Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s extravagant productions have a reputation for bursting out of the confines of the screen. With his December 1 release Padmavati, the director continues his obsession with mythical characters, heightened emotions, massive sets and grand costumes – which is why news that the historical film will also have a 3D version makes perfect sense.
Usually the preserve of horror films and Hollywood releases in India, 3D has been rarely used for A-list Bollywood projects. That might change with Padmavati and 2018’s big release 2.0. Both films will have 3D versions that will work as a cherry-on-the-cake offering to ensure a blockbuster run for distributors and exhibitors.
Padmavati has been co-produced by Bhansali Productions and Viacom18 Motion Pictures. The movie is also being dubbed in Tamil and Telugu and is being distributed internationally by Paramount Pictures. In order to recover a production budget rumoured to be in the region of Rs 180 crores, Padmavati is targetting every available screen in India and overseas territories.
Padmavati is based on the mythical passion of fourteenth-century king Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) for Padmini (Deepika Padukone), the queen of Chittor. Bhansali’s grandiloquent storytelling style makes him the perfect fit for 3D, said Ajit Andhare, Chief Operating Officer at Viacom18 Motion Pictures.
“You don’t see mainstream films made in 3D, and especially not a historical,” Andhare said. “3D has been used as a promotional gimmick, but there are authentic cases where 3D gives a very different experience to the viewer.”
India’s first 3D film, released in 1984, was made for children. Jijo Punnoose’s Malayalam movie My Dear Kuttichathan was also dubbed in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi (as Chhota Chetan). Despite being a huge success, Chhota Chetan did not lead to a wave of locally produced 3D films.
The technology has been sparingly and mostly used for horror films with exceptions, such as the dance-themed ABCD: Any Body Can Dance (2013) and animated productions such as Delhi Safari (2012) and Mahabharat (2013). Indian viewers mostly experience 3D through Hollywood movies.
Can the mould be broken by Padmavati, whose 16 elaborate sets, ornately designed costumes and jewellery and extensive use of long shots in the songs and battle sequences promise a sumptuous big-screen experience? Andhare certainly hopes so. “Sanjay plays a lot with depth and he is somebody who is very comfortable with scale, so he is a strong candidate for 3D,” Andhare said. Padmavati will be the only big release on December 1, and the 3D enhancement will allow distributors and exhibitors to charge higher ticket rates and boost the box office takings.
If Namit Malhotra, whose Prime Focus studio is converting Padmavati from 2D to 3D, had had his way, Bhansali might have directed a three-dimensional production much before Padmavati. Several years ago, the Prime Focus founder had converted a portion of Bhansali’s Devdas (2002) into 3D to try and persuade the filmmaker to re-release it in that format.
“He loved it, but didn’t have the time between projects,” Malhotra said. “We made real progress with Baijirao Mastani , and I didn’t give up the chase.” Bhansali’s attention to detail in the production design and cinematography in his films make them ideal matches for 3D, according to Malhotra.
“He puts a lot of effort to bring things to life, and with 3D, you will get the same film but will be seeing a lot more,” Malhotra said. A 3D film will also help guard against piracy, which continues to bedevil the Indian film industry, he added.
The success of Padmavati’s 3D version will influence how extensively 2.0 uses the technology, predicted Rajkumar Akella, Managing Director of box office tracker comScore India (Theatrical). “The fact that Padmavati is releasing in 3D is a very interesting development because in mainstream Bollywood, we have not seen a 3D film in a long time,” Akella added. “3D is about creating an experience for the viewer and I think Padmavati offers that scope. So it will be interesting to see whether Padmavati pushes more theatres to migrate to 3D before 2.0 releases.”
Unlike Padmavati, which is being converted to 3D after being shot as a regular flim, several portions of Shankar’s upcoming 2.0 – the sequel to the science fiction drama Enthiran (2010) – has actually been made with 3D cameras. But like Bhansali’s film, 2.0 also has national and international ambitions.
