Written By Adarsh Annapreddy
Do we finally have our very own ‘Star Wars’?
The year is 2017 and India, a nation more enamoured with movies than any other in the world, is experiencing what one can only describe as a silver screen phenomenon! A phenomenon that will define cinema in the subcontinent for decades to come. A movie that will be a cultural milestone along with history defining classics like ‘Mughal-E-Azam’, ‘Sholay’, ‘DDLJ’, ‘Maya Bazaar’ and ‘Lagaan’. Old grandparents will excitedly reminisce with each other where and with whom they first watched ‘Baahubali Part 2: The Conclusion’ as their grandchildren listen on, intrigued.
We have always had our blockbusters. We’ve had movies that have made a dent in the foreign box office too. Over the last 15 to 20 years movies from the Bollywood elite, SRK, Salman, Hrithik, Aamir and co. have managed to break into the top 15 lists of the US and UK box office charts and have managed to hover around in that bracket. But this time is different!
Take in this bit of information: ‘Baahubali 2’ was at number 3 at the US box office the week it released! It released in the same weekend as a movie starring box office legend Tom Hanks and upcoming box office queen Emma Watson (fresh off her billion dollar success story – ‘Beauty and the Beast’) and ‘Baahubali’ had completely devoured its competition. ‘The Circle’’s collections aren’t even close to what the Indian behemoth has collected!
But let’s take a closer look! What else differentiates this juggernaut of a movie from those that have come before it? First of all, there’s no globally recognised star in sight! No Khan, no Khiladi, no Roshan!
Most importantly, the ‘ollywood’ from where it hails doesn’t start with an ‘H’ or even a ‘B’!!! It starts with a bold, proud, moustache twirling, thigh slapping ‘T’!
Yes! There are movies from India that originate from places other than Mumbai! In fact the South Indian film industries are far more prolific than their Hindi cousin. Bollywood has recently started to sit up and take notice but now it is time for the world to know about a beautiful language called Telugu!
Hopefully, now, after the impact the movie has made, I won’t be asked by ignorant morons, when I say I’m from Hyderabad, whether I speak “Mallu” or “Madrasi”! Hopefully, after years of living in a shell of self entitlement people up North (not all of them, mind you) will actually take a closer look at the triangular part of our country’s map that exists below Maharashtra! Hopefully now they’ll understand that we are 5 large states with 5 vibrant capital cities speaking 4 distinct languages and harbouring brilliant minds, ethereal beauties, brilliant sportsmen, world class medical facilities, top notch infrastructure and definitely – fantastic artistes!
All this thanks to our very own George Lucas/Steven Spielberg – S.S. Rajamouli. Our guy also sports that ultimate prerequisite to enter into the pantheon of great directors – a full blown beard! But not a perfectly groomed and trimmed Hollywood one like messrs Lucas and Spielberg, Coppola and De Palma, but a wild, manly Tollywood one! One that embraces the earthiness and raw power of the Telugu native!
Now into its 3rd week of release the juggernaut that is ‘Baahubali 2’ refuses to slow down and has smashed every record in its path to smithereens, earning an unprecedented Rs1400 crores (and counting) at the box office and surpassing everything that has ever come before!
So, have we, exactly 40 years after the release of the original ‘Star Wars’ (May 1977), finally gotten our own star wars saga?
I don’t want to belittle the sheer magnificence of ‘Baahubali’ by comparing it with the space epic or Rajamouli himself by comparing him to Lucas. I make this comparison because like ‘Star Wars’, ‘Baahubali’ is now more than just a movie. It has grown into a religion. What separates these two movies from other blockbusters is their tremendous appeal to that oft forgotten demographic – children!
