India’s unity is in its diversity. Yeah right. So is ADMK’s unity now. Common, who are we kidding here. We’ve always been a nation bifurcated as north Indians and south Indians, not just geographically; but psychologically as well. The condescension has been mutual and over the years of being cultivated as polished global citizens, become subtle and sub-conscious. The only places we embrace each other’s identity wholeheartedly is in the cuisines. Sights of north Indians thronging dosa joints and south Indians making beelines to break naan outside north Indian restaurants, being case in point. Outside this, the only things that get us together are the Independence day, cricket matches( thanks to IPL the regionalism has sunk in here too) and festivals.(not anymore, given that the same historical episode falls on different dates on either sides of the Vindhyas.)
So cinema is no exception to this. Movies made in the Hindi language are respectfully called as hindi cinema- given the “Hindi is the national language up your throat” rhetoric -and movies made in every other language are marginalized under the umbrella of regional cinema. So it’s no surprise that not beyond 5% of the people in a state come out to the theaters to check a movie out. So if you take a Dangal which is the highest grossing movie in the history of Indian cinema, it has managed to bring in a footfall of close to 4 crore people out of the total population of 134 crores, which is a mere 3%. Let’s take the worst case scenario that out of the entire population, only 20% comes to the theatre at all. Even then the most popular mainstream movie in a long time has managed to bring in a mere 15% into the halls. All this goes to show that you might have several dubbed versions, go on whirlwind promotional tours and learn to say “thank you” in a new language on reality shows; but notwithstanding these cutesies the people would continue to see you as a stranger and your movie as an effort in Chinese for which they’ll have to shell out their demonetized currencies.
These deeply embedded bottlenecks have to be taken into context to acknowledge Baahubali-2’s historic showing at the ticket windows; not just in terms of commerce, but culture as well. It is for the first time since the conjuring of Indian cinema, has a movie been perceived as being “pan Indian”, galvanizing the nation as a whole. It’s not just performed like a Salman Khan movie in the North but as a Rajnikanth starrer in the south
So what is it about Baahubali-2, that has made it into such an endearing sensation. Is it the scale? Probably; but there have been other movies like the Dhoom movies or Robot, which have had the scale, given their budgets. Bigger the budget, higher the vantage of scale to mount the film on, one might think. But few films come close to being set on the dizzying imagination as B2. Take for instance a scene that segues into a song sequence. The lead pair’s on a ship. The actress has a parallel thought. No surprises for what it culminates to next. But how it does is the deal breaker. The masts come down on either sides of the ship to flap as gigantic wings, to fly along with the sea gulls into the skies, where clouds scurry along as horses on either sides. These are stuff dream tutorials are made of.
We are a generation that has kowtowed to western imagination. We would quiz each other on Star Wars trivia, dedicate our coming off age to Rowling and worship Tolkiens for “his precious” and wake up before the rooster to keep abreast with GOT happenings. When it comes to myth, Greece has been cooler because Hollywood has made many a million dollar A-lister parades in that space. And the proper nouns are lot more lighter on the tongue and have a ring to them over draught beer. Achilles, Adonis and Thermopylae any day over Arjuna, Krishna and Kurukshetra, right?
Thanks to religion and philosophy, cutting close to mythologies in our backyard; we’ve not taken an instant curiosity to them, outside our moral science classes. As a result not many of us know of the marvelous anecdotes they bore in them of love, greed, desire and betrayal. About the masculine alpha males who strutted across the face of earth with unmatched prowess or the powerful women who were active practitioners of progression even before feminism was needed in this part of the world. Amar Chitra Kata managed to uphold the spirit of the country’s mythology for a while, but it was a comic book and couldn’t grow beyond the school.
The characters in Baahubali are written with a strong heartland appeal, with easily digestible traits to connect to. They’re distinct individuals with strong personalities and clear belief systems akin to the central characters of Ramayana and Mahabharatha. And the sequences are often tip of the hat accounts. Like the way Sivagami carries a new born through a river, similar to Vasudeva carrying Krishna between a split river. Or the way Kattappa is a mute spectator, who’s loyalty is different from his conscience akin to Bhishma. Or the more obvious central plot of feuding cousin brothers akin to Mahabharatha. It’s all there, but as homage, in spirit, in another form in a fictional land.
S.S.Rajamouli imbues his male protagonists with a certain virile charm, that’s been missing in our cinema ever since it started pandering to the diaspora abroad. They’re dhoti clad, with distinct mustaches and not five o’ clock shadows, brawny and not lean and manly, not boyish. There’s this moment in the movie where Bahubali walks into the court, his gait in rhythm to the invigorating chants in the score to the aid of his cornered wife’s. The drama that precipitates from there to a confrontation is stuff goosebumps are made of. For the first time in a really, really long while I saw sheer delirium in the theatre for a way a moment in a movie was staged. Not for a star doling out a punchline.
If the men partake in the drama, women create it. The women in the movie, Sivagami and Devasena are the fulcrums around which the men function. They’re strong, opinionated,intimidating and majestically feminine.
With such big feet, big shoes need to be there to fit in. The narrative has to have the gravitas deserving of such strong protagonists. Rajamouli’s screenplay stages these characters with such blue eyed adulation, imbuing the proceedings with the necessary friction and conflict. The interval sequence is one such scene designed with a keen sense of dejavu, as a homage to the acclaimed interval block from the previous movie. The circumstances that culminate into the half way point in the two films are entirely different; one is to do with the erection of a giant statue of a king in the present and the other is his coronation in the past. Yet they both overlap in terms of spirit in a common point of conflict.
There are some subtle suggestions of providence, be it the pseudonym Bahubali assumes which later happens to become his son’s name. Or the way the movie ends poetically, with the journey coming to an end in the place it all started. These are grace notes. decorative intentions on the fringe of an already masterful painting. Baahubali is much more than an overpriced behemoth its price tag suggests. It’s way more than the “why Katappa killed Bahubali” itch. It’s much more than an unprecedented fiscal success story it has come to be. It’s just not a movie, but an experience. A cerebral expedition into the childlike mind of its creator. A triumph of his audacity to look beyond the commercial commonplace. A case study on why sometimes great ideas don’t necessarily need a language to be appreciated. Jai Mahishmathi!