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Bobby Bedi plans the Mahabharata

The Slime of India (I know, I know) is running an article about Bobby Bedi’s (of Bandit Queen, Fire and Saathiya fame) plans for his next project after The Rising
: an ambitious three-film retelling of the Mahabharata.

Now, I’m sure Bedi can pile on the creative talent — Maniratnam, arguably one of India’s finest directors, will apparently be at the helm — but what interests me at this stage is the budget for the trilogy (Rupees 300 crores, approximately US $70 million) and his stated desire to create a ‘historic’ epic with production values similar to that of The Lord of the Rings.

Interestingly, $70M would make this the most expensive Indian movie venture ever, with Devdas at $10M a distant second. Bedi obviously hopes for a long and lucrative run in foreign theatres and in DVD sales, because the biggest Indian hit so far — Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (HAHK) — made not more than $30M after a marathon year-long stint at the box office. Of course, in Bedi’s favour is the fact that the Mahabharata will find a ready market when dubbed into various Indian languages, as also in DVD collections across the country. Obviously the producer will be hoping for a HAHK-style blowout in the very first film that’ll ensure audiences can’t stay away from the other two. On the other hand, sequels have never done well in India.

Of course, an open question would be how well the scriptwriters and the director balance Indian tastes in drama (which tends towards the melodramatic) with Bedi’s goal of taking the epic to the ‘American, British [and] Japanese’.

A bigger question is about production values. One reason Bollywood films look relatively unpolished is because a greater chunk of the budget goes into paying off the stars without who no big-budget Bollywood feature is complete. As the article says, Bedi is looking at casting not one but two A-list actors (Shahrukh and Aamir Khan) and an A-list actress, who together will eat into at least 10% of the budget. The question is therefore: can Bedi get LoTR-level gloss into three films for the money it took to make the Matrix?

As I’ve written before, great effects on small budgets have been done before: Crouching Tiger took $12M to make, for example, and 28 Days Later took $8M. But the limitations of those movies compared to the big FX films are apparent, and so are the budgets. The Titanic sank in $300M, The Matrix weighed in at a relative shoestring $65M and LoTR, made in New Zealand to cut cost and making use of extensive digital technology for its FX, needed $270M to recreate Middle-Earth on the silver screen.

Can diminishing digital costs, the availability of Massive and Massive-like packages, filming in India and using Indian post-production staff create the same FX quality for a third of the cost? As an FX geek I’m not holding my breath, but it would be great if good FX let Indian filmmakers think outside the boy-meets-girl box. And I’m sure Hollywood would love to add India to Mexico, Australia and now New Zealand as a low-cost destination for making movies.

4 July 2005 8:21 am

22 Responses to “Bobby Bedi plans the Mahabharata”

  1. Karthik Says:

    Wow, that sounds cool but kinda spooky - people have a hard time sticking to the elements of truth in adaptations, I wonder how this would be. Oh, ofcourse, they would not be changing all that much because it’s a mythology and folks would be up in arms and stuff, but I cringe at the thought of giving someone more attitude or having a well-known cast. But then again, you never know. With our folks, it’s hard to say any thing.

  2. Satyajit Dilip Says:

    Lets look into the elements that will go into making this movie.Production wise it will have to be on a huge budget to match the scale of the LOTR.Mani Ratnam as the director will change the style of story.Ratnam is know for making realistic and simple movies with his immeditable cinematic style that has inspired present film makers.His muse A R Rahman who will propbably compose the music is already flooded with a string of period films and how different his music for his mentor’s film will have to wait and hear.Bedi should probably look to a foreign team who will helm this project in terms of production wise in order to ceate the same effect as that of the LOTR.At the end of the day, its a good film that makes us go to the theatres and not the star or the budget of the film.We all wish Mr. Bedi luck for his next project ‘The Rising’ commercial sucess.

  3. manj Says:

    excellent idea to make mahabharta.bedi sir will need help from hollywood or japanease production artists to make the sets and background for the film.it should not look cheap.mani ratnam is not the right director. it should be jp dutta,rajiv rai or sanjay gupta. they have got class to direct big films.