Last week I was picking up the customary bribe ice cream for the justifiably upset wife when I overheard something that brought a smile to my face. A little girl, hardly 5 years of age, was walking around the place and flexing her nonexistent biceps and muttering “Baahubali; Baahubali!” while pretending to cut down her imaginary foe with her imaginary sword! What a wonderful sight it was! All I have heard from people for the last month, ever since the brilliant trailer dropped, was that one name: “Baahubali”. But this was a little child whose imagination was stoked by the escapades on the large screen! I had never seen a child so young enact scenes from a Telugu movie like that before. That’s when I made the ‘Star Wars’ connection thinking of how the kids of 1977 must have been blown away and turned ‘Star Wars’ into the cultural force it is today!
Which goes to prove that despite ‘Baahubali’’s technical brilliance, sumptuous cinematography, amazing characters, superb screenplay, tantalizing background score, mind blowing graphics and brilliant acting the makers paid attention to the most important factor of all – it’s a whole bloody lot of fun!!!
Like ‘Star Wars’ before it, ‘Baahubali – The Beginning’ had a whole lot riding on it at the time of release. It was at the time one of the most expensive Telugu films made and failure at the box office would have meant crores of loss. ‘Star Wars’ was also made on a relatively large budget for a little known director and failure back then would have meant the end of his filmmaking career. But there was a stark difference. Although ‘Star Wars’ had the disadvantage of having an almost unknown George Lucas at the helm (making the movie a huge financial risk) that was what worked to its advantage – absolutely no expectations. On the other hand Rajamouli was already a film industry legend and was worshiped by the Telugu moviegoers after giving an unprecedented 9 consecutive bonafide hits. Expectations were not just sky high, but space high for his latest magnum opus! It may sound like a great problem to have but ask Mr. Rajnikanth over the last few years – expectations can be your worst enemy! But Rajamouli, being the rockstar that he is, not only reached the expectations of the masses but easily outstripped them. Expectations were just a beautiful waterfall that he would climb to reach his goal! Oka Gamyam!!!
Other similarities between the two epics are the industry defining special effects, the iconic background score (more on that in a bit), a second part of the franchise exceeding the lofty standards set by the first and memorable characters who will be enshrined in the memories of movie goers for decades to come! Who doesn’t know about Yoda, Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader??? Just the same way, the names Baahubali, Bhallala Deva, Sivagami, Kattappa and now, Devasena will forever be used as nicknames for people having various characteristics matching the characters’ on screen!
The most obvious connection between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Baahubali’ is the juxtaposition of an intense family saga with some magnificent, large scale wars which propel the story and in which the conflicts finally culminate! It is the genre which is telling of the industry to which each saga belongs. ‘Star Wars’ is from Hollywood’s favourite genre – Science Fiction, and ‘Baahubali’ embraces the rich cultural history of India by being of the period, fantasy genre. That is why I wanted to name this article ‘Sanskaar Wars’ – both as an homage to ‘Star Wars’ and due to the basic conflict at the heart of the storm; “Sanskaar” or Moral Values! Like the great epics of India’s history the ‘Baahubali’ War is waged over the injustice meted out to a woman (Sita, Draupadi and here, Devasena) and on the basis of the protagonists’ beliefs and faith in their own versions of Sanskaar. Bhalla believes that he is the true heir to the throne of Mahishmati and will stop at nothing to get what he feels is rightfully his. Sivagami, who is high and noble, lets her sense of self-righteousness shroud her better judgement and allows herself to get swayed by the poisonous words of her husband and her older son. Amarendra Baahubali takes the teachings of his mother, who is a God to him, as his holy book and doesn’t hesitate to oppose even her to uphold the values she taught him. Devasena is a livewire, a wonderfully written woman character, who, along with Sivagami, is a rare wonder to behold on the female-barren lands of Indian cinema. She believes, from her very first scene to her last, in her self-worth and will not mince words to anyone who deprives her of that! And then we come to the most conflicted, layered and doomed character of the series – Kattappa! Kattappa is the heart of these films! His character is so sad because of his unwavering faith and adherence to his purpose on earth. Like Bheeshma, he is bound by a vow which was taken hundreds of years ago and like Karna he is cursed to take up arms against his own!
