It is a rainy afternoon, typical of late June in Mumbai. I have just returned home after watching a movie and am in high spirits.
My sister, lying in bed next to me, hears me rave about how I enjoyed myself watching this movie. I said “I might just watch it again tomorrow. Do you want to come with me?”. I knew what her answer would be before I even asked. She was far more interested in her Snapchat and gave me a syrupy sweet “no, thanks” in reply.
I couldn’t say I blamed her.
We were quiet for sometime and she suddenly asks me, “How many times have you watched it, by the way?”
I bury my head into the pillow and don’t answer. My sister is suddenly very alert and her attention is more focussed on me than her Snapchat. “Tia, tell me? How many times?” in a more assertive tone.
In the meanwhile, I am busy doing my impersonation of an ostrich, head buried in the pillow, believing that if I ignore the question, she will leave me alone. Sadly, I am not so lucky.
“HOW MANY TIMES?” she repeats.
“Ten” I mumble and bury my head right back into the pillow, trying to bury my ears in it too, hoping to muffle the sound of her sharp “WHAT?!!” in response.
My sister is quite the bulldog in her persistence and does not pick up on my reluctance in pursuing this topic further. She is also very grammatically astute, following the 5Ws and 1H rule quickly, with “HOW?” and “WHEN” and shortly after, loudest of them all, a “WHY???”
She does not need to ask me a “WHICH” though, because she knows exactly which movie it was. The movie I am in so much awe of, I get actual dreams of it almost every single night: Bahubali 2.
When the first movie of the franchise was released in October 2015, there was a lot of hullabaloo among hordes of movie-goers, with almost everyone speaking of it in reverential tones. “Katappa ne Bahubali ko kyu maara?” was the frenzied refrain, and most of my friends were shocked that I hadn’t watched it. Somehow, I never felt interested and eventually the mania passed.
Cut to May 30, 2016. I was onboard a Swiss Airways flight, returning to Mumbai after a spectacular Europe trip lasting two weeks. I attempted to watch ‘101 Dalmations’ and a few episodes of the ‘Big Bang Theory’ to pass the time, but either the visuals were wonky or the sound quality was bad. Bored, I looked through the Hindi movies on offer for in-flight entertainment. A pretty lacklustre list, for the most part. Then I saw Bahubali: The Beginning. I thought to myself “There are over six hours to go before we reach, and I am bored as hell. Might as well just watch this and get it over with. Everyone I know seems to have watched it. At the very least, I can ogle at Prabhas and Rana” and started the movie.
What followed though blew my mind away. Won’t delve deep into this movie as my piece is about the sequel. But barring a few overtly dramatic scenes and of course, the infamous ‘Rape of Avantika’, the movie knocked my socks off.
A little context here. For the longest time, 12 years to be precise, my favorite movie of all time then was Troy. I don’t claim to be an avid moviegoer like some of my friends who have 1 TB hard drives full of them. However, I have watched several movies and for me, Troy—a war movie—was my ultimate favorite. So I love war movies, basically.
Bahubali 1 ticked all the boxes for me in that aspect; gripping storyline, well-executed action scenes, memorable characters, and best of all, it ended on a masterful cliffhanger. By the time I finished watching it, I finally understood all the mania. I understood just WHY everyone—barring mostly the highbrow ‘intellectuals’—-had gone absolute bonkers over the movie. “why, why, WHY did Kattappa kill Bahubali, WHYYYY?” I felt like screaming. The question as to why someone would kill a kind, gold-hearted man like Amarendra Bahubali, as also HOW someone could kill a warrior as skilled as he plagued my mind lesser than the question as to why Kattappa, the royal slave warrior who raised him like a son, killed him. Of all people.
Suddenly, I simply HAD to share this. My sister was sitting right behind me, and was happily occupied in what some would call a more sensible pastime. She was constantly monitoring what countries we flew over and what altitude we were at. I peeked back and her and said with a palpable urgency in my voice “Watch Bahubali, watch it. It is AMAZING”. I don’t think she was all that keen but she watched it nevertheless as she knew I wouldn’t leave her alone otherwise. In the meanwhile, I started watching the movie all over again. Yes, that’s how I am.
