In recent times, Indian cinema has been breaking boundaries, budgets, and audience expectations. Known for its larger-than-life productions featuring grand sets, spectacular action sequences, and A-list actors, these big-budget films transport audiences to fantastical worlds, employ brilliant cinematography and costuming, and breathe life into a movie theatre experience.
In the past decade or so, just like Hollywood, more and more Indian cinemas are taking a leap into creating movies of epic proportions and even bigger budgets. Here, we look at some of the best larger-than-life productions that recently defined landmark moments for the Indian film industry (listed in no particular order).
1. Baahubali (2015) and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017)
The Baahubali franchise is one of the most ambitious and visually stunning fantasy films to come out of India. Directed by S.S. Rajamouli, the films are set in the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati and follow the story of two brothers, Baahubali and Bhallaladeva, who are locked in a battle for the throne.
The films feature an all-star cast, including Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, and Anushka Shetty, and are known for their striking action sequences, breathtaking sets, and stunning visual effects. The budget for the two films is estimated to be around Rs4.3 billion.
2. Ponniyin Selvan: 1 (2022)
Ponniyin Selvan: 1 is an epic Tamil historical fiction film directed by Mani Ratnam. Based on the Tamil historical novel of the same name and written by Kalki Krishnamurthy, it is set in the 10th century.
Arguably one of the biggest pull factors of Ponniyin Selvan is the star cast that consists of big names from Mollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, and Bollywood; namely, Trisha Krishnan, Kamal Hassan, Vikram, Karthi, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayaram, Jayam Ravi, Prakash Raj, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Prabhu, Lal, Nassar, and many more. The star-studded ensemble and sweeping costumes and set designs are what had viewers across India flocking to theatres despite the difficult old-Tamil dialogue.
3. RRR (2022)
Telegu director S.S. Rajamouli is not fazed by big-budget Indian theatre experiences, as indicated by the landslide success of his Baahubali franchise. But even for him, the reception that RRR has gotten is out of the world. This epic Telegu action film, starring N. T. Rama Rao Jr., Ram Charan, Alia Bhatt, and Olivia Morris, is set in 1920s pre-independent India and is based on the lives of two real-life freedom fighters, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem. The film has a colossal budget of Rs5.5 billion, which is nothing when compared to the Rs13 billion it has made in worldwide collections, making it the third-highest-grossing Indian film ever.
In 2023, RRR is making waves in the West because of its catchy song ‘Naatu Naatu’. Not only has the song bagged both a Golden Globe and a Critic’s Choice Award for ‘Best Original Song’, but it has also been nominated for the same category at the 95th Academy Awards.
4. Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva (2022)
Brahmastra is the 2022-release Indian fantasy action film directed by Ayan Mukerji, starring Ranbir Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, and Amitabh Bachchan. The film is set in a fantasy world and follows the story of a young man, Shiva, who discovers he has supernatural powers revolving around fire.
Filled with immense hype and a wide range of pan-Indian superstars, the movie altered the landscape of Indian cinema both owing to its VFX as well as its songs that became social media sensations even before the release of the film. In fact, the movie is said to have employed more VFX – nearly 4,500 VFX shots – than any other Indian movie!
5. Minnal Murali (2021)
Minnal Murali, revolving around an average Joe village tailor who gets special powers after being struck by lightning, is any Malayali’s favourite superhero movie. Not only has director Basil Joseph managed to create a powerful and engaging underdog-rising-to-power storyline, but Minnal Murali is also one of the South’s first legitimate superheroes.
The cast includes Tovino Thomas, Guru Somasundaram, and Shelly Nabu Kumar. While compared to the other movies on the list, Minnal Murali’s budget, at just Rs20 million, is minimal, but the impact it has created in the south is unparalleled.
There was a time when South-Asian audiences would wait for big-budget thrillers from Hollywood. But now, India has emerged as just as big of a powerhouse of stellar cinematic theatre experiences. The recent trend of subtitling these movies into different Indian languages has broken down regional boundaries and created a class of Indian cinema that continues to inspire and win over audiences both in the country and across the world.