Professor Anand Nandkumar in conversation with Mr. Shobu Yarlagadda

India’s film industry has undergone a digital revolution. This transformation brings greater creative possibilities and broader access, but also raises concerns about digital preservation and the potential long-term effects on the industry.

The Indian film industry, one of the largest in the world, is known for its unique approach to storytelling, often using vibrant song-and-dance routines, dramatic narratives, and colourful costumes. Until recently, most movies except Hindi were made for and consumed by regional audiences partly because they were strongly rooted in a distinct rural culture milieu often unique to a region. As a result, regional moviemakers would primarily make regional movies and, at best, adapt them to other audiences upon subsequent realisation of their larger appeal.

The advent of digital technologies enables filmmakers and producers to expand their canvases and make films of national, if not international, appeal in several ways. These, however, require film producers to embrace new approaches to facilitate collaboration between craftsmen and technologists, a problem that typically tends to be under-emphasised.

Baahubali, the movie, is a case in point that filmmakers often use as a north star to broaden appeal. With Baahubali, digital technologies played a vital role in increasing appeal in several ways. Recently, I had a conversation with the producer of Baahubali about the influence of digital technologies in filmmaking and how digitalisation is altering the craft of filmmaking.

Professor Anand Nandkumar: Welcome, Mr. Shobu Yarlagadda. It’s a pleasure to have you revisit the remarkable journey of Baahubali and the pivotal role of digital technologies in its creation. To begin, could you elaborate on how digital technologies have revolutionised filmmaking in India, particularly in the context of Baahubali?

Mr Shobu Yarlagadda: Thank you, Professor Nandkumar. Digital technologies have had a profound impact on filmmaking in India. With advancements like digital cameras and editing software, we’ve been able to push the boundaries of what’s possible in storytelling. For Baahubali, this meant we could capture intricate action sequences with precision, and retakes became more feasible, enabling us to perfect each shot. The flexibility and quality offered by these technologies have significantly elevated the cinematic experience, making films like Baahubali resonate not just nationally but globally.

Professor Anand Nandkumar: Could you shed some light on how visual effects (VFX) specifically enhanced the storytelling and visual spectacle of Baahubali?

Mr Shobu Yarlagadda: Certainly. VFX was a cornerstone in embedding viewers in the mystical world of Baahubali. The sheer scale of the landscapes and the intricacy of the battle scenes required a level of detail that was only achievable through digital creation. We had 30+ VFX teams working in tandem to create seamless and realistic visuals that complemented the narrative. This digital artistry allowed us to transcend the limitations of physical sets and practical effects, providing audiences with an immersive and captivating experience.

But all of this came with its own set of complications. Imagine managing so many external teams and getting them to work with our creative teams that too for more than a year. Just this scale of effort provided my team with many management lessons during the process of making Baahubali. Writing contracts and monitoring them was quite challenging. How do you write a contract when the output quality is hard to define? Moreover, we had to create a workflow for digital technologies and quality control that we had to learn on the fly to imbibe VFX of that scale.

Professor Anand Nandkumar: In terms of post-production, how did digital technologies enable you to refine and perfect the film’s narrative and visual flow?

Mr Shobu Yarlagadda: Digital technologies were instrumental in the post-production process as well. One instance is the use of non-linear editing systems that gave us the flexibility to experiment with different narrative structures and pacing. We could easily rearrange scenes, test different versions, and make adjustments to ensure the story flowed seamlessly. This level of control and experimentation was crucial in achieving the director’s vision and ensuring that every moment of the film was impactful.

Professor Anand Nandkumar: Digital distribution has played a significant role in the widespread success of Baahubali. Can you discuss how it helped overcome traditional distribution challenges and reach a global audience?

Mr Shobu Yarlagadda: Digital distribution was a game-changer for Baahubali. It allowed us to bypass traditional barriers and reach audiences in remote corners of the world. Through platforms like OTT, we could provide high-quality content directly to viewers, which was particularly important in regions with limited access to cinemas. This democratisation of content delivery not only expanded our reach but also contributed to the film’s longevity, as it remains accessible to new audiences even years after its initial release.

In hindsight, however, we could have worked harder to monetise Baahubali using digital technologies.

Digital channels were new at the time that Baahubali was made, and we might have missed a trick or two to monetise the digital artefacts of Baahubali’s characters.

Professor Anand Nandkumar: As you embraced these digital technologies, what were some of the challenges you encountered, and how did you overcome them?

Mr. Shobu Yarlagadda: One of the biggest challenges was the learning curve associated with new technologies. We had to ensure that our team was adept at using these tools effectively, which required extensive training and collaboration with technical experts. Additionally, managing the vast amount of data generated by digital filming and VFX was a logistical challenge. We had to establish robust data management systems to ensure that nothing was lost or compromised. Balancing creativity with technology was also crucial; we had to ensure that the technology served the story and not the other way around.

We are also more used to writing contracts for activities that are easy to define and whose quality can be determined apriori. Writing contracts with digital vendors might be a different ball game altogether because the outputs are not physical and cannot always be defined apriori. So, we had to work hard on things like storyboarding and include VFX teams in our storyboarding process to make them appreciate our vision. Of course, nowadays, these practices are mainstream and quite standard.

Professor Anand Nandkumar: Looking ahead, how do you see the role of digital technologies evolving in the film industry, and what implications does this have for filmmakers and producers?

Mr. Shobu Yarlagadda: I think digital technologies will continue to shape the future of filmmaking in ways we may not expect with emerging trends like virtual production and AI-driven content creation. For filmmakers and producers, this means adapting and perhaps creating new workflows and continually updating their skills. It also opens up exciting possibilities for storytelling, allowing us to create even more immersive and interactive experiences for audiences. The key will be to leverage these technologies in a way that enhances the art of filmmaking while staying true to the essence of storytelling.

Professor Anand Nandkumar: Mr. Yarlagadda, your insights have been invaluable. Thank you for sharing your experiences and perspectives on the transformative role of digital technologies in filmmaking. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

Mr. Shobu Yarlagadda: Thank you, Professor Nandkumar. It’s been an honour to discuss these topics with you, and I’m excited to see how digital technologies continue to shape the future of cinema.


Professor Anand Nandkumar

Professor Anand Nandkumar

Associate Professor, Strategy, ISB; Executive Director, SRITNE, Associate Dean Centre for Learning and Teaching Excellence, ISB

Mr. Shobu Yarlagadda

Mr. Shobu Yarlagadda

CEO and Co-founder, Arka Mediaworks