There’s a scenario in the movie ‘Bahubali’ where hundreds of slaves toil to hoist a ‘huge’ statute of Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati) reminiscent of slaves building the monuments in the movie ‘The Ten Commandments’. While this is on, several things happen in parallel.
- Sivudu (Prabhas) surreptitiously moves ahead to achieve his goal, unaware of the surprise ahead of him.
- Devasana (Anushka) in chains waits in anticipation for her savior, with a stoicity forged under seething revenge.
- Bhallaladeva towers over the proceedings as he wants the world to acknowledge it as symbol of his power and supremacy.
- Bijjaladeva (Nassar) goads his son Bhallaleladeva blindly as he always does.
- Kattappa (Satyaraj) in tears at the plight of Devasena but ready to pounce on anything that might harm the throne, as he is supposed to.
Understandably the above is very difficult to conceive and execute. Come to think of it, the movie ‘Baahubali’ as a whole is one such challenging exercise of creation, from thought to screen. The makers pull it off successfully when it comes to size and scale. Production design, cinematography, VFX, sound…all are top notch.
But when it comes to providing a wholesome experience, the film falls short. What is this wholesome experience anyway? It is a tasteful blend of story with other crafts of movie making. If it were were just VFX or graphics or whichever term we use, that satisfy us, we would just be devouring show-reels of VFX companies, right? Guess, we also need the underlying drama, terrific performances, in-your-face-action, edge-of-seat thrills, the leads to such expansive scenes and above all a powerful motive behind every head that rolls under the blood tainted blade.
Baahubali, for me, was a tad off when it came to this mix. There are quite a few scenes though that gives you a whiff, but in the end, leaves you with feeling of stepped away from a unfinished meal with left over items, having paid for the full meal.
Here’s elaborating further.
- Story spread: If I have to point out one aspect that contributed big time to a feeling of incompleteness, it would be the spread of story across first and second half. The character ride/span becomes tipsy turvy as the guy who spends first half romancing the heroine is not the same in the second half. In addition to this the romantic track doesn’t really contribute to the pace or story of the film, making it appear like a last minute patch, after a decision was made to release the film in two parts.
- Obsession about size: Let it be the ‘Siva linga’ that Sivudu plucks from the ground and carries it on his shoulders, or the huge waterfalls or the bulked up protagonists, there’s an unprecedented emphasis on size. And, it appears as if Rajamouli tries to roll the five pandavas into one–Baahubali/Sivudu. People who are individual experts in fields like archery, wrestling, horse-riding etc work on their bodies differently. Hence we have Arjuna, Bheema, Nakula etc described in a certain way. To make a single person believable as the master of all these skills not only interferes in characterization/storytelling but also brings some obvious physical discomforts. Prabhas appears a bit sluggish in his movements (Ex.when he tries to evade soldiers during his rescue attempt of Devasena). I felt his body build in ‘Chatrapathi’ was ideal for his looks and his agility.
- The two parts conundrum: Guess the makers were a bit on the defensive when planning the film in two parts and inserting a forced hook in the end of Part 1 and opting for non-linear narration. So, first half feels like a wait till the real hero enters in the second half. But a Rajamouli film that is marketed so well, could have created the same box office success, even if the story were told in a simple fashion.
Bahubali-The man who would be king (Part 1), Sivudu-Born to rule (Part 2), would have been an ideal approach to spread the story?
- Phenomenal marketing :Producers have to be complemented for the huge marketing exercise. There’s not a single move that seemed out of march, and the juggernaut just rolled on. For the first time, one could also see the impact of social media with influencers/advocates picking up every little detail about the film, including the serpentine queues. It aroused such a jingoistic feeling that any kind of naysaying was considered a blasphemy that deserved nothing less than a capital punishment:) The movie marketing became a clothed version of the emperor’s new clothes story
- Never before seen Production Design: The conception and attention to details in sets, vehicles and armory is out of the world. The chariot and weapon of Bhallaladeva needs a special mention. One has to believe every word of Mr.Cyril when he said in an interview that the final product is just a fraction of what was churned out during the various stages of creative process.
- SS Rajamouli- the superhero: Even though I lamented above that super pandava (that is all pandavas rolled into one) kind of approach proved to be a bit of a burden on storytelling/actors/performances, no such accusation can be made against SS Rajamouli. He is the backstage superhero who marshaled all the resources at his helm and created a spectacle that made the entire world to look up and take notice. (The entire audience in my theatre broke into whistles and applause when he appeared on the screen in a small cameo.)
Tail piece: As in the first part of Baahubali, where I had to wait till the second half for real Bahubali to make an entry, I will have to wait till the second part to find out how well Rajamouli thought this whole thing through. Something tells me that the director’s cut combining Part 1 and Part 2 (if released) would be truly outstanding. I will have to wait an year and half to find out.