Baahubaali (Part I : The Beginning) : Movie Review
4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)
Language : Telugu with multiple dubbed versions including Hindi and French, 2015
Director : S.S. Rajamouli
Producer : P.Devineni, S.Yarlagadda. Story : V.Vijayendra Prasad.
The first installment of this two-part film from Andhra Pradesh, budgeted in total at Rs.250 crore, and directed by forty-one year old S.S Rajamouli who has booked his special pedestal in Indian cinema history even if he does not direct a single film after this, gave me enough filmic satisfaction. More importantly it gave me hope that India is emerging with the phenomenon of concept-driven films : what Hollywood calls "property" (Dear Reader, Please don't even dare to utter the bastardized words "Bollywood" or "Tollywood" ). At the time of writing (August 2015) less than two months after its release, it has netted Rs.593 crore (approx U$S 100 million) worldwide of which I estimate half the earnings came from non-Telugu audiences for whom the star value of Prabhas, Rana Duggabati and Tamanna mean nothing.
Increasingly we see that regional cinema centres - Tamil Nadu with Selvaraghavan's 'Aayirathil Oruvan' , Shankar's 'Endhiran' and Andhra Pradesh with Rajamouli-driven extravaganzas, are showing us how to make genuine blockbusters mounted on a giant scale with demanding logistics, while Mumbai's corporate filmy babus are still busy licking the derriere of Salman, Aamir and SRK. What I like about Baahubali ( it's a yarn of kingdoms-'n'-swords with a mightily powerful and righteous scion rising to claim his long-denied throne) outweights what I dislike about it but before the 'first paragraph' crowd takes off after reading this, let me tell you my chief lament : one of the main villains in this story are an army of a hundred thousand ugly barbarians, but Rajamouli allows them to be dark-skinned. Granted that down the millennia people of all colours have tortured Bhaarath, but haven't fair-skinned people also given us so much grief and suffering? (I myself am fair-skinned). If you truly have guts , why not show the opposition as fair-skinned?
There's no denying the story-telling dedication of the director. Note that while the film has songs, it has no comic interludes which so many other Indian films tack on. The camera gifts us consistently high-definition visuals by M.M Keeravani and one of the palace rooms in the story especially wowed me with the judicious beauty and clarity of decor - no wonder film-makers repeatedly turn to Sabu Cyril when they want high-quality esoteric production design. I am amazed by how audiences not just sit through but also reward the prolonged battle sequences, however well they are choreographed, that films like 'Baahubali', '300' and 'Lord of the Rings' sport. Curious about the helmer here, I researched his CV. His 'Eega' (2012) combined box office magic with such worldwide acclaim by distant countries that I plan to see it within one week (Update : I watched it - it is guilty of school-boy overkill).
A smartly constructed introduction of slick visuals shows us how the story is set into inexorable motion by a gutsy lady (the shortage of whom is sorely felt in current-day India). Shivudu (Prabhas) grows up to be a most promising young man who blends legendary physical strength with a stout heart. He may not have the brains to engineer a glider that sails over the enormous waterfalls he is stuck the at the bottom of, but by Edisonian persistence he somehow climbs the cataract and enters a world that Jack of the Beanstalk might not have survived in. Teary subjects, a long suffering long-waiting Mother (amongst Indian cinema's noblest most typical martyrs from 'Karan Arjun' to 'Agneepath 2012') have kept him buried in their hearts. When the citizenry get a hint of the return of the Messianic Re-born King, word proliferates to the point where they pine for with bated breath the re-emergence of 'Baahubali' who will liberate them from the tyrannical current ruler (essayed by Rana Duggabati).
Tamanna , Prabhas , Duggabatti all log in fine turns but it was Ramya Krishnan, past her prime in glamour roles but still ripe dramatically and carnally, who merited my special interest. She takes off from her tough-lady act in 'Padayappa' and adds another more important dimension to that character. She is given the throne but chooses to abjure it, like and unlike Sonia, and displays a tigress-like ferocity of spirit to complement her voluptuous beauty. I wasn't sure whether to fantasize about her or get scared of her or both.
Young and famous movie-star beauty Tamanna, despite her earnest acting and an assisted-burlesque sequence showing a little more of her assets (in a choreographed manouever perpetrated by Shivudu) is only passable.
This 2 hour 38 minute opus produced by P.Devineni and S.Yarlagadda, has a plot structure that first shows the emergence of the ordained royal claimant, and then flashes back to the previous generation to depict how two princes have to wage a stupendous war to stave off a huge horde of savages. The fight choreography, both man-to-man and man-versus-dozen-men, even by international standards, is up to the mark and that massive battle sequence displays the triumvirate of the Rajamouli-VFX-Choreography team rendering fine service and smarts. An avalanche earlier in the story shows klutzy special effects but the finale salvages technical honour too. It is interesting how the story-tellers show us how enormous spheres of stone launched at the enemy are at first dodged without much harm, but their subsequent improvised deadly use reveals cerebral warfare. The men fights their spheres out , but it is the woman who squares off the the war's end-result. The moral geometry seems to have come full circle at the end but we are informed that Part II in 2016 is needed to conclude this saga. I suspect Rajamouli has got his math already figured out.
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