Bahubali — Magnum Opus with Infirmities

Finally managed to watch the concluding part of the movie that has seemingly broken all time records at the Indian Box Office. I had watched the first part in my native Telugu but had to settle for Hindi for the concluding part.

The Bahubali series by Rajamouli has clearly set a new Indian benchmark on the magnificent scale of production. But much of the critical commentary since it’s release has fallen into the binaries of religious symbolism and caste feudalism, both of which frankly miss the point in their attempt to critically view Bahubali through the prism of present day political debates.

Where Bahubali scored on grandeur it faltered on story telling — here is why.

It did not go far enough to innovate on the all too familiar construct of Palace Intrigue. It failed to make the journey of the hero about something larger than familial revenge.

There were moments though when it appeared that the story teller was poised to explore something beyond the ordinary when Devasena mocks and challenges her husband to gift her by staking claim to the Kingdom. It was a huge letdown that there was no serious exploration of this dilemma of the Hero on which the plot could have taken an innovative turn.

It was disappointing that the larger than life Hero was disposed off with the usual song and dance in the first half and a melee of stunts in the second half without delving deep into the moral choices he had to make or into the larger cause that he could have sought to rally the masses alongside his valor. Instead we got a very shallow glimpse into what makes the Hero a larger than Life figure.

As an experiment I asked my 10 year old what he thought of this magnum opus when contrasted with the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Star Wars trilogy. He pointed out there weren’t innovations like monster-creatures or weapons like light-sabres. But the most profound observation that he made which stumped me was that there weren’t many unanswered questions save for the “why did Katappa kill Bahubali”.

What he was alluding to was the essence of epic story telling the many plots, sub-plots and the hidden motives of the various characters.

On this count the story telling in Bahubali comes across as quite weak as it left little further to imagination while relegating the motives and dilemmas of it’s many characters to the background - chief among them being the Hero son who avenges the Super Hero father without any insight into what makes him a Hero beyond genetics.

Can we expect the next Rajamouli magnum opus to overcome these infirmities to create an epic story that will out last it’s shelf life at the box office ?