  4. Raja Says:

    I cannot think of anyone better than Mani Ratnam. J.P.Dutta, Rajiv Rai & Sanjay Gupta may be good directors but they are nowhere near Ratnam’s league. Dutta tends to make dramatically sentimental films. Anyone remember L.O.C? Rai and Gupta are more suited for stylish action films. Epics are not their speciality. Only Ratnam is capable of making epic scale films. His Dil Se was poetry in motion. Despite having only a budget of 12 crores, he managed to create a film that looked double its budget. That’s what the Mahabaratha needs. Ratnam has the skill to focus on both story and artistic visuals without going overdramatic, something which not many Indian directors are capable of. Bedi does not need Hollywood technicians except for the special effects department. There are many excellent technicians in India itself e.g. Santosh Sivan & A.R.Rahman.

  5. sunny Says:

    hmmm mahabhartha shouldn’t look like a cheap film with its sets. so the film 100% needs tecnicians from abroad. im in mumbai i know thers no such technicians who could do the job. as for director and the camera work it should be really big. i mean it should have excellent camera work something like lord of the rings for sure.director mani ratnam is a small director he would not be able to handle the huge star cast and the crew. his films are just slow and simple not much camera work. dil se was good but boring. it flopped.roja also had slow pace. the film should have impact and entertainment. bedi ji has not finalised mani ratnam as yet. maybe vidu vinod chopra, shekhar kapur, or ram gopal verma. in casts i think sanjay dutt,salman khan,suniel shetty,bobby deol should be there. i guarantee shahrukh will never do the film.

  6. rahul roy Says:

    director should be shehkar kapur. no one else. or priyadarshan another option. mani ratnam forget it , he’s over no way he can make the film. cast should be salman aamir in leads , ajay should also be there

  7. ravi Says:

    I’m disturbed by the fact that many people think that our indian technicians are not good as those in hollywood. Lets take the cinematography for example. The reason why films like lord of the ring trilogy look so classy is because of the expensive camera lenses which the cinematographer uses. We dont have such technology in india thus our films have a slightly ‘cheaper’ look. So the problem is not the expertise of our technicians. They are just as good as their hollywood counterparts in terms of camera angles and shots. The problem is that indian films do not have the hollywood kind of budget to invest in such technology. Since the mahabharata’s budget is over 100 crores, if the producer can invest in such technolgy, there’s no doubt the mahabarata can achieve the so called ‘hollywood standard’ of production values.

  8. mohan Says:

    we cannot write off any director just because he has never done huge budget films before. before shekhar kapur went international, he did mainly low budget films like bandit queen. but that didn’t stop him from making the big budget elizabeth. before peter jackson directed lotr, he was doing small budget films like the frighteners. even now we see ketan mehta with mangal pandey. so just because mani ratnam hasn’t made huge budget films doesn’t mean he does not have the ability to do so. dil se was a flop in india but did big business overseas. if giving hit films is the only benchmark of a good director, then people like j.p.dutta and ramgopal varma can be branded as failures since their films seldom do good business. we should look at the overall quality of the film and not just the amount of money it makes. gadar made more money than lagaan at the box office. does that mean anil sharma is a better director than ashutosh gowariker?

  9. Raj Says:

    I don’t think some of you are being fair to our own technicians. I agree that action and visual effects should be done by international teams because they are proficient in this and I believe Bobby Bedi has already declared that he will be roping in the LOTR team, but in other aspects from cinematography, sound to set design we have some of the finest in the world and fine films to showcase their talents.

    Devdas, Black, Lagaan have some extraordinary cinematography and production values, not just for an Indian film, but for any film in the world.

    Santosh Sivan(Asoka, Meenaxi, Dil se), Ravi K Chandran(Dil Chahta Hai, Koi..Mil Gaya) Anil Mehta(Lagaan, HDDCS) and Binod Pradhan(Mission Kashmir, Devdas) are some of the best cinematographers in the world.

    Meanwhile, in sound and music, we have A R Rehman and Isbail Darbar.

    I also wanted to comment on the original blog entry that compares Indian budgets with Hollywood budgets. When comparing economics in different countries, you need to adjust according to purchasing power parity. Devdas and the Rising, which cost $10 million, when adjusted for PPP is the equivalent of a $50 million Hollywood production.

