When it arrives in theatres this week, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion will become only the third Indian film to release in the IMAX format. Following Dhoom 3 (2013) and Bang Bang! (2014), there’s been a long hiatus on part of the Indian filmmakers to showcase their films in IMAX theatres. However, SS Rajamouli’s incredibly lavish epic could well rejuvenate the lukewarm fortunes of the IMAX experience in India.
Larger than life
Reportedly filmed at a budget of over 200 crores, with outrageously large sets, grand war scenes, and extensive CGI work, Baahubali 2 appears tailor-made for IMAX. “From the first time I saw an IMAX film in a theatre in Hyderabad, I used to dream of making a film on the IMAX camera, and offer such a grand experience,” says Rajamouli. “I am a big fan of large screen entertainment and even my films are about larger than life stories and characters.”
Although Rajamouli’s film hasn’t been shot on an IMAX camera — which is exceptionally expensive to operate — it has been digitally re-mastered by IMAX using its proprietary technology. Walt Cho, Director of Marketing and Distribution for IMAX in Asia Pacific explains how IMAX is a part of the filmmaking process and vision from the very beginning: “We offer an end-to-end solution and work closely with filmmakers or studios during the film development process, unlike standard cinema theatres that simply show the final product in halls.”
IMAX films offer a better experience to movie lovers for a number of reasons and Cho insists that a larger screen size is probably the least of them. Although positioned initially as the largest screen experience — IMAX stands for Image Maximum — IMAX quickly realised the challenges of focusing only on the screen size. Not every auditorium, after all, is capable of hosting a 90-feet wide screen. Instead, the company has spent the last few years perfecting their proprietary technology and convincing cinema partners and filmmakers that the IMAX experience cannot be matched by standard theatres.
Emphasis on quality
“I’m not sure why people are hung up on size so much,” says Cho. “We have a dual-projection system and our systems provide 60% more brightness, 30% more contrast, and better image saturation. Our technology is built from the ground up so the re-mastered image is also the highest quality you can get. The sound is also re-mixed. We offer an end-to-end solution by working with filmmakers from the beginning and create the experience that they want you to have.”
In addition, IMAX closely controls the entire environment in which films are screened, including the design of the auditorium, and the dimensions and curvature of the screen. The proprietary sound system is designed to complement the richness of the image on the screen. In effect, image maximum, has evolved now to imply maximum experience.
Rajamouli agrees that it’s not just about the size of the screen: “We look at the aspect ratio, as well as the sound, and see how they work together to create a better experience.” Has Baahubali 2 been shot on an even more lavish scale to cater to the IMAX experience? Rajamouli insists that’s the wrong question to ask. Effectively, the film is not a sequel. It’s merely the second part of a story that could not be told in a single film. “It’s like your grandmother starts telling you a story and you fall asleep. Then when you wake up and ask her to continue the story, you don’t ask her whether the story is going to be bigger. This film was part of one continuous development and everything was set right from the time we shot the first film.”
IMAX has seen surprisingly slow growth in film-crazy India. “We thought we would have a network of ten theatres when Dhoom 3 released three years ago. But it’s actually at ten now,” says Cho. In comparison, China is host to around 300 IMAX theatres. Russia has 50. A number of factors have contributed to IMAX’s difficulties in India. “It’s a chicken and egg problem. There are a number of variables that are out of our control, such as business permits and licences. But we’re being patient in finding the right partners while expanding. We believe there’s a lot of potential, especially in Tier 3 and Tier 4 markets where IMAX thrives and can actually become a lifestyle choice”
In April 2016, IMAX signed a five-theatre deal with INOX, a movie exhibition chain. The first of those theatres opened at R-City, Ghatkopar in Mumbai. The next one opens in Bangalore, followed by another in Delhi. Surprisingly, the northern region barely has an IMAX presence. The only IMAX theatre in the entire region is at PVR Logix, Noida which opened about a year ago.
Further expansion will largely depend on how Indian films take to the IMAX experience. Cho believes that Rajamouli is a filmmaker who belongs to the tradition of grand filmmaking espoused by directors such as Christopher Nolan whose upcoming film Dunkirk has largely been shot on IMAX cameras. In a way, Baahubali 2 not only needs to answer why Katappa killed Baahubali, but also whether IMAX will enjoy a rosy future in India.