Fast forward about two-and-a-half hours, my sister says “what excellent graphics” in a very sarcastic tone. I agree, apart from the ‘Jalparvat’, the graphics could have been much better. But I have always been an optimist, so I chose to completely ignore that and concentrate on the storyline, which for me, was more than enough. My sister was unimpressed. I ignored her, not wishing to argue, as we were soon to land.
Fast forward to Apr 28, 2017. D-day had arrived for all Bahubali fans. A few people from the office had booked tickets for an early-morning Telugu show and asked me if I wanted to tag along but I opted out since I don’t understand the language and I wanted to enjoy-nay, SAVOR-the experience fully without language being a barrier. I chose to book tickets for the next day, gritted my teeth and tamped down my envy as the office gang returned and raved about it endlessly.
Cut to the next day, a Saturday obviously. I woke up with a terrible headache, having been out with siblings and friends to celebrate a much-coveted promotion. The fact that I had gone a bit, umm, over-the-top with my partying the previous night did not deter me. I was still in bed and opened Bookmyshow to check out the show timings in cinemas nearby. Most shows were fully booked and the ticket prices escalated with each show. I was fully prepared to go alone, the ticket amount did not matter to me one bit. But my sister offered to accompany me, much to my delight. She wasn’t keen on the movie, but the prospect of sitting idle at home did not appeal to her very much so it was more like a ‘oh what the hell, I’ll just go along’ thing with her. We booked a show for the afternoon, tickets at 380 rupees a pop at a cinema which usually charged a maximum of 200 rupees per ticket.
When we reached the plex, the first sight that greeted us was the sheer NUMBER of people milling around. It was obvious which movie all the crowd was present for, and it added fuel to my already buzzing adrenaline levels. It was like blood lust. The anticipation was almost too much for me to handle and I physically started to shiver with the excitement.
The cinema hall was packed. It was the first time I sat so close to the screen, about 6-7 rows away from it. All the tickets at the back were booked and we had been very lucky to get two seats together, after looking at seating arrangements in at least 5-6 different shows.
The credits roll began. Whoever has watched the movie on the big screen will remember just how long the list of sponsors and marketing collaborators was. It was clear that a good deal of money had been splashed out on the film.
After the list ended (perhaps after a full two minutes!)came the opening song. And oh my, WHAT an opening song!
Shivam/Oka Praanam (in Telugu) was unusual, to the say the least. Unusual and very, very effective when it came to introducing each character of the movie and tying the first to the second, serving as a refresher course of all that had transpired. Life-size, porcelain 3-D statues of primary characters with the lyrics matching each perfectly. The first shot of the song, with Sivagami’s hand holding baby Mahendra above the water, the flesh and bone underneath exposed, burst into screen with the background score of ‘Balidaano, Aahution’ ,translating to sacrifice, offerings (to a sacred fire)—sheer perfection, for sacrifice was what it was. Kala Bhairav’s voice and his father Keeravani’s score—killer combination! The song, credits reel still rolling, continued to play, with defining scenes like Devasena chained in the palace courtyard, Bhalla wrestling the massive bull, Shivu shooting the arrow into the tree trunk atop the ‘Dhivara’ waterfall, dangling midair, Shivu/a grown Mahendra placing his foot on Kattappa’s head, with perfectly-timed lightning and thunder claps complementing the scene perfectly. Shivam ended with the most defining scene of all—Kattappa, head lowered, with his sword thrust deep in Bahubali’s back, prompting an immediate reaction of goosebumps. The song was pure perfection and set the scene for the visual extravaganza that was to follow.