    Shekar Kapoor corroborates this on his website for Paani. He declares that a $20 million made in India will have have the look and scale of a $100 million produced in India.

    A 300 crore/$70 million budget for a Bollywood production is a MIND BLOWING budget. It’s the equivalent of a $350 million Hollywood production, which puts it amongst the most expensive films ever made in the world.

    If Bobby Bedi is really going through with this, believe me this movie is a major event in wold cinema. There’s not been anything like this since Mughal-e-azam. I wish him the absolute best. A film like Mahabharata, if properly made both visually and artistically would put Bollywood permenantly on the world map.

  10. Prasenjeet Says:

    Shekar Kapoor corroborates this on his website for Paani. He declares that a $20 million made in India will have have the look and scale of a $100 million produced in India.

    It’s not how much is spent but who spends it. Danny Boyle spent $8M to make great-looking movie (28 Days Later) — in the UK, hardly the world’s low-cost paradise.

    $70M is huge, especially when the previous record is held by a $10M film (Devdas). But the bigger question is: can money buy you talent? Of course all this is very subjective but IMHO — of the cinematographers you name, IMHO only Santosh Sivan is even in the league of a Christopher Doyle (Hero) or a Andrew Lesnie (LOTR) — in particular, re Devdas’ production values: I have seen better on television.

    To return to the money/talent question, Devdas’ $10M couldn’t make (again IMHO) a better movie than the *cheaper* 28 Days Later or the slightly more expensive Crouching Tiger. Even if you discount Devdas as a one-off failure, the more recent ‘The Rising’ (this time produced by Bedi) has again demonstrated an inability to make a historical/period piece without bringing in the nautch girls, as it were. One need not be a pundit to predict the overseas box office fortunes of The Rising vis-a-vis Crouching Tiger (and the reason I think this is important is because Bedi has been talking about ’spreading the message of the Mahabharata’ for some time).

    And this doesn’t even begin to address the problem of star salaries sucking away at the film’s budget.

    Anyhow, as you said, outsourcing FX to Peter Jackson’s Weta (the guys who did LOTR) will probably help a lot, and the fact that software like Massive (for crowds) already exist will probably help further.

    I wish him the absolute best. A film like Mahabharata, if properly made both visually and artistically would put Bollywood permenantly on the world map.

    I wish him the best too. I just want to watch an Indian film do FX that doesn’t suck.

    And oh, Bollywood’s already on the world map, it’s just that it’s well-known for churning out loud melodramatic cookie-cutter movies. Let’s hope someone can move it out of that stereotype, the way the Chinese are doing with films like 2046.

  11. Raj Says:

    Hi, this post is just a test to see if I am using the right code for italics:

    [i]This piece of writing is in italics[/i]

    This piece of writing is in italics

  12. Raj Says:

    I have not seen 28 days later; it’s not really my kind of film. I believe it was shot in DV and from what I’ve seen in the trailers the cinematography did not particularly strike me as strong. I honestly doubt this is better looking than Devdas, but I’ll give it go sometime to see if you’re right ;)

    As for LOTR, I’m sorry to be the iconoclast, but I did not think LOTR’s cinematography was consistently impressive, particularly in the exterior shots. In Two Towers in particular the picture was very murky and some the CGI background were poorly composed with the footage.

    Yes, it’s not how much money is spent I know. Some south Indians films like Ammoru(1995) have better special effects than the biggest budget Bollywood films like Koi..Mil Gaya. It’s about talent too and collaborating with the right people. Althought I thought Rakesh Roshan working with Craig Munna and Marc Kobe(Independence Day) would have been sufficient, but the effects work was still substandard and the graphics were underendered.

    I have better expectations from the sequel Krissh, which this time ropes in the action team of Hero and House Of Flying Daggers.

    On cinematographers: I think Santosh Sivan is a masterful cinematographer, however no disrespect to you, but I don’t think he is the best in the industry. I’m afraid his visual style can be too MTVish and gimmicky at times and Asoka exemplifies this. It would seem, however, given your affinity for this particular style(Hero) that it’s just your subjective taste. However, having said that, I prefer he cinematographed the Mahabharata because he has a more developed flair for fly-by, helicopter and crane shots and to show the grandeur of the landscapes and the battles of the Mahabharata you would need someone like him.