The references to ‘Mahabharat’ and ‘Ramayana’ are evident in the ‘Baahubali’ films and make it all the richer! A rightful heir to the throne of a kingdom having to relinquish his title to a younger brother due to a physical disability; the resentment passing on to the next generation; a prince and his wife being banished from the kingdom along with the proxy brother etc.
But now let’s move on to the film itself! I have gushed about all things Rajamouli up till ‘Baahubali Part 1: The Beginning’ in my previous article (‘Thippura Meesam’) in which I encapsulated his whole career in a few pages, highlighting the most memorable scenes from each movie! But the sheer magnificence of ‘Part 2’ is so much that I had to dedicate this whole article to it!
We can all agree that Rajamouli is a master of elevating individual scenes to hair rousing levels (‘Chatrapati’ interval scene man!!!!)! But almost every minute of ‘Part 2’ does this! I’ve already watched the movie twice (would’ve watched more but even being Rajamouli’s nephew couldn’t get me tickets because of the sold out shows) and each time my goosebumps had goosebumps in almost every scene!
Right from the get go!
The ‘Oka Praanam’ song superbly sums up the first movie and the ‘Avengers’-esque sculptures of scenes from ‘The Beginning’ are mesmerising! What a way to refresh our memories of the lead up to ‘The Conclusion’ without delving into unnecessary exposition and dialogue!
The opening scene and Prabhas’ entry as Amarendra Baahubali gets us into the right mood straight away! The mother-son relationship is shown beautifully and the smile Sivagami gives Baahubali when he saves the day again is just awesome! Every son in the world would want to see that look of pride and affection in their mother’s eyes for sure!
The ‘Saahore Baahubali’ song gets the adrenaline pumping immediately and it is heartening to be shown glimpses of the final battle of ‘Part 1’ as well. The best lyrics (apart from the awesome ‘Hey Sa, Rudra Sa’… chorus) is the perfect summation of Amarendra’s character – “Antha maha baludaina, Amma vodi pasivaade!” – beautiful.
The escapades of Kattappa with Baahubali on their travels is also fun to watch as we are fully intrigued by Kattappas character in ‘Part 1’ but we finally get to see his interactions with his friend in full force. The banter between them is great and the fight scenes where they throw weapons o each other are real fun! The only slight annoyance is the shtick of Kattappa gets a little too much after a while and Sathyaraj tends to go a little overboard.
Then comes along Devasena! What a wonderfully written woman character. When we thought Rajamouli had given us one of the best female characters in Telugu cinema with Sivagami, along comes this feisty one! She is electric and Anushka pulls of the character with élan! Her response to Sivagami’s ‘gift’ of ‘choosing’ her to marry her son is perfect! Even now women in India are made to believe that they should be grateful to be chosen to be whisked away from their homes to some strange man’s bedroom and here we have a princess of hundreds of years ago completely giving the people around her a lesson or two in equality!
Even her response to Baahubali that she is willing to come with him as a prisoner in bonds of love but will never come as a prisoner on the words of his mother is excellent!
A scene of sheer poetry is during the battle in the kingdom of Kuntala Raajyam. Devasena, who is a competent warrior, has never managed to master firing three arrows at once. She is assaulted by multiple enemies in the corridor of the palace and is picking them off one by one with her bow and arrows but is clearly outnumbered. In swoops Baahubali, who till now has been masquerading as a coward. He immediately starts firing salvo after salvo at the enemy and leaves Devasena stunned. Mid-battle he quickly teaches her what she has been doing wrong in her technique and she immediately masters the triple arrow shot! Next what we see is mesmerising. The two potential lovers and adept archers writhe around each other’s bodies like snakes and dispatch the foe 6 arrows at a time. It culminates in a wonderful, erotic beat where Baahubali ditches his bow, wraps his arm around Devasena and both of them fire 6 arrows from the same bowstring, each one hitting its mark as the camera zooms along with them! What a beautiful concoction of romance and violence!
What a vision you must possess to conceive of such a scene!