The opening sequence does a brilliant job. Not only because it leads up to Prabhas’/Amarendra Bahubali’s introduction, but also as it establishes so many things which connect the movie and serve as delicious plot points. The rakshas-dehen utsav, meaning the festival for killing the demon, requires the daughter-in-law of the royal family to walk a long distance to a temple in the forest, barefoot, without stopping even once, in order to set fire to a demon’s effigy and symbolically rid the kingdom of all evil. Queen Mother Sivagami undertakes the ritual, royal entourage in tow, and her first scene is one wherein she has a pot of hot coals on her head, walking at a determined pace, eyes blazing, even as her feet are bloodied and cracked. This establishes her character as a tough, tenacious woman who will do anything for the benefit of the kingdom, even if it harms her personally; a plot point for what is to transpire much later in the movie.
The village crowd is cheering her on and all the clamour has agitated a huge elephant, who—trumpeting loudly—pulls off the mahout on its back and tramples him to the ground before setting off on a rampage. The film starts on a violent note, there is virtually nothing to prepare you for it. A stark contradiction from the first movie, which is based in a tranquil forest village at the foot of a huge waterfall, and is largely peaceful and idyllic for roughly the first half an hour. The contradiction between both movies plays out beautifully as the first begins on a happy, peaceful note and ends with a scene that anguishes everyone, while the second begins with violence and ends with peace. Of course there is happy ending. Everyone loves a happy ending.
Anyway, back to the stampeding elephant. Another plot point follows soon after. Sivagami asks the faithful Kattappa, ever by her side, to lead the crowds away to safety. Kattappa is chagrined at first, says he cannot leave her alone. What follows is the terse order “Jo kahaa gaya woh karo, Kattappa” and he obliges immediately. The scene serves the purpose perfectly, even more so than the scene in the first movie where Kattappa is actually introduced in present day, to highlight his unflinching loyalty and obedience to orders given by the royal family of Mahishmati. The very sense of obedience that turns out to be his Achilles’ Heel later on.
The elephant, in the meanwhile, has uprooted a mandap and overturned it in its rage, and is now hurtling along towards Sivagami. She is unfazed and continues to walk towards the temple, which is where the elephant originally stood. Just as the beast seems to be within 10-20 yards’ distance from her, a heretofore unseen wooden door is shown crashing open and falling to the ground, and a cloud of dust rises. The dust clears to reveal—of course—our hero Prabhas, holding a huge temple cart and pulling it forward all by himself with his signature tone of ‘Heysa Rudrassa’ in the background. A Google search reveals, in mishmash, that ‘Heysa Rudrassa’ is a war cry in Sanskrit, meaning ‘all hail the God of war, Lightning personified’. This tune is to be his signature background score in every scene that he is doing something exceptionally heroic, usually in times of war, and only once in a scene which is not a war scene but just as iconic, if not more than the others. I will come to it later.
Amarendra drags the cart along, just in time to dash it into the elephant and prevent it from trampling Sivagami, and the camera pans to the middle portion of the cart which is hollow, allowing her to pass underneath it without stopping, as is the aim. The crowd cheers like crazy. Bahubali has managed the impossible again. The camera then pans upwards to show a figure of Lord Ganesha on the cart, Prabhas at its feet. Some may say the scene is very massy, the usage of Ganesha is very filmy, as He is the Elephant God and stopped the stampeding elephant. But Ganesha is also the remover of obstacles, and I feel it was entirely apt. Amarendra then pours a pot of turmeric over the elephant’s head, calming down the beast who does not seem to be injured, thankfully, and it sits down, tame as a kitten.
Daler Mehendi’s boisterous voice—simply perfect for the song—then bursts forth into the title track, with Amarendra jumping off the cart and grinning at Sivagami who has continued to walk ahead towards the temple. Prabhas does a fabulous job with his expressions here. His face is a mixture of cockiness and an endearing ‘Look what I just did, mom!’. It is after she gives him an approving smile that he turns to look at the elephant, touch it tenderly on the head and commands it to stand. It does so willingly, even offering him its trunk to use as a step for climbing atop after which the crowd cheers again.
It’s a riveting opening sequence. It establishes the hero as a powerful man, a creative problem-solver, a loving son and a to-be king loved by the masses. All of these factors either have been or will be important to the plot over both movies.