    I think a much better cinematographer is Ravi K Chandran, his lighting in Dil Chahta Hai was vibrant and stunning, ditto with the postcard perfect Koi..Mil Gaya and he truly excelled himself in Black and Paheli. His visuals are so vibrant and beautiful to look at. Anil Mehta is also better in my estimation, his cinematography in Lagaan is outstanding, particularly during the song Chalo Chalo - what great depth and texture he captures of the village. These are IMHO the best.

    You don’t sound like you liked Devdas. I can understand, because Devdas does polarise opinion. While some find it to be gaudy and ostentatious looking, others(Including Time magazine) find it to be absolutely spectacular. I belong to the latter group. The Dola re song alone is a master work of the synergy of camera, choreography and sets and visually electrifying. I’m afraid I have to disagree; this is one of the best looking films made in the world for me. Binod Pradhan truly excelled himself after Mission Kashmir.

    The Rising was visually very disappointing. It shows clearly that money cannot afford you good looks. The shot compositions were very shallow and bland. The CGI was embarassing, particular for the arrival of the Rangoon regiment. The crowd multiplication was too blurry. No, I did not like the film either. It was a mess.

    Btw have you seen the trailers of the Taj Mahal? It’s looks so tacky! The Battle scenes(the short clips of them) are completely saturated in a bright yellow.

    And this doesn’t even begin to address the problem of star salaries sucking away at the film’s budget.

    This problem is much more prevalent in Hollywood productions, than Bollywood productions. In Bollywood it is not uncommon for stars to work at reduced-rates or free. While in Hollywood star-wages are anything between $10-30 million. It’s understandable why Peter Jackson had to work with a non-star cast, otherwise a good chunk of the budget would be spent on stars. In Bollywood, however, spending 300 crore on a movie with a non-star cast is a recipe for disaster. The only way of ensuring even the chance of success is with an assemble big-star cast. Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwariya Rai would cost 10-20 crore alone in wages. Howerver compare that to the equivalent Hollywood cast: Brad Pitt, Leonardo Decaprio, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts and you’ve almost paid the cost of a relatively big budget Hollywood film in wages.

    And oh, Bollywood’s already on the world map, it’s just that it’s well-known for churning out loud melodramatic cookie-cutter movies. Let’s hope someone can move it out of that stereotype, the way the Chinese are doing with films like 2046

    Bollywood is on the world map, but it’s still very much the luxury of a niche audience, which though outnumber Hollywood by more than a billion people, only earn Bollywood a fraction of the profits Hollywood makes. A movie like Mahabharata would be so big that it could gross hundreds of millions and thereby establish a lucrative crossover market for the Indian films, much like Crouching Tiger did for the Chinese film industry.

    I think Indian VFX will get much better. Is it not true that Hollywood outsources a good portion of it’s effects work to Indian studios. I still wouldn’t entrust something like Mahabharata in their hands though.

    The moral of this post though is that Indians technicians kisi se kum nahin ;)

    Bollywood has recently benefited from a quantum leap in technology. It’s films are starting to look better by the day. It will only get better.

  13. Nasir Says:

    A big budget alone does not bring you grandeur. It also depends on how the scene is shot. I can make a street full of beggers look grand with the proper camera angles and editing. Likewise, even if I have all the money in the world, if the above mentioned requirements are not there, the scene is still be a letdown. Thus, when it comes to epics, an artistic flair is more important than money.

    I believe stars are essential for this film as India is more star driven than other countries. But the stars must suit their roles. I’m sure the last thing we all want to see is an actor acting more like a clown than a warrior.

    Just a note about the movie 28 days. The nature of the film required it to have the grainy look. It was a film about a harmful virus. A very serious subject mattar. Thus it needed the dull and grainy look. There was nothing wrong with the cinematographer. That look was purposely intended. Having the ‘Devdas’ look will would have turned ‘28 Days’ into a comedy.