Enthiran, starring Rajinikanth as an inventor as well as a humanoid robot, is one of the most successful crossover films of Indian cinema, and 2.0 has even bigger plans in store. Starring Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar and Amy Jackson, the sequel has been bankrolled by Lyca Productions on an alleged budget of Rs 400 crores. 3D technology is a part of the movie’s offerings alongside the widest possible release and reports of dubbed versions in Hindi and Telugu.
“2.0 will definitely push more producers to make films in 3D,” Lyca Productions’ Creative Head Raju Mahalingam said. “There is no doubt about that. The announcement of the film has already pushed many theatres in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to convert to 3D. I think there will be more 3D equipped theatres by the time the film is released.” Lyca Productions has not decided the ratio of 2D to 3D for the release of 2.0.
If these hugely expensive experiments work, it is likely that spectacle-led films will add 3D to their wares in the same manner as Hollywood productions. Already, there is talk that the upcoming Dharma Films title Bhramastra, directed by Ayan Mukerji and starring Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, will be shot in 3D.
However, it is important that the movie’s subject merits the use of 3D and is actually made with the technology rather than retrofitted with it later, cautioned Sunil Khaturia, founder and Chief Executive Officer of 3D technology provider Xpand Digital Private Limited.
“After James Cameron came up with Avatar, a lot of people thought this was a way of making a quick buck and many of them converted to 3D, which killed the market,” Khaturia said. “It is very important to think about the story while shooting the film or converting it later to 3D.”
Who foots the bill?
One such production that seemed an apt fit for 3D ultimately went the 2D route. SS Rajamouli’s two-part epic blockbuster Baahubali (2015 and 2017) was also meant to be made in 3D. “There were discussions about presenting Baahubali in 3D,” Akella said. “Possibly, theatres may have converted in anticipation of Baahubali in 3d. Initially, there were talks but later on, the makers gave up the idea.”
The decisive factor that will ensure that more action films get a 3D version is the number of cinemas that are equipped with 3D technology. By Khaturia’s estimation, India has approximately 12,000-14,000 screens (single screen theatres plus multiplexes) and of these, roughly 3,000 screens are equipped to screen 3D films.
“A lot of cinemas have been converted to 2K digital platforms along with 3D,” Kathuria pointed out. “The USP of 2K digital content has always been 3D. Thus the investments have already been made, and the cinemas are there for filmmakers to explore. With Indianised content like Padmavati and 2.0, you will be able to go into the interiors and tier-three cities where you will see a lot of push of 3D content.”
There are numerous operational costs involved with hosting 3D films – the quality of the glasses that are used, for instance, as well as the brightness of the xenon arc lamps used for projection that determine screen luminosity. Since 3D films typically cut down the brightness of the image – one of the major criticisms of the technology – movie theatres need more powerful xenon arc lamps to run them.
“The question is, how many exhibitors are ready to spend on giving patrons the brightest possible visualisation?” Kathuria said. “Is the screen an old one or a new one?” These are questions that determine the success of the 3D experience, and also influence the choices of moviegoers when it comes to choosing between a 2D film and a 3D option, he added.
A case in point is Hollywood: almost most action and superhero films have 3D versions, but anecdotal evidence suggests that viewers prefer the 2D version unless the 3D is truly spectacular, Khaturia said.
“After certain Hollywood franchises did well, it was assumed that everything would do well in 3D, but people started opting out for 2D and you saw a drop in 3D collections,” Kathuria said. “Content is king here, and the content should support it.”
If Padmavati works in 3D, it could potentially encourage more theatre owners to upgrade to 2K projection technology and include 3D screens. “If there are not enough domestic films produced in 3D – if you are only converting films into 3D – then the technology will only benefit Hollywood productions,” Rajkumar Akella said. “The moment a theatre migrates to 3D, owners will obviously prefer to show a 3D film over others, and that is mostly from Hollywood in India. In exhibition circles, they are wondering whether 3D really benefits domestic markets.”
Padmavati is being closely watched for its treatment of a controversial subject, which has already resulted in attacks and protests by right-wing groups in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Among the observers are also likely to be 3D advocates, who will hope that an experiment that begun in the 1980s with Chhota Chetan will finally come home with Padmavati.