This is followed by the title song; a montage of past and present—the Kalakeya battle and his way of protecting the commoner prisoners-of-war from the first movie, and him riding horseback, picking lotuses from a pond, emerging from the crowds while mother Sivagami distributes clothes to the poor, two kids on his shoulders to present the flowers to her, him striding, brilliantly-sculpted torso shown off to perfection, arms glistening as he engages in sword practice—in the present. It is unabashed Prabhas porn, an ode to someone so larger-than-life yet down-to-earth. And nobody seems to be complaining.
Three principal movie characters have been shown so far, each having gotten an introduction for the second time. Notably, in the first movie, Sivagami is introduced as a forceful, magnetic character. She quells any opposition by the sheer force of her personality. In the second, the force of the personality is still there. This time it is far mellower, yet strangely just as powerful.
Even the evil Bijjaldeva (Nasser) gets a proper introduction this time. In the first, he is shown first as a prince, seething with anger and envy at having lost the throne to his younger brother, and then as an old man and primary sycophant to the main antagonist, his son Bhallaldeva (Rana). Yet in the second, he gets his chance to shine, in his own way. Destroying the pillar with his non-crippled hand, he is hammy and hackneyed as it can get. However, this too serves as a good introduction scene as it shows the audience just how much anger he still carries in him and how that very rage goes on to destroy the lives of nearly everyone in the film.
Curiously, Bhalla does not get an introduction scene in this movie. It led me to wonder whether this was deliberate on director Rajamouli’s part, to give the antagonists only one introduction. In the first movie of course, there is the bull-taming scene. Rana, incredibly powerful and ruthless, showing off his marvellously-toned back before proceeding to fight head-to-head with a massive bull before killing it with a perfectly-aimed knock which breaks its neck.
However, having watched the movie several times ever since, I am inclined to believe that his introduction in movie two is just as powerful as the first.
In the first, his physical prowess is highlighted; in the second, his mental acumen. Bijjala is furious, drunk with a potent mix of wine and burning envy. He is expressing his desire to kill Sivagami with his bare hands because she has decided to crown Bahubali the emperor, choosing him over biological son Bhalla while the gang of cronies—the chief priest, a few ministers and the ‘dandanayak’ Setupati—look on in horror. He asks Bhalla if they should kill her. For an awful moment, as Bhalla looks into his father’s eyes, he actually seems to be considering it. We know he is evil and it is possible that he might agree to it. Those who haven’t watched the first movie though might get confused, as he takes a fairly long time to reply. When he does, a simple “ye aapki madira bol rahi hai, pitaji (it is the drink talking)” is all he says before keeping the goblet aside. One may wonder if he has actually reformed. It is only later than one realises what a brilliant strategist he is; biding his time, plotting all along, using his knowledge of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to serve his end goal. And boy, does it work!
The ball is rolling. Sivagami has asked Baahu to undertake a deshyaatan (tour of the kingdom) before his coronation, so as to see the state of affairs and get an idea of the issues he needs to address once crowned. Kattappa is asked to accompany him and they set off touring several villages and bustling marketplaces. They come upon a pond in the midst of a serene meadow and stop to take a break, and everything seems perfect for a while, before we see a dead man’s head bobbing in the water. Soon, about a hundred bodies are shown floating. Kattappa tells Baahu these are victims of a marauding swarm of bandits called the Pindaris who don’t just stop at looting villages, but also kill all the inhabitants and give them a watery grave. I choose not to go too much into detail here for two reasons; one, this is a plot point too, a MAJOR one. And two, my impatience has bubbled to the fore as one of my favorite scenes is upcoming!!
