Sunday, August 13, 2017

Baahubali - The movie that floored 'em all

I am so late to the party everyone must have forgotten when the party happened, and might, just might, believe this is something new that they weren't invited to. So, here goes.

Seeing a movie months after the whole world has seen, reviewed and raved about it is bad. Seeing said movie, a treatise on awesome graphics, on a laptop, is worse. Seeing such a movie immediately after reading an awesome, awesome book in a similar genre and raving about it (I am looking at you, Ponniyin Selvan), is truly the worst.

I have a Netflix login that I use extremely sparsely these days and, I put to good use little person's 3 hour nap yesterday to finally catch up on Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. Since you all would already have heard of sugar and spice and everything nice about the movie (and rightfully so (and that's how I aim to remain politically correct)), I will not dedicate this space to 5 lessons for managers, 8 lessons for start up founders, 10 lessons for CEOs and a 100K lessons for mothers (hey, I am in a mothering mode ok), all from Baahubali. You can just google up this stuff, Buzzfeed and the new Buzzfeed (LinkedIn) will throw up a million links that can make you throw up.

1. I think it was a bad, bad, bad idea to dedicate so much space, time and energy to the character of Amarendra Baahubali (Amar). He is too much of an embodiment of all things perfect and virtuous. And then, suddenly, when he dies and this Mahendra Baahubali (Mahi) comes back on screen (a figure we are well versed with even from movie 1), it just isn't enough. Who is this half baked dude who doesn't seem to have half the intelligence and presence as that hero, Amar? If Prabhas has done a great job of contrasting the two roles, he just goes a bit overboard. Amar, the king who never was, is so well etched in the mind that Mahi isn't able to hold a candle to the father. 

2. That brings me to the second point. I am wrong in contrasting acting skills of the same actor in different roles. Mahi just doesn't get enough screen time to remind us of who he is, how he changes after hearing about the secret of his birth. Just because the movie crew had to pack everything into one movie, it was truly a hurried end. Did anyone else feel that Baahubali 1 was better paced with saner story-telling than The Conclusion?

3. That lack of time ate into more than Mahi's character. The final battle deserved more than that. It definitely deserved at least 2 minutes of explaining how they were acquiring the manpower and weapons. No, Mahi's speech to the common folk around him - ‘we will fight with whatever tools we get our hands on’ - was far from convincing. Maybe, they should have shown a few oppressed smaller rulers siding with Mahi. Or, at least, one scene of Kattappa rallying his slave army with the explanation that Mahi is the king to whom they owe their allegiance (as announced by RajMata Sivagami before her death) would have been useful. He gives that explanation to Bhallala’s father, Bijjala, much later during the battle - too little, too late, and too hurried in tying the knots to be satisfactory. Some political strategy by Mahi would have made him shine as a true king rather than a mad prince acquiring the throne because his father deserved it before him (very similar to Game of Thrones’ Daenerys who doesn't waste any moment in reminding us how she is the last Targaryen and hence everyone needs to bend the knee).

3. Talking about strategy, one of the key battles in Baahubali 1 was the one where Bhallala and Amar, the princes of Mahismati, fight a long and bloody battle against the Kalakeyas, savages who are out to ruin the empire of Mahismati. In this battle, both princes use intelligent strategies to thwart the enemy, and it is this intelligence and planning, more than the blood and gore, that made me love the scenes. Contrast that to the final battle in The Conclusion. Mahi behaves childlike when his mother is imprisoned again, and Kattappa has to remind him to be his father’s son to win this battle. Then, Mahi does some outrageously silly things, like human boomerangs (I am STILL trying to reconcile to that visual abomination) in order to be victorious. Didn't we, the true fans of the Baahubali franchise, deserve better than this? A brilliant battle to end all battles, better even than the fight against the Kalakeyas in Baahubali 1 would have been the chocolate icing on an okayish vanilla cake. Rather, what we have is vanilla icing on an okayish vanilla cake. Sigh. By the way, did anyone else think that Bhallala was ‘brillianter’ than Mahi in those final scenes? Amar was the foe he deserved but he sadly ended up with Mahi.

4. While speaking battles, what was that random fight with the Kalakeyas that Amar had before he was evilly vanquished by Kattappa? Force fit much to remind us that Amar is a great warrior? Again, I would attribute this to lack of time and trying to crunch too many things into one movie.

5A. Finally, what might have worked very well (for me, not for all you raving fans out there) was a well paced first half extending into the whole movie, delving into further details on Kalakeyas and some such, with Amar saving the kingdom once again, and yet being evilly killed off in the end by Kattappa. In other words, the answer to that raging question of the past two years, “Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?” could have been provided by the end of the second movie, with some other yet-unsolved mystery cliff hanger towards the end. That way, a movie 3, The Real Conclusion, could have solved for the mystery from movie 2 and also spent more time on Mahi and his focus on winning back the kingdom, not only as the rightful heir, but also as someone who deserves it, thanks to his powerful arms + brilliant mind + virtuous self.

5B. Since I do understand there would have been budgetary limitations in getting the cast together again and also in re-creating scene after scene of epicness, not to underestimate the massive risk the movie makers were already taking with such a hugely budgeted movie (who knows how audiences would turn), I do have a short cut alternate solution. The makers should have shown the killing of Amar + the Mahi battle upfront and saved the rest of the nicer flashback for the end. That way, I could have retired with my fairy tale ending of Amarendra and Devasena a happy couple living and working with the common folk of the kingdom, while Baby Mahi is safely ensconced in Mommy Devasena's tummy from where he wouldn't be obliged to express his role or wreak any random havoc. 

6. I just have a huge doubt as I sign off here. Bijjala, a bitter man who nurtures and grows his son’s already poisonous mind, encouraging him as he embarks on one evil deed after another, is left alive and kicking at the end of the movie. Can we hope for a spin off where Bijjala will team up with Bhallala’s wife (who wasn't shown in the movie) along with any other progeny so far not shown (maybe a younger Bhallala?) to take revenge against Mahi and the new RajMata Devasena for burning Bhallala alive and usurping the throne?

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