Bahubali (strong of arm) is, a fellow reviewer told me, essentially the south flexing its biceps, yet again, at Bollywood. It’s true, though usually this job is left to Rajini Sir. He arrives, all genuflect in unison, and we all agree to mind it.
But this time around it’s Telugu writer-director S.S. Rajamouli who has decided to up the ante. He has made what’s being called India’s most expensive film ever. Given that it’s actually two films and not one, I’m not sure how the mathematics works. But the marketing department is happy.
After the resounding bombing of Bombay Velvet, Anurag Kashyap’s magnum vanity project (Rs 110 crore), we know that money is no measure of quality, outcome, entertainment quotient…
Thankfully, Rajamouli is in familiar territory. He has won several awards, made many blockbusters, some of which have been remade in Hindi with A-list stars, though without Rajamouli’s signature panache and high drama. And he’s done the historical-revenge, birth-rebirth saga in fancy dresses and CGI before.Magadheera (2009) made Rs 20 crore in the first week, in Andhra alone.
Bahubali, that cost Rs 160 crore (Rs 10 crore more than Rajini Sir’s Robot, apparently), and is releasing simultaneously in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi, is a spicy but familiar Madras Mixture. Rajamouli has taken the outlines of his main characters from the collected works of India’s two biggest scriptwriters — Vyas and Valmiki — and garnished it with a strong tadka of Tolkien and kadi-patta.Bahubali is more impressive than entertaining. It has great action, but it craves drama.
Bahubali’s story is presented in a complicated manner but is fairly simple.
The film opens with a woman carrying a newborn away from the royal guards who are chasing her. She being the smart one dodges them and then appeals to the gods to save the child and take her life instead.
Iss route ki sabhi liney free hain. Immediately her pleas are heard and the child is safely in the hands of a doting tribal queen while the harried lady is, well…
The tribal queen brings up Shivudu (Prabhas) as her own son, constantly worrying about him. You see, they live in a village that sits on the foot of Jalparvat. Water gushes down a mysterious and very tall mountain and that intrigues Shivudu. He wants to see what lies on top and attempts to climb it almost every single day. He’s failed in all his attempts till one fateful day when, to show that he is of strong will and arms, he installs a Shivling under the waterfall and then frolics about in the water, showing off his curls and curves. Shambhu smiles and a wooden mask tumbles down from the mountain.
It’s a woman’s face and Shivudu’s passion and imagination are ignited. He imagines blue butterflies, a lassie in white and takes flight, quite literally, singing and climbing Jalparvat.
But when he reaches the top, the guiding maiden disappears and in her place he sees Avantika (Tamannaah), a rebel soldier who is quick to strike and spill blood.
He’s smitten. So he stalks her. Avantika is assigned to free queen Devasana, wife of Amarendra Bahubali, who has been a prisoner of Mahishmati’s king Bhallala Deva (Rana Dagubatti) for several years.
Avantika is too busy or tired to notice when Shivudu lovingly doodles decorative designs on her arm and hands. And she’s not amused when he finally makes an appearance and says to her, “You ladki, I ladka. Chalo, let’s pyar”. But the S&M foreplay that follows makes her change her mind. She, in love and hurting, has to handover her assignment to Shivudu.
Mahishmati’s king Bhallala Deva is also strong of arm, but not morals. Egged on by his father (Nasser) and protected by his loyal senapati Kattappa (Sathyaraj), he fights bulls, erects his statues and is happy to keep torturing Devasena and commoners. He harbours a grudge and a secret…
Shivudu arrives and the moment a commoner lays eyes on him, the kingdom resounds with chants of “Bahubali, Bahubali…”
Though Shivudu is there only to free Devasena, when the past reveals itself, he has to stay on and listen…
There once lived, in Mahishmati, fair and fierce Sivagami (Ramya), who brought up two yuvrajs who had to prove their worth if they wanted to be king.
The kingdom had enemies and was attacked by rakshas led by Kalakeya (Prabhakar). He and his men, of whom there are many, are what racist Bollywood imagines African tribals to be like, and Kalakeya and his men speak like they did in The Gods Must be Crazy, with a cute clucking that’s interesting.
This battle scene is where Rajamouli’s film rises to claim epic status. He presents an impressive spectacle of war with some nice, dramatic moments. But there’s too much slashing about, and it goes on and on, at times feeling like a long bout of Fruit Ninja — slash, slit, slash, slit… It could, should have been tighter, faster.
When it finally ends, the last scene is intriguing enough for us to look forward toBahubali — The Conclusion. Especially because it promises more of Sathyaraj’s Kattappa.
Bahubali starts off as a tacky, low-budget, DD-esque film. Even the initial CGI and brushed-out-wire flying stunts are crude and untidy. But, as it moves forward, the story twisting and revealing one character after another, with secrets, mistakes and mystery, it all begins to come together.
Rajamouli has reserved all the grander and grandstanding for later, after interval. That’s when the film stands up and begins to strut like an epic. The battle scenes are monumental in scale and accomplished in detail, but lack urgency and tension. Prabhas has some fun scenes, like when he literally slaps a sharp sword, and the fighting is rather convincing. But the acting, especially of Prabhas and Rana Daggubati, is very action-man like — grimace, clench, flex… But then, what are burly men to do when they have to slit, slash, slit, slash… Here’s hoping that part two will have the emotional drama that was missing here.
Tamannaah is impressive in the fight scenes, though in the striptease I was yawning.
Ramya Krishnan as the Mother Goddess and Prabhakar the senapati were the only two layered and interesting characters and they both dominate the screen, making their characters grow in size and stature.
If you watch the Hindi version, which is dubbed, you’ll be a tad irritated. In close-up, the lips lie.