Baahu and Kattappa have reached a clearing in the woods which seems like the outskirts of a village/town. There is a well and several villagers milling about, minding their business. Baahu and Kattappa are lounging about when a procession of about two dozen men bearing a palanquin comes along. The procession is led by a pompous-looking nobleman (Subbaraju, excellent!)who brushes Kattappa aside rudely when he tries to ask who they are. The men set the palanquin under a canopied stone structure. Baahu is intrigued, he can see the outline of a pretty woman behind the white veil. The smile on his face is like that of a baby, pure and frank; he likes what he sees and has no qualms making that obvious. Before he can approach or anything else can happen, there are screams and people running helter-skelter. The men in the procession turn out to be armed soldiers, fully prepared for this; a group of bandits is attacking the village and they have to fight them off. A fierce battle ensues but Baahu and Kattappa don’t intervene as the soldiers seem to have the skirmish under control.
Four of these bandits, in the meanwhile, are running towards the palanquin. One can presume they are doing so with the intention to abduct the lady inside.
We are so used to filmy tropes that most people would expect this to be a classic case of damsel-in-distress rescued by knight-in-shining-armour–or in this case, rough cotton clothes (Baahu has changed out of his royal robes for the deshyatan, obviously)—before they fall in love and live happily ever after.
But no! Oh God, no! And here’s why I looooove this scene!
The woman in the palanquin has exited it in a trice, taking the veil with her. So fast, we literally cannot even see her for a while. The camera blinks here, unless I am mistaken, to highlight the speed of her action. We are then shown the woman from the back, waving the veil in front of herself to confound the attacking bandits. The manoeuvre works because the bandits are stumped. They cannot see their quarry and come too close, a fatal flaw. The next instant, she has cut her sword through the veil, piercing a bandit right in the heart and twisting in the point, revealing a pair of flashing, beautiful eyes at the same time. The background score for this scene is so damned good, I find it surreal. It is then that the camera shows Baahu, watching on the sidelines, drawing a sharp, deep breath while his jaw drops. The next moment she has cut through another portion of the veil to reveal her lips and then slashes the entire veil itself, in the process cutting down four bandits at once.
WHAT an introduction. WHAT an introduction for a FEMALE character in an INDIAN movie!
The score at this time, the bloody score! It is so good, I cannot imagine there being a more perfect background score for a scene like this. The pieces of what was once a veil are now fluttering in the air, and a young Devasena (Anushka Shetty) is fully revealed in slow-mo. She is regal, beautiful, majestic, and oh, her face!!! A look of steely determination in her eyes, jaw clenched, long hair flying about. She is dressed in jewel tones of pink, blue and gold. She has worn jewelry too. These details are important.
To me, the fact that she does not look like a drab and hardened warrior (Tamannah in the first movie) but fully kitted out like the princess she is speaks volumes. She is a skilled warrior alright, does not need rescuing and is in fact better than most of the men around her when it comes to battle skills. At the same time, she has not sacrificed her ‘feminity’. She still dresses up, she likes looking good. And what’s wrong with that?
Devasena proceeds to back-kick a bandit in the face, before delivering a sharp right hook to another in the jaw.
What I love about this scene, apart from the FANTASTIC Devasena, is Baahu’s behaviour. He is a warrior par excellence. He could easily pitch in and nullify the attack within minutes. He does not. He continues to gape at Devasena. Gape is the wrong word. He looks transfixed, hypnotised as he watches. He knows she does not need rescuing. He recognises her abilities. This is so unlike most of the film heroes we have seen, growing up.
He then hears a rustling in the woods and sees people fleeing from there, screaming. He and Kattappa venture in and see about two dozen bandits prowling. What follows is a very well-executed fight sequence, Baahu and Kattappa working as a team, their movements perfectly in sync with each other and soon the problem has been dealt with, classic Baahu style. The way they fight in perfect tune with each other is yet another plot point, one that comes forth in the second half in a sad, sad scene.
I will stop with the scene-by-scene detailing here. I could gladly discuss each and every scene in the movie, examine the nuances and make interpretations. Although this movie may seem very straightforward in the sense that the storyline is the classic good-eventually-triumphs one, close examination reveals the sheer depth of each character, the superb attention to detail, and the many ways of looking at things. Director Rajamouli has done a brilliant job of giving us characters like these.
