My review of Bahubali 1

For some time my wife has been giving me the feelers that we should go watch Bahubali 2, since, watching this movie has almost turned into a cultural phenomenon, and the world has been bifurcated into those who have watched it, and those who haven’t.

The Indian social media has also been abuzz with how the sequel has been made to highlight (and hence, make use of) the current “mood” in the country. Our ever-vigilant liberals have pointed out that whereas Bahubali 1 was subtle about the religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds of the plot and the characters, there is a conspicuous “Hinduness” in Bahubali 2, and worst, the movie does not have a secular feel. The huge success the sequel is experiencing is being, in castigatory overtones, attributed to this characteristic — it’s an ominous sign of aggressive and assertive Hindutva that’s attracting so many people to the film.

My sister called yesterday and said in the Saket Mall (New Delhi) the tickets for Bahubali 2 are being sold for 2000 per seat. She wanted to know if it’s possible to watch the movie in Indirapuram. I reluctantly checked and found out that yes, we can watch the movie without spending Rs. 2000 per ticket. But she said, in order to be able to appreciate Bahubali 2, one needs to first watch Bahubali 1, which, I hadn’t.

These days we’re trying to wean our daughter away from her mobile phone and binge watching of meaningless YouTube videos. So, one of our activities these days is, watching movies that my wife and I, and our almost-12-year-old, can enjoy. We decided to watch Bahubali 1.

There’s a reason I hadn’t watched Bahubali 1 up till now, and if there hadn’t been a talk of watching Bahubali 2, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have watched it even now.

Whenever I saw its trailers or its random video clips on YouTube, it failed to impress me, both graphically as well as the screen presence of the actors. I constantly compared it to The Game of Thrones and even The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you say why I am comparing an Indian film to Hollywood films, I will say, why not? Why shouldn’t the quality of our films be like those in Hollywood, and even better?

Besides, if you are selling a movie on the strength of its visual canvas, then of course comparisons are going to be made with other movies and TV series having visual canvas as one of their main strengths.

Nonetheless, yesterday night when I sat with my family to watch Bahubali 1, I sat with an open mind. I wanted to enjoy the movie with daughter and wife without wasting my mental resources on finding faults.

The beginning is quite good. There is a valiant woman who emerges from a cave, most probably a passageway, trying to save an infant. There is an enormous water body and the waterfall seems to be coming from the heavens. She fights, she hides, she runs, she kills, she evades and she even keeps the infant above the raging torrents while herself completely submerged. Ramya makes an impressive entry, and a quick exit, only to reappear in the second half of the story.

The infant is rescued by some people belonging to a tribe that seems to live in the jungle of the abyss where the water falls. The woman drowns.

The boy grows up in the tribe with one of its women, probably the wife of the chief, assuming the role of his mother. While growing, the boy is constantly trying to get out of the abyss and climb the perilously steep walls of the mountain. Something is always calling him. He grows up to be a very strong young man.

One day they show that in order to stop him from constantly trying to go up, his mother pledges to wash the Shiva Linga with thousand buckets of water. The village priest advises her to do so. She eagerly takes up the challenge but the young boy doesn’t like that his mother is working so hard. With his immense strength he rips the Shiv Linga off the ground, carries it on his shoulder and places it under the waterfall that seems to come from the heavens. This is the scene everyone must have seen in the trailers.

By this time the actor who has played Bahubali, Prabhas, begins to show that he is more bothered about giving poses and smiling sweetly rather than getting under the skin of the character. He seems to look at you as if it’s your religious obligation to adore him.

One day, when he is smiling and jumping around aimlessly, a mask falls from the top of the mountain and he finds it. He sort of falls in love with the mask which seems to belong to a pretty girl.

The mask motivates him enough to instill a new energy in him and finally he is able to scale the watery heights of the mountain.

Above, a news story is unfolding. There is a warrior girl who belongs to a revolutionary group which is working against the current king of Mahismathi. King Bhallala Deva has wrongfully usurped the crown and has also imprisoned Devasena, Bahubali’s mother (right now Bahubali is called Shiva). She’s been kept in an open air grilled enclosure for 25 years. Katappa tries to persuade her to accept her follies in front of the king and seek pardon, but she firmly believes that her son is going to come, free her, and slaughter Bhallala Deva.