Once back in the vast courtroom of the Mahishmati another great piece of drama unfolds! There is a lot of emotion and shifting of power happening in this scene. All the major stakeholders are present. Devasena immediately apologises to Sivagami for her scathing response to the marriage proposal. Sivagami, pleased with the apology tells her that “Ee Sivagami kodalaki aa mathram ahankaaram, alankaarame!” a brilliant dialogue summing up both of these fiery queens! Amarendra, caught in the eternal conflict between mother and wife is relieved to see a thawing of the ice. Bijjaladeva and Bhalla look on resentfully. Sivagami asks Devasena to come and take her place next to her husband and she innocently moves towards Amarendra. Sivagami screams at her asking her what she is doing and Devasena tells her she is going to her chosen suitor. Sivagami is aghast at this piece of information and Bijjal starts to get up to protest. The beauty of this scene is the shot of Bhalla holding him back by tightening the grip on his shoulder. He senses that things are about to get out of hand and waits his turn. Kattappa realising his folly comes forward to take the blame for the confusion but Sivagami casts him aside, seething with anger! At this moment Devasena, being the strong woman that she is, doesn’t refrain from giving everyone a piece of her mind, saying she has every right to choose her own husband and goes on to ridicule Sivagami’s knowledge of the workings of the Khsatriya code! Suddenly the courtroom has been turned into an arena where a battle of egos is at play! This moment is a turning point in the saga as it is the first time we see the powerful Sivagami being dressed down by someone else. Baahubali, warrior supreme, vanquisher of armies and destroyer of evil, now has to fight the greatest battle of his life! Does he remain a mute spectator as the woman he vows to protect is verbally assaulted for no fault of her own or does he stand up and speak against the woman who gave him unconditional love and life? He remembers his mother’s lessons to him when he was a child and makes his decision. He tells Sivagami “Amma! Thappu chesavu!” These words pierce Sivagami’s heart like a ragged knife and Rajamouli unleashes a perfect visual of Bhalla’s grip on Bijjal’s shoulder releasing; unleashing his Shakuni-like father to pounce on the situation like a venomous snake!
The scene culminates in Sivagami announcing that Bhallaladeva, not Baahubali, will be the king of Mahishmati and everyone in the courtroom as well as the movie theatre are dumbfounded!
In a matter of 5 minutes and in the confines of a single courtroom Rajamouli unleashes cinematic magic!
And we haven’t even reached the interval yet!!!
As we are still reeling from the scene we are given the most amazing spectacle seen on the big screen in a long time! The swearing-in of the Bhalla as king and Baahubali as the army’s commander-in-chief! This is a scene which could have been played straight but Rajamouli being Rajamouli cranks it up to 11! As Bhalla is sworn in itself we are given a great visual treat but when Baahubali comes forward for his swearing-in the atmosphere is electric! Horses rear onto their hind legs, elephants stamp and kneel in reverence, soldiers clash their swords to their shields and pound their spears into the ground and the junta goes berserk, screaming “Baahubali, Baahubali” like the chants of “Sachin” on the verge of a century to the power of 10! This is the quintessential Rajamaouli Interval Bang!
Post interval another brilliant scene takes place in the fateful courtroom! My favourite scene of all! Devasena has chopped off the new army chief’s fingers for trying to touch her and is chained in front of the whole court. She is being told off by the new king Bhalla; and then enters the man himself! As Baahubali enters the people look on in hope and everyone knows things are about to get real! He prowls behind the army chief like a tiger while listening to Devasena’s story. When she finishes, he admonishes her for her mistake. She thinks he has sided with the rest of them; we think he is going to cut off the general’s hand instead; he, in one swift flick of his sword severs the man’s head!!! Brutal! Sublime!
Coming to the resolution of the most asked question of the last 3 years – “Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali???”. The reveal isn’t as earth shattering as built up but very logical and straightforward. Any other movie would have collapsed under the overwhelming expectations of that reveal but this movie is soooo good on so many levels that the scene plays out organically as a coherent part of the story albeit with a mesmerising visual; in silhouette against a raging fire. Rana goes absolutely unhinged in the scene after the betrayal, his eyes burning with rage and satisfaction as he hacks away at his dead brother’s corpse! An absolutely chilling and by far the best performance in the saga!!!
