Baahubali has been termed India’s Largest Motion Picture yet. And it sure feels like one. Made on a whopping budget of 40 million USD, the theatrical trailer floored everyone with its breathtaking visuals and CGI. But does the movie live up to the hype?
Ok, let us get the most important question out of the way. Should you watch Baahubali? YES!! Without any hesitation. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest and most ambitious movies to have come out of Indian cinema ever! But how many more times you are gonna watch this film will depend on how much you can stomach typical filmi mass elements, item songs that pop out of nowhere and yes, hero apotheosis that is such a trade mark of S.S. Rajamouli that I couldn’t help myself from slightly cringing every moment someone put a display of “reverence” towards our hero on screen. Oh wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the very beginning.
The Story In A Nutshell
Once upon a time in India, a time when deserts and snow capped mountains co-existed side by side, there had been a prosperous kingdom called Mahishmathi. The king dies, and the kingdom has two eligible princes to choose from to grace the throne next. Bhallaladeva (Rana), the older and evil-er with a blind desire to be King. And then you have Baahubali (Prabas), the man with a heart, strong arms notwithstanding. And I’ll stop right here. To tell anymore of the story would be giving away too much of the too little that it has. If you’re surprised, then you don’t really know Rajamouli. I will get to this in detail later. But where the director scores in in the screenplay! Even with the predictable plot, I found it hard to not concentrate on the screen 100% of the time. It’s that good!! The first takes take time to establish all the characters but once that is one, we’re off to one racy ride ending in that high-octane climax!
But are you ready for this other tid-bit? The director actually pulls off the longest intermission ever for any movie. No, I’m not talking about the intermission in this one, I’m talking about the one between The Beginning and The Conclusion. Why do I feel this way is because what you get in this movie is only half of the story. But that’s how all multi-part movies are, no? You ask. No. Each of the parts need to have a closure in some form of the other, I mean it should tell one whole of a smaller story. But what Baahubali is – it’s a big setup. All it does, albeit successfully, is to establish the characters to make way for the big conclusion. For which we have to wait one whole year. Same time, 2016. And that is cruel. For all my ambivalence towards the movie, at the end of the 2 hours and 40 minutes runtime, I was charged up enough to sit through another three hours to watch the entire plot unfold. I couldn’t just digest that the movie ended where it did. There was a nice enough twist that’s going to keep the audience’s mind occupied with fan theories for a while though.
CAST AND PERFORMANCES
For once, I liked that a lot of people other than the “hero” get ample screen time to showcase their talent. So this is my opinion on the major cast, in no particular order of preference –
PRABHAS: This guy had never been a great performer. And it continues in this film as well. He has at most four expressions on his face throughout: confused face, stupid smiley face, serious brood face, I’m-going-to-rip-you-apart face. I honestly can’t think of anymore.
Prabhas was cast simply and mainly for his physique. You need a guy who sells Baahubali, this towering hunk of a prince who defies all laws of physics. He lifts hundred feet statues, tears apart boulders like they are wood and does superman like leaps in the air. And Prabhas at least fits the bill in this regard. You never once doubt Baahubali’s capabilities.
RANA DAGGUBATI: A welcome change from the deadpan that is Prabhas, Rana gets a more meatier role in the antagonist Bhallala Deva and does an impressive job of it too. He also benefits from getting a multi-layered character and better lines than the hero.
If anything, this movie is going to give Rana that long awaited break. He arrives with aplomb and how!
RAMYA KRISHNA: No words; she is just spectacular as Sivagami, the queen regent. It’s all in those eyes.
SATHYARAJ: What a refined performance. Kattappa is an interestingly written character, something that is quite new. Sathyaraj shines throughout – a twinkle in the eye, a twist of the lip, he does it all with perfection. Somehow reminded me of Davos from Game of Thrones.
TAMANNAH – I always believed her to be a capable performer and she does an okay job here. In a nice surprise, she gets to play the role of a warrior on a mission. She was a bit too stiff, probably deliberately, for my tastes but she does make her impact felt.
ANUSHKA – We all know that the best is yet to come. Devasena in this movie is an old, wizened and in-rags woman who’s been kept captive by Bhallala Deva for 25 years. We know very less of her except for the fact that she had been the love interest of both Bhallala Deva and Baahubali once. Anushka has very little to do in terms of acting, but she does say a lot with her eyes. And I guess special mention has to go to the makeup and costume team too.
