Abzee on Bahubali
Finally saw Bahubali… after almost everyone I know knew of everyone who’d seen it. One runs a risk of having been overhyped with an event film such as this. Not so with Bahubali, I am glad to note. It is a beast of a film that shatters and soars over any and all expectations and then some more.
Would have preferred seeing it in the original Telugu/Tamil version though. For despite the fact that the Hindi dub is done well, one can sense the loss of nuances, especially given that there are multiple caste and class representations which would come with its own dialects and variants… something that is lost in the Hindi translation which opts for a curiously non-vernacular Hindi.
On to the film, nothing that I have seen in Bollywood (except Mughal-E-Azam which is a stunning achievement purely on a logistical level and given that its production design is all set-decoration and zero CGI) comes even remotely close to the scale, grandeur and execution. SS Rajamouli realizes an entire world, derived though it may be in parts from the best of Mahabharata and LOTR and Hollywood swords & sandals, but all uniquely his own. Using time honoured tropes then to tap into our emotional subconscious, Rajamouli fashions a splendid and breathtaking legend of mythical proportions; one which eventually is also able to have you invested in its characters. From one character’s Krishna-meets-Moses origin story to another’s Bhishma-like trajectory, V. Vijayendra Prasad’s story exploits just enough of the familiar in the use of an altogether new and arresting mythology. The stories of valour, the tales of sacrifice, the edenic love… everything comes together in a surprisingly seamless symphony of clichés.
What jars then are certain inconsistencies and compromises. Prabhas’ casting is a functional one, but it poses a problem when the narrative expects us to buy his transformation from the Krishna-like lover to the Shiva-like agent of destruction. Given that he is pitted against Rana Dagubatti who looks like he’s breathing fire, poses an even greater imbalance. Then there is the much-dissected taming-of-the-shrew sequence involving Tamannah. It is a curious sequence in a film that otherwise provides us strong female characters- where one literally assumes the Vasudeva role ensuring the life of the protagonist, and another’s resolve in true “Mere Karan-Arjun aayenge” style is what keeps the revenge saga alive. Of the irksome sequence then, I will say this… perhaps the ‘key’ to understanding it is to look at it beyond gender; that love as an emotion renders one to embrace within them that which they never acknowledged. In a film which also boasts of visual effects that an Indian film has never seen, and effects that are scripted and executed with commendable original imagination (the use of hay-balls, the climactic Trishul-vyuh battle sequence, etc.), a few sequences stick out disappointingly for their lack of originality (a King Kong inspired vines sequence) and finesse (a poorly done CGI brahma-bull). And while MM Kreem’s soundtrack is apposite and even grows on you, one thinks that this epic deserved a superlative Rahman score. An item-song honouring a masala tradition and featuring Rajamouli in a very meta cameo is also nevertheless out of place.
These are minor quibbles though. Fact is, Bahubali is one of those rare instances, like a Sholay, Ben-Hur, Avatar, etc., when a film commands that it be seen on the largest screen possible. It leaves you wide-eyed, mouth agape, stunned into overwhelmed speechless silence. That such a visual accomplishment (a voluminous waterfall reaching the heavens, a massive shivalinga being hoisted over a shoulder, a likeness in gold fifty times larger being raised by an army of labourers, etc.) is also backed by a ferocious performance in Ramya Krishnan and an affecting one in Sathyaraj are additional icing on an already super-rich cake. In fact, that Sathyaraj is capable of such emotional depth as an actor is perhaps this film’s greatest visual effect! This one was just The Beginning. The 2016 date for The Conclusion seems way too long.