The current talking point of the country is Baahubali 2. The film, which is geared to shatter all desi records, is proving to be a visual sensation. Audiences are awestruck by S.S Rajmouli’s creation brought to life by an extremely talented team. To know more about the making of the saga, we caught up with ace cinematographer K K Senthil Kumar who shot Baahubali – The Beginning as well. Kumar talked about jitters, his excitement and the pride that he’s experienced in the process.

K K Senthil Kumar

K K Senthil Kumar

Even though it’s the continuation of the same story, was there a difference in the visual treatment of the sequel?

No, I don’t think so. We have tried to maintain a harmony between the two parts. Majorly, the approach has been the same but this time we tried to make it slightly better in terms of resolution.

How would you describe the color palette of the film?

The story progresses in different time zones and locations viz. Mahishmati Kingdom, Kuntala Kingdom and when Baahubali is exiled from the palace. We tried to keep the colours based on the mood and feel. Most of the color tone was done in the post production in the colour correction stage in DI. After a set of multiple tests we finally arrived at what you see in the final output.

It wasn’t as if we were trying to avoid any particular color or emphasize on any. But based on the locations and the mood of the scene, the colors changed. Such as, we’ve kept Devasena’s kingdom slightly cooler. While, the Mahishmati kingdom is slightly warmer. Kuntala kingdom is set in the hills which are close to snow-covered mountains. So, I felt it would look good in cool colors. When Baahubali is expelled from the palace and goes and lives with the commoners, I have tried to give a more desaturated look.

It would be an injustice to name any particular sequence of Baahubali 2 to be tough or easy

Does it make things easier to shoot the second part of a successful film or more challenging? What does a DOP have to keep in mind?

It is both easier and challenging. Easier because you already have the experience of shooting the first part and challenging because once the film becomes successful, people associate expectations with the sequel. Meeting those expectations is very challenging.

As a DOP, this dichotomy made me more focused. We needed to pull up our socks. Our complete focus was to come up with something more interesting and innovative than the first part.

Also Read: Not treated Baahubali 2 as separate film: Manoj Muntashir

What camera/cameras was the film shot on? Was a different camera used for the sequel? If yes, then why?

Both Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The Conclusion have been shot on Arri Alexa XT with Master Prime lenses. For high speed shots, we used Phantoms. Majority of the film has been shot on Alexa XT. I am a big fan of Alexa as it gives me the desired look every single time. It even holds a great range of information for manipulation of image. For example, when we shot the sequence where invaders attack the Kuntala kingdom. That complete action is a night sequence. It was a huge area and was difficult to light up. So, we shot it Day for Night. I am pleased with the results of that sequence. Even after a range of manipulation in post-production, it still holds a really good image. That is the beauty of Alexa.

The core of the quality checks was to keep the frames as real as possible

Was it a multi-camera setup?

Not majorly. Majority of the time we have shot with a single camera. I personally like shooting with a single camera. Yes, for a couple of action sequences, a multi-camera setup was used but the major chunk of the film was single camera.

Technically, which was the toughest sequence to shoot. What are the obstacles you faced shooting it and how did you overcome them?

There was no such thing. The reason for that is our solid planning in the pre-production stage. For the first part itself we pre-produced for more than a year. It would be an injustice to name any particular sequence to be tough or easy. In every scene we have put in equal amount of hard work. So, there are no favorites.

We have tried to maintain a harmony between the two parts

Senthil Kumar

K K Senthil Kumar during the shoot of Baahubali 2

Can you please talk a bit about VFX of the film?

Somehow, I was misquoted in one of the interviews for the first part that I did not like its VFX. We worked in the given conditions and I believe what was delivered was of a good quality at that time. The good part about making a sequel was that we could ensure that the earlier mistakes are not repeated. When a film involves this magnitude of VFX, the job becomes really tough. It’s a narrow road to walk on.

As a cinematographer, I must visualize how the end product is going to look after the digital manipulation. So, I have to shoot accordingly. Both of us (VFX in-charge and I) must operate as a team. At the DI stage, the non-VFX and VFX shots are blended. My involvement as a cinematographer is throughout, from storyboarding, to pre visualization, to shooting to post. It’s a collaborative process and for a VFX heavy film, this collaboration must be rock solid.

Read: Baahubali – VFX Breakdown

It is being said the film has been shot in a way to give audience an IMAX experience, though it is not shot on IMAX camera. Can you elaborate on how you have worked towards creating this larger than life experience?

All the Indian films that we see are in the aspect ratio of 1:2.35 (Cinemascope). When we were shooting, we were framing each shot for both Cinemascope and IMAX format (16:9). When people will watch this film on IMAX, they will not have to compromise on the image size. The frame will not be cut from either sides. It’s a wider frame than Cinemascope. This means that if you watch it on IMAX, then you will see twenty percent more of the film’s information in each frame.

Based on the locations and the mood of the scene, the colors changed.

Compared to Baahubali 1, what extra efforts were put it to make the scenes look as real as possible in The Conclusion?

All the shots went through multiple stages of QC (Quality check). Depth of field, highlights, track movements, edges and a lot of other things were checked. These stages of QC were more than the earlier film. There were specialized people for each aspect of quality. Some would check frame edge, some would check blacks, some highlights, so on and so forth. The core of these checks was to keep the frames as real as possible.

Baahubali

With director S S Rajamouli and team during the shoot of Baahubali 2

How did the dynamics of shooting change after the enormous success of part one?

While we were shooting the first part, it was a new experience for all of us. None of us had done a film of this scale. We were curious about the end result and its response. While in the second part, all of us were more confident.

Also Read: Had to make everything from scratch for Baahubali – Sabu Cyril

Tell us about your team for this film

First and foremost is my Chief Assistant Kushender Reddy. He coordinates with all the grips and gaffer along with my other assistants that include Maruti, Ravi, Veda and GK.

My Focus Puller was Srinivas from Taher Cinetech. I work in a shallow aperture. It would have been a nightmare for any focus puller. But he handled it with an ease and perfection.

One thing that I’d like to mention about all the team members is that whoever was involved with the project worked passionately and considered it to be an once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity.

My Colorist is Mr. Shiva who is one of the best colorists we have in India today. He’s worked with me in many a films such as Arundhati, Magadheera and Eega. The Technical Head at Annapurna DI studio Mr. C.V Rao managed the whole process in a way that we don’t lose even one percent of the visual information. The light men, the dolly operator, jimmy jib operators etc., there are so many people to be named. The film’s credit roll is huge and without the collaborative effort of each and every one, this wouldn’t have been possible.

My involvement as a cinematographer is throughout, from storyboarding, to pre visualization, to shooting to post

Lastly, three tips you would give budding cinematographers who wish to shoot large canvas films

First, you need to love what you do. It isn’t just about large-scale films but any film for that matter. If you love your job then you’ll perform well even in adverse conditions.

Secondly, try to keep things as simple as possible. Do not unnecessarily complicate things for yourself. There are already plenty of complications on a film set and if you as a cinematographer go on to increase them, you will be lost in the process.

Thirdly, try and respect the complete team. To gain respect you must learn to respect others. These may seem to be small tips but hold a lot of relevance on a set.  Filmmaking is all about teamwork.

READ: Anil Mehta on practicing the nuanced art of cinematography

Summary
Name
K.K.Senthil Kumar
Job Title
Cinematographer