  14. Prasenjeet Says:

    Re star salaries, it’s not that star salaries don’t exist in Hollywood, the problem is many successful Hollywood movies do get made without expensive stars (think Jurassic Park or LOTR). Bollywood on the other hand has a problem thinking beyond its top tier, relying on star power over plot and acting to carry a film through.

  15. Raj Says:

    Prsenjeet, that is because what Nasir just said above, the Indian film market is star-driven. Akbar Khan for his 100 crore Taj Mahal(Yes, Taj Mahal is the new most expensive Indian film ever made) has assembeled an almost completely non star-cast. He will be lucky if he even recovers 20% of his investments.

    Nasir, I completely agree you can make a scene look grande even with a limited budget. But, there is only so far you can go. Santosh Sivan tried his best to impart an epic look to his Asoka, but it never quite achieved that epic look. It always looked lacking of its budget. It cannot be denied, that generally bigger budget films look more grande than lower budget films.

    What bigger budget does is afford you bigger talent, bigger equipment, bigger technology and bigger sets and bigger cinematography. I thinkt the ratio is 30:70(look: budget) LOTR, Titanic and Troy look spectacular and it would be impossible to recreate that look and scale on a lower budget.

    28 Days and Blair Witch project may be suitably grainy, dull and jerky for their story, but they do not have the grandeur and the scale of a production like Devdas.

    Big budget films tend to be epics, historical and action movies. If you want a thrilling and spectacular car chase sequence for example, you need more money than talent. I mean how much talent doe the makers of films like XXX, Charlies Angels and Fast and the Furious have? You still cannot deny how stunning the action is.

    You can appreciate the camera work in a low budget black and white film by Guru Dutt or Bimal Roy, but you relish the visual dazzle in a big budget film like XXX.

    To say Devdas has lesser production value than a low budget DV film just doesn’t sound right.

    Even if you compare Crouching Tiger, to the nearly three times as expensive Hero, you notice just how much difference the budget has made to the look and feel of the movie. Hero is STUNNING to look at. Croching Tiger pales in comparison.

    Budget buys you production values - most of the time.

  16. Raj Says:

    Suffice to say, a film like Mahabharata to be captured at it’s most spectacular and grande would definitely need a big budget and obviously somebody to use the money effectively.

  17. Nasir Says:

    I can tell Raj is a huge fan of ‘Devdas’. I found the film too obstentious and melodramatic. Too much focus on the visuals rathar than the story. But I’ll be objective here.

    The look of ‘Devdas’ suited the story. I agree that film will not look as good if it was made on a smaller budget.

    Likewise, the look of ‘28 Days’ suited its story. That movie simply cannot have the grandeur of ‘Devdas’ because that would have killed the effect the director hoped to achieve. I always believe that the story determines the budget.

    All of us seem to be emphasizing on the ‘look’ of the film instead of the overall movie. The way the story is told is just as important as the visuals. I hope Bobby Bedi spends more effort on the script instead of just worrying about the look of the film. No point making a ‘pretty’ film that’s devoid of any soul.

  18. ashok Says:

    mani ratnam, santosh sivan and a.r.rahman. these 3 people must be in this project.

  19. Mohan Says:

    300 crores is too high a budget. That’s like 100 crores for each part. Its not financially viable. Paani’s budget is 80 crores and it’s planned in both English & Hindi. Mahabaratha cannot be dubbed in English as mythical characters speaking in English doesnt look right. Anyway, I dont think Bobby Bediji plans to spend 300 crores in the first place. Maybe a total of 200 crores for all 3 films?

  20. Sasi Says:

    this film should be songless. i believe it’s time to break away from the songs/dances routine. singing and dancing will look very funny in a tale like mahabaratha. plus, if we are to showcase this film to the world audience, we have to make sure the film is of world cinema standard. imagine the movies lord of the rings, gladiator or even troy with songs/dances. that would distract and reduce the audience’s involvement in the film. so NO SONGS. that said, a.r.rahman is great at composing background music. his background scores for dil se and iruvar are the best in indian cinema, as far as i’m concerned.

  21. jai Says:

    mahabhartha to be directed by sanjay khanna

  22. Raja Says:

    I no longer think this film will be made. There has been no announcement whatsoever about this.


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