawar, who directed Mom, calling the shots, and the film would be in three languages Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Although neither Roshan nor Padukone have confirmed the project, there’s also been some news about Shraddha Kapoor and not Padukone playing the role of Goddess Sita. This could probably have to do with Kapoor’s recently released Chhichhore that was also directed by Tiwari. Madhu Mantena, Allu Aravind and Namit Malhotra will produce the film that would be 3D and would also feature actors from the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, and Punjabi film industries.
In the last two decades there has been much talk about a big-budgeted mythological film made on a scale that would do justice to the stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana. In the early 2000s the possibility of Rajkumar Santoshi directing a 100-150 cr Mahabharata began to do the rounds and fans couldn’t help but join the ride with speculative castings. Some said that Sunny Deol had agreed to play Karana while Sanjay Dutt was being imagined as Duryodhana, as well as Amitabh Bachchan as Bhishma, Aishwarya Rai as Draupadi, Arjun Ramphal (Arjuna), Naseeruddin Shah (Dhritarashtra), Dushshasan (Salman Khan) and Amrish Puri (Dronacharya). For years the Santoshi film was in planning stages, but ultimately nothing came out of it.
Similarly, Karan Johar was said to have been keen on making a trilogy on Amish’s bestseller Shiva series. Johar had bought the rights from Amish Tripathi and wanted to adapt ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ with Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone in the lead but a few years later when the film couldn’t get off the ground, Johar surrendered the rights of the book. Then there were rumours about Sanjay Leela Bhansali picking up the thread with Roshan poised to play Lord Shiva. As of now, the project seems to be stuck in development hell.
The reason why such tentpole mythological-fantasy films are not able to take off could also have to do with the sheer scale. When it comes to epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata, most filmmakers are unable to think rationally. Everything has to be big and for that, the popular cinema in India, especially the Hindi film industry, can’t seem to look past the traditional ‘star.’ Last year, the prospect of a big-budget Mahabharata bankrolled by Mukesh Ambani with Aamir Khan being the driving force had also started to do the rounds. Khan, who was said to have been keen on playing Krishna, backed out of several projects including the Rakesh Sharma biopic to concentrate on the project. Although there has been no significant development on that front in the past few months, yet another 1000 cr Mahabharata venture with Mohanlal playing Bheema started with enthusiasm but then lost steam.
The level of execution would require big bucks and coupled with the fee that a star such as Roshan or the Khans would charge makes the film a not so worthy business proposition. Moreover, the big-budget would also put pressure on the producer to think of recovering the money. Thanks to Baahubali, the need for a star to frontline well-executed mythology has been done away. The arrival of platforms such as Netflix, too, has allowed producers to look beyond the traditional theatrical revenue to break even. In that aspect, the ideal way to execute a Ramayana or a Mahabharata on the big screen lies somewhere in-between The Lord of the Rings and Baahubali where the content is the king and not the typical star. With Baahubali, the mythological-fantasy genre has attained a hallowed status but is it viable to have ₹600 cr budget for a live-action Ramayana remains to be seen.