Katappa is a slave and also a kind of a commander who is not easy to beat. One of his ancestors had pledged that his future generations shall always remain slaves to the royal family and even when he is presented with opportunities to unshackle himself, he chooses to remain a slave.

The revolutionary group to which this warrior girl called Avanthika belongs, is planning to rescue Devasena (who is waiting for her son) and she has been assigned the task due to her extraordinary capabilities.

Up till here the movie follows a logical plot. There is nice imagery. Even the FX effects are quite decent if not up to the mark.

And then the makers of the movie cease to resist the strange temptations that Indian moviemakers are usually gripped with.

There she is, Avanthika, going to embark upon perhaps the most important mission of her life, for which she might have been preparing her whole life, and there ascends a chap who says that he has been drawn to her by her mask. They do an exotic dance and he rips off almost all of her clothes, washes away all the signs of martial identity from her body and turns her into the quintessential cutie pie, within a span of three minutes. They also have sex around 3–4 minutes after he has told her that he has come there just for her. Talk of being forward.

The absurdity doesn’t stop here. Suddenly, from a warrior woman, she metamorphoses into a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued at every juncture. Now that she’s being rescued by Shiva, why not let him take care of the most important mission of her life too? He actually says that now that she belongs to him, all her obligations too belong to him. She blankly looks at him and later on, even convinces her comrades that they should trust him.

Then there is suddenly lots of snow. In fact, so much snow that there is also an avalanche. But otherwise it’s either quite hot, or they get distracted and forget about the snow.

Anyway, Shiva, according to the love-laced commitment he has made to the girl who used to be a great warrior but now is nothing more than a damsel in distress, frees Devasena singlehandedly (Devasena knows who he is but in the bedlam doesn’t get a chance to tell him), gets caught by Balla’s guards, gets into a duel with Katappa as Katappa is loyal to the royal family and doesn’t know who Shiva is, and almost defeats Katappa, who, recognizes who Shiva really is, and bows in front of him. In the mean time even Shiva’s tribal family arrives, and then they all bow in front of him.

This is just one half of the story.

The other half happens in the flashback in which Ramya turns out to be a really strong character in the form of Sivagami, the matriarch who takes control of the Kingdom when the king suddenly dies and her husband is too wicked to rule. In fact, she is the best and the strongest character of the movie and her experience shows through her portrayal. She raises Shiva’s father, Amarendra Bahubali, and anoints him as king, rejecting her own son.

Bahubali, as the name goes, has to have extraordinary strength but it’s the women characters in the movie that manage to blossom whether for some fleeting moments Avanthika who is suddenly turned into an insignificant, stereotypical lady, Devasena, Shiva’s imprisoned mother or Sivagami who is not just a warrior but also a righteous leader despite having a conniving and villainous husband and later on, son.

Talking of son, Bhallala Deva, played by Rana Daggubati, has also been a character well played by the actor.

The weakest points of the film are of course Prabhas, the actor who plays Bahubali, and, since the entire film is based on this aspect, the action scenes. Prabhas might be a sweet chap and it might be the responsibility of the director to make him act, he fails to instill a sense of depth into the character of Bahubali. He is always “playing the role”. You don’t feel connected to the character. As I have written in the beginning, he is always busy posing. Even when he is doing something impressive, like, deciding not to sacrifice a bull before going to war, he fails to make an impact.

Most of the fight scenes are very childish. When both Bahubali and Bhallala Deva fight the Kalakeyas army, they act as if they are warding off flies rather than fighting. Even with computer graphics they haven’t been able to create an impressive battleground.

Bahubali is a good story with strong female characters and you get entertained and if you don’t have great expectations from computer graphics and imagery then you are also going to get impressed with the visuals created in the movie. Of course there are some glimpses of great artwork and cinematography and the movie has its plus signs and this is why it has drawn so much attention. It might had been better if the male actors could act well. Still, I’m looking forward to watching Bahubali 2.