Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Feast for the eyes: Bahubali (review)

This review appeared in Republica on July 17, 2015.


The redoubtable South Indian director SS Rajamouli's forte is fantasy and larger-than-life excess. While his grand vision was reflected in the epic Magadheera, Eega took the clichéd revenge story to the next level by fantasizing the fly taking on a human being. Now comes the granddaddy of them all in Bãhubali—a combination of revenge fantasy at a grandiose level. The special effects in the movie are simply jaw-dropping even if the story is a patchwork.

Set in an imaginative time and location, Bãhubali tells the story of Mahendra Bahubali better known as Shiva (Prabhas). Born to a blue-blooded family and raised by a tribal headman, Shiva's Lord Krishna reference is too easy to miss. The very first scenes of a woman carrying Shiva on her palm above water is an obvious tribute to Nanda carrying Krishna on a basket and crossing the Yamuna River on the day of his birth. Blood calls Shiva as he vies for scaling the imposing mountain of his locale and finding out what lies beyond. He gets the opportunity of finding the terra incognita at the drop of a mask that his intuition tells him to be a girl's. This archetypal journey of the hero to find his true lineage builds the story.

The girl turns out to be an accomplished bow-warrior Avantika (Tamannah) with hints of Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen. Shiva makes her see the feminine side inside the tough warrior by disrobing her in a seductive scene that reminds one of a similar scene in The Mask of Zorro. Her feminine side revealed, Avantika falls in love with Shiva. Her life mission of releasing Queen Devasena (Anushka Shetty) from the clutches of evil king Bhallal (Rana Daggubati) of Mahismati Kingdom becomes Shiva's mission as well.

The first half of the movie unfolds at a leisurely pace as the background to the story and the characters are established. However, post-interval the plot gathers pace as Shiva goes to Mahismati. He makes his presence felt with superhuman power in propping up a huge statue of Bhallal Deva inspiring chants of Bahubali that gives Bhallal nightmares. Shiva manages to rescue Devasena chained to a wall in a dungeon, reminding of captive Sita of the Ramayana in Lanka whom Hanuman tries to rescue. Katappa (Satyaraj), the loyal minion to the crown, at first fights but later surrenders to Shiva once he realizes that he is up against the famed Bahubali. Then he tells the story of palace intrigues that has Mahabharata influence written all over it.

The film then takes the flashback route, and the climactic battle that established the legend of Bahubali is shown that make audience reminisce of Troy. The grand war of Mahismati against barbarians at the gate has been filmed in a grand manner. The strange language of the barbarians and their disgusting makeup has accentuated their evil. The swooping camerawork and war choreography has the vice-like grip in the audience. The brutal killings and beheadings remind the audience of 300. Thereafter, however, the movie ends abruptly and those without having prior knowledge that this is the first part of the two-part series are in for a shock.

The actors essay their role well. Prabhas and Rana Daggubati show off their well-toned muscles inviting wolf-whistles from the female audience. Besides all posturing, however, they demonstrate their acting chops with intensity. Prabhas, with his charming smile, reminds of great Rajnikanth. Ramya Krishnan as the feisty queen Shivagami is the strongest character. Shivaraj as the crown loyal too delivers a praiseworthy performance. Tamannah's histrionics, however, leaves much to be desired.

Some silly mistakes in the story could have been avoided, though. An accomplished warrior like Avantika being unaware of Shiva tattooing her sitting just over her is ludicrous. Shiva and Avantika's love story has been hurried and the song and dance interruption is jarring. The sequence of Shiva and Avantika running away from the avalanche on a makeshift toboggan feels a bogus.

The recounting of various influences and the shortcomings of the movie shouldn't make the reader think that it can be given a miss. It deserves a watch as Rajamouli's hard work (the movie took four years to complete) and his penchant for details pay off. Great amount of budget has been spent on grand sets that are pleasing to the eye. Beyond ostentatious display of grandeur, Rajamouli aims at the heart of the audience by lacing various scenes with emotions. These days when small scaled psychological dramas are dominating the screen, this majestic film manages to blow the mind of the audience who will surely leave the theater satisfied.

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