Probably the one USP of this movie and something that’s got everyone’s interest piqued. I would say the graphics were very good indeed for a movie of this scale and grandiosity. I can totally see the amount of work that has gone into visualizing and creating these worlds that do not really exist. You totally buy the entire landscape, from the Mashismathi kingdom to the supertall waterfalls. Everything looks coherent and believable. And I think that’s a crowning achievement for a movie that’s made on a fraction of what a Hollywood film would spend.
The final war sequence is every bit epic as I expected it to be. There’s a lot of Tolkien and Peter Jackson about it, down to the fabricated language. I loved how the battleground had been clearly laid out, those house sigils, the battle line formations, the hand signals – it felt like a proper war.
But even after all this, I think I can still nitpick so let me have a go.
- Mashishmathi looked like a matte painting most of the times. You could always tell that is was computer generated. Probably also because it was so huge, when compared with Udayghad for instance. Also, you never see much of the kingdom from the inside except for one or two fake looking streets and that big courtyard. I guess all we needed was one continuous pan of the camera from sky-level to street-level, but that never happens. There’s a cut in between and you know that’s where the CGI ends.
- The reflection and gleam on the golden statue of Bhallala Deva is completely wrong.
- In one twilight scene, there are snow-clad mountains in the distance that looked like a bad cut-and-paste job.
MUSIC AND SCORE:
Keeravani disappoints, big time. The songs were not required at all in the first place, especially that horrific item number in the second half. It’s mind boggling how Rajamouli snuck that one in. Sure, the good guy is chasing the bad guy. Bad guy walks into a bar. Good guy starts drinking. An exotic woman appears out of nowhere (three women in this case). The good guy starts to sing and dance to a sleazy lyric. Song ends, bad guy runs out of bar. Good guy chases after him. So inventive, Rajamouli!!! Uff.
I expected at least better stuff from the background score but alas, it is a disappointment too. It just lacks the grandiosity that a movie like this warrants. There is no single musical theme that stands out distinctively and Keeravani rehashes most of the tunes from the songs as background too. I understand that the guy is getting old, but this is just lazy. Especially when you compare it with the more comprehensive musical scores of Hollywood. Where is the Baahubali Theme, I ask.
And here’s everything else:
- Why do most of the action movies have to be revenge dramas? Isn’t there any other kind of movie? I think it’s a cop out on the part of the story writers. A revenge storyline gives ample scope to build empathy for the leading guy. They want us to root for the hero. And that happens inevitably in revenge sagas. For once, I want to see someone attempt something different.
- I’m sorry but what’s wrong with a warrior woman who maybe sidelined her feminine side to pursue a noble cause. Does she need to be reminded that she is still a “woman”? And that her beauty matters more than her heart? Cue the worst scene in movie history. Prabhas undressing Tamannah’s armour, letting her hair lose, putting some red on her lips with crushed berry juice, finally turning her into a sex object. Great job everyone. Take a bow!
- Oh, and is that reason enough for a woman to fall in love with a man? And that he’s also scaled the heights of the waterfall just for her? And suddenly, she’s happy to let her man do her job? And she doesn’t even say, “I’ll come with you”? Poori from Athadu had a much better conscience.
- The male-to-female ratio of Kunthala is messed up, yo.
- Mahishmathi is not explained. We see that the general populace is not too happy with their king but why? Yes we all know that he is bad, but what exactly does he do? Apart from getting people chained, that is. This will probably be explained in the sequel.
- I loved the symbology in that statue-erection moment though. The statue stands tall while his pride crumbles down.
- When you want to hold someone from escaping your kingdom, you close the drawbridge. You don’t put burning haystacks in the path. Don’t you know that Indian film heroes defy fire like it’s nothing?
- Prabhas unsheathing the sword mid-air. That one scene is enough to watch this movie!
- Giving his protagonists dedicated weaponry is Rajamouli’s stamp. Here too, you see Baahubali with a sword while Bhallala Deva rocks his chained mace. And Kalakeya looks menacing with his lance and mallet.
To sum it up, Baahubali is a visual extravaganza that pushes the envelope of Indian cinema for sure. But it lacks emotional connect and feels a bit too hollow and gratuitous at times. But that in no way is a deal breaker though. Here is finally a director who is gutsy enough to imagine a magnificent canvas and worked hard to bring to it to fruition. I know that I have written a highly conflicting review, but the truth is that I really did enjoy this movie and you will too.
Oh, and don’t forget, Jai Mahishmathi!!