For me (and for countless fans watching this behemoth of a movie across 4000 screens world-wide), the best thing about SS Rajamouli's 250-crore magnum opus is that I could "see'' where the money has gone. It is one of the most visually stunning, spectacularly-mounted movies in recent memory, in which clearly no corners have been cut.
What an extravaganza! And if you are wondering whether there is a story after all this gush about the look of the movie - surprise! surprise! - there is, indeed!
India now has its own lush and lavish, sensuous and richly-textured fairy-tale, which like all memorable fairy-tales, comes with kings and queens, courtiers and slaves, castles, palaces, horses, warriors, battles, feats, treachery, valour, nobility, blackguards, princesses... vaghera, vaghera. Only, a fire-breathing dragon is missing. But worry not, there is an 'Androcles and the Lion' moment thrown in, where, instead of a lion, there is a maddened bull. SS Rajamouli must have scrupulously studied the great spectacle movies of Cecil B DeMille like 'Samson and Delilah', 'The Ten Commandments', 'Cleopatra', and incorporated all the required elements into his own blockbuster. (Four languages, and the fastest entry into the 200-crore box office club - let's call 'Baahubali' the big gamble that paid off).
I watched it at a friendly, neighbourhood multiplex, with what can only be described as a chi-chi South Mumbai crowd. The kind that orders steamed edamame beans during the interval, and avoids nachos. On a rainy, mid-week evening, the hall was packed! I ran into a couple of acquaintances, who ducked, obviously embarrassed to be caught watching this "weird" film. A stranger walked up to me and asked with exaggerated amusement, "So... what are you doing at a movie like this?" Excuse me! I could have said, "Same thing as you..." A movie is a movie is a movie. Even if I went for the show without knowing too much about it, I went with an open mind (the only way to watch movies). I had figured if 'Baahubali' was seriously yucky, I would at least enjoy the 'healthy bhel' (no potatoes, no fried sev or kadak pooris) and go home for a large shot of Old Monk. Within the first two minutes, I knew I was in the right hall, watching an amazing movie.
It must have been those waterfalls.
Gushing water is the leitmotif of 'Baahubali' (think Freud, all ye with dirty minds!). At some point or the other, nearly every major character has a 'waterfall moment'. 'Baahubali' himself is attractively drenched in the first half, and since Prabhas has a pretty ummm... well-defined, muscle-walli body, nobody is complaining. Ditto for the ravishing Tamanna, who starts off clad in nothing much more than iridescent blue butterflies fluttering strategically over her svelte self, but somehow gets forgotten as Avantika, Baahubali's love interest, once the narrative moves into heavy-duty war scenes with the bloodiest, goriest violence, graphically depicted in loving close ups of mangled body parts. Not since Raj Kapoor stuck a curvaceous Mandakini under a waterfall in 'Ram Teri Ganga Maili', has a heroine sent out such a strong, sexually-charged message. The drenching never ends - even enchained, middle-aged mums (Baahubali's) aren't spared!
By then, viewers are totally hooked! To the violence and the sexy scenes. The item song in 'Baahubali' is pretty ingenious - let's call it the new version of the old Indian Rope Trick. Pitting two unambiguously hunky men (Prabhas and Rana Daggubati) against one another is also a pretty inspired move. While Prabhas resembles a younger, better-looking version of Rajinikanth, Daggubati holds his own in a villainous role. There is an abundance of naked virility combined with agility in the movie, and the scene in which Baahubali uproots and carries a mighty lingam on his broad shoulders, comes with its own subliminal subtext! Poochho mat! Kya powerful imagery!
The story continues in 'The Conclusion' (the movie I watched is "The Beginning'). What struck me is the idea of male attractiveness as defined by mainstream Bollywood... and how differently it is exploited in a movie like 'Baahubali', which is unashamedly driven by testosterone. Prabhas and Rana Daggubati look great! And far more attractive than some of the overpaid Bolllywood wimps we watch in mediocre films. These two fit their respective roles perfectly, and play macho warriors with enormous flair and credibility.
Granted, the love songs could have been avoided, but the romancing was pretty creative (underwater doodles on a sweetheart's slim hand, while she sleeps). I fell big-time for the fantasy. And I loved the Rajmata's exquisite nine-yards ki kashta sarees (you need a great bum for this saree style to work).
Now to the downside - of course, the film is shamelessly racist (the dreaded dushman from across the border are blackened faced tribals resembling Zulu warriors from old Hollywood movies). The unwashed, uncouth, barbaric warriors fight Baahubali's army, impeccably turned out like Roman gladiators! Yup. That crude. That obvious.
The movie is sexist, too. But no more than most movies. The women are powerful, alluring and courageous, ferociously taking on adversaries and putting up a pretty tough fight - make-up and hair intact!
Haan bhai! 'Baahubali' racist hai. Sexist hai. Sab kuch hai. Toh bhi picture achchi lagi! What to do???
The man who stole my heart was not Baahubali - but his loyal slave Kattappa, marvellously played by Sathyaraj. It's safe to state I am ready to pre-book my ticket for Part-2, just to watch what Kattappa does next.
(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion shaper and social commentator, who is considered an authority on popular culture.)
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