The symbolism and use of metaphors– not just in dialogues–but also in props and set design is extremely rich and begs to be unravelled in the course of long discussions. I have been part of just such discussions on a fantastic blog called dontcallitbollywood.com. I remember the day I found the blog, it was the same feeling of blood lust I felt before watching the movie. Here were several bright, knowledgeable people discussing the movie I loved so much in beautifully excruciating detail. I happily joined in those discussions and was able to garner good responses to my observations there. I never remembered ENJOYING film critique so much.
No, my post will not delve deeper into the film. The reason I stop here is because all the principal characters have now been formally introduced to us, though it takes two full films to do so. My favorite introduction is undoubtedly that of Devasena’s; as a middle-aged lady chained in the palace courtyard in the first, and a beautiful warrior princess in the second. I love her almost as much as I do Amarendra Bahubali. And I love his character very, very, very much. Prabhas is a big-ticket actor down south. He apparently devoted five full years to the movie, not signing any other film along the way, even refusing a Rs. 10-crore endorsement deal offered to him as he wanted to focus on the film. He enjoys tremendous goodwill in the industry and there are reports that many people offered him money for free, just to tide him over in the five years that he worked on these films. He refused, of course. In interviews he has said “In these five years I have been more of Bahubali than myself”.
Did it pay off? It rarely happens that a movie character becomes bigger than the actor himself. And here, that is exactly what has happened. This is an ode to a fantastic storyline, a flawless fellow star cast, and several high-octane scenes throughout the movie.
This brings me back to the one outlier scene which has the ‘Heysa Rudrassa’ theme as the background score. Like I mentioned, it is only used when Baahu is doing something heroic in heroic context; crashing the door open with a temple cart, riding atop bulls with flaming horns, etc. Barring one instance. The only time ‘Heysa Rudrassa’ is played in a non-fight sequence is when Baahu is striding into the packed courtroom in the second half of the movie, when his then (now?) heavily-pregnant wife Devasena was chained for having chopped off Army Commander Setupati’s fingers for trying to lay a hand on her, after having groped several village women.
On the surface, it is a non-fight scene. It is a packed courtroom, king Bhalla is presiding over judicial proceedings, Queen Mother Sivagami is supervising. One wouldn’t ordinarily expect violence to transpire here, yet Baahu has his hand on the hilt of his sword, a look of pure fury on his face at seeing his wife in chains. We know something huge is going to happen. What follows is Baahu’s version of instant justice. Heroic, in its own way. The ‘Heysa Rudrassa’ fits the theme perfectly.
To conclude, there are many reasons why people like this film. It gives us characters that are very good (Bahubali father-son duo, Devasena, Kattappa, Avantika), those that are very bad (Bhalla, Bijjala) and those who have shades of grey (Sivagami). In many ways, it is this very ‘grey’ character Sivagami who drives the film. It is very much like the Amar Chitra Katha books of our childhood. A hero dies a wrongful, untimely death, his wife is then held captive for a quarter of a century, his mother is killed but she manages to save his infant heir who then avenges all the wrongdoing that has transpired. The story isn’t new by any means, but the way it is told definitely is. It is no wonder that the movie has raked in pots of money for its makers and catapulted Tollywood stars to national, no, international fame. Prabhas now has his own wax statue. This is telling of what a sheer masterpiece it is.
My sister offered to watch the movie with me one last time on the big screen before it was taken off theatres. It enjoyed an over two-month run in cinemas, demolishing several big Bollywood films that released along the way. I took my sister to Viviana in Thane, booked shows in its simply beautiful VIP hall, so as to end things on a high note. For the first time since I made her watch the movie, I saw my sister watching it avidly. She actually paid attention the nuances, the finer details.
Three hours later came the verdict I was desperate to hear from her, all those weeks: “I have to admit, this is actually a very good movie. I paid attention this time. It is definitely good”
The happiness that coursed through me at the time surprised me. The pride I felt, it was as if I made the movie myself. Like it was personal. Maybe it was. It touched me way too deeply, shook me to the core, a brain fever of a kind. I don’t think the fever will subside anytime soon. Not that I wish to recover anyway.