The visual flair of Rajamouli comes to fore in multiple scenes especially the close shot of Kattappa’s treacherous sword dripping with the blood of his hero; the low angle shot of Shivudu/Mahendra Baahubali coming into his own in his Mahishmati armour as the people try to touch him, like he is a messiah as Keeravani pumps out some crazy chants to match the visual; Sivagami holding up the baby Mahendra to the crowd below the palace and announcing him as king (a la The Lion King); the final battle royale between Mahendra and his evil uncle which slows down to ultra slow motion as they both are ready to launch their spears at each other! Magical!
One small aspect I felt would’ve made the film even more kickass is if Sudeep’s character from ‘Part 1’ somehow is summoned to fight alongside Kattappa and Shivudu’s army; something akin to the scenes in ‘Lord of The Rings’ where the allied army reaches the battlefield just in time to support the numerically weaker good guys!
I think it is time to thank the many many people who toiled day in and day out to bring this magic to the silver screen over the last 5 years! The most obvious people are the actors! Each and every one of them is superb; Sathyaraj, Nasser, Tamannah, Anushka, Adivi Shesh and Subba Raju are excellent. Prabhas is awesome, even better than he was in ‘Part 1’; he shows subtle differences in his portrayals of father and son Baahubalis. Ramya Krishna is dependably fiery in ‘Part 1’ and perfect as the conflicted mother in ‘Part 2’. But for me, as I said before, the absolute star is Rana as Bhallala Deva! What a tour de force from my favourite Telugu actor’s nephew! It’s in the genes I guess!!!
No movie can achieve greatness without starting out strong on paper! Full credit to Vijayendra Prasad gaaru for writing such a powerful script and gifting it to his visionary son to bring to life!
Then there are the special effects teams! What they have achieved with these movies is unprecedented and they deserve as much appreciation as any of the major technicians!
Cinematographer Senthil has reached Hollywood levels of finesse and visual flair! His camera work is extraordinary!
All the above, as well as hundreds more have now become the pride of India!
Now I come to some people who are not only the pride of the nation but of our family! It is heartening to see Rama Attha (Rajamouli’s wife; costumes, amongst other things), Valli Attha (Keeravani’s wife; line manager), Karthikeya (Rama and Rajamouli’s son; assistant director and 2nd unit director) and Bhairava (Keeravani and Valli’s son and lead singer for ‘Dandaalayya’ and ‘Oka Praanam’) each get the praises that they have always deserved by standing by Rajamouli and being his pillars of support!
The unsung hero of the movie is the one whose songs we always sing!!! Keeravani, the silent genius! The one who marries the perfect visual cues with the perfect notes and chords. The one who knows when to let the scene play out in silence and when the chants need to kick in! The one whose crescendos sweep you away like a tsunami! Keer Maama! Please do not retire as you once threatened to do! Do not leave the Telugu music industry in these times of darkness (and Thaman S.!!!) We need you and your sublime melodies!
And finally, the man of the moment himself!!! S.S. Rajamouli to his new fans around the world; Rajamouli to his long term fans in the Telugu speaking states; Jakkanna to his friends in the industry; Nandi to his family and Nandi Anna to me!
A man who has achieved so much but still strives to raise the bar each and every time!
A man who I have never seen refuse a selfie to his thousands of fans!
A man who puts his heart into anything he does and who is always there when the family needs him; who dances his heart out at his nephews’ weddings as if it were an important scene in his magnum opus!
A man whom I have had the privilege of knowing before, during the rise of and at the height of his stardom (the same man throughout).
A man whom I have had the privilege of being directed by in a tiny role in his ‘Eega’!
A man who can make a movie on the tiniest themes like a fly and the grandest epics like ‘Baahubali’ with the same amount of passion and eye for detail!
Nandi Anna!!! Keep them coming!!!
Neeku Dandaalayya!!!! _/\_ _/\_ _/\_
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