Baahubali: A Mass of Clichés Cloaked Under The Label “Magnum Opus”
It was the year 2007 and a director named S.S. Rajamouli, in Telugu cinema, was experimenting with his innovations on the big screen. The result was a fantasy drama, with the God of Death (Yama) and a spirit in hell at the center of it, a show of breathtaking visual effects in the Jr. NTR starred Yamadonga.
When he created Magadheera in 2009 and Eega/Naan Ee in 2012, it was clear that he had been hankering after a deep sense of reconciliation, to create something spectacular, a complete visual gratification experience. Up until then, Rajamouli’s filmography consisted of movies that fit the definition of action-packed comedies, sprinkled with a bit of emotionally manipulating drama to make, the audiences root for the protagonists, even when they are morally ambiguous.
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Vikramarkudu was remade in Tamil, with Karthi’s Siruthai, and in Hindu, with Rowdy Rathore starring Akshay Kumar. Buster Keaton’s “Our Hospitality”, which Roger Ebert considered as Keaton’s first masterpiece, was adapted as Maryada Ramanna in Telugu, under Rajamouli’s direction and was then remade into Son of Sardar, starring Ajay Devgn, and to many other regional languages.
While these films of Rajamouli were savored in the regional areas and received well for a short period, they didn’t aim for an epic status until Magadheera arrived, starring Ram Charan. Magadheera brought the richness to the silver screen with its meticulous efforts, from designing the delightful visuals to choosing the perfect cast. And with Eega/Naan Ee, Rajamouli has outdone himself, bringing the lavishness to the big screen once again. The phenomenal visual effects, utterly defined, left the audience accepting the credibility of a fly’s role in the revenge plot.
When the news on Baahubali’s development hit the cinema lovers, the expectation was undoubtedly set high. It was clear that Rajamouli had been priming himself for that moment and had proven on many occasions that he could make something that could gratify any appetite for entertainment. Baahubali, the name, has been lingering in Indian cinema ever since.
It is the name that is constantly reverberating in our ears since its arrival to the Indian cinema in 2015. Had there not been any film franchise like this before, with a budget of 4.3 billion rupees? A resounding No!
When the trailer of “Baahubali – The Beginning” was released 4 years ago, no one anticipated that it would create this startling of a buzz. It became the talk of the town even among the people who don’t follow movies every day.
S.S Rajamouli was the name on everyone’s lips at the time. His previous works, like “Magadheera” and “Eega”, had built up the excitement in his fans to expect something in Baahubali that they hadn’t seen before on the big screen. And when the big day came, Baahubali didn’t fail to fulfill its promises. Its stunning visual effects and its spellbinding narration amazed the audiences and tied them to the seats.
This uninhibited experience of film watching exhilarated the viewers, allowing them to see such a work of art, where one’s imagination got translated to the big screen with utmost precision. And when the news about a prospective sequel reached the audiences, they left the people in trepidation. The sequel, “Baahubali-The Conclusion”, released in 2017, and for those 2 years, Baahubali had dominantly occupied the talk in every social platform, with the most discussed topic being “Why Did Kattappa kill Baahubali?”.
When a film like Baahubali, a fictional period drama, dazzled the audiences after they were commonly served with guileless films, as dull as a bland meal, they are left with an irresistible urge to delve into its plot, to analyze the film-making. They wanted to get into the Director’s headspace and look for his inspiration. They wanted to dissect the storyline to know what makes the film so sophisticated.
When Director Rajamouli let the fans know that Ramayana and Mahabharatha, the two great epics of India, were the inspiration behind Baahubali, it genuinely struck the audience with an infectious enthusiasm to see the magic come alive on screen. The visual effects manage to parallel the Hollywood standards in the VFX works. Beyond the eye-catching graphics though, Baahubali has very little to offer in terms of plot.
If one wants to explain Baahubali’s plot badly, it is about a toxic sibling rivalry. It is about a brother who loses his life because the elder one wants to deprive the younger brother of his happiness and because his mother and wife don’t get along. When such a story is infused with the ornamental magnificence, it is not so crushing anymore.
Baahubali 2: The Conclusion had the greatest opening in the history of Indian cinema, more than a filmmaker could ever ask for. Its magnificence and grandeur left the audience dumbfounded once again. The graphic effects were outstanding enough for Baahubali to break its record. Even in the digital age, even in the age of piracy, Baahubali brought audiences in mass to the cinemas. It meant that the film set its standard, to provide the sight of pleasure that the audiences had been craving and to have them enjoy the grandeur in its entirety.
If we try to look beyond into its plot, apart from Baahubali’s visual treatment, the result disappoints. The humongous effort in its techniques and its development constantly covers up the weak plot on which it relies. Here is where the plot wobbles. Devasena, a resilient woman who endures an agonizing life, rarely flinches in her character but it feels that she gives in too soon with nothing to offer. The pain of her story barely scars us.
Remember, the character Broomhilda from Tarantino’s Django Unchained? We see her confined to a cage for a few minutes and how those few minutes came as a bombshell. Ballaladeva, the jealous brother, who is consumed by his inferiority complex, never wavers even when his brother Baahubali trusts him and puts his life in his arms. He stays the same till his end. His character is nearly crafted to resemble Duryodhana from the epic Mahabharatha and Ravana from the epic Ramayana. The former is jealous of his cousins, the Pandavas, and who are being fed the animosity by his devious uncle, Shakuni, who, here, is Ballaladeva’s father.
Ballaladeva doesn’t waver in his determination. He just wants the title of King, and his little brother out of this world. Just as Ravana captivates Sita in the epic, Devasena is the captive here. Rajamouli doesn’t just paint her as the forgiving Sita, but also she is described as the furious Draupadi, who declares war to make the enemy pay the price.
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With its myriad of characters, the tale doesn’t want to explore much complexity and stays predictable. In the beginning, Sivagami seems to be an intense character who would likely carry the weight in the story but in the conclusion, her character development frustrates us. We thought she is the Bhishma of the tale but she just turns out to be Gandhari, who blindfolds herself to the injustice. Avanthika, who is portrayed as a fearsome warrior, in the beginning, is reduced to less than a backdrop in the conclusion. Her character arcs to be Shikhandi in Mahabharatha, who is born to become a warrior, but her character is suffused in the end with elements meant to project her ladylike virtues.
Baahubali turns out to be a film where men in the story prove their machismo, and who use the women characters as mere catalysts in the process. Sivagami is just another mother-in-law who has issues with her daughter-in-law, Devasena.
Baahubali, a Desi touch in disguise, manages to keep the audience elated, despite the predictable story which is perceived as the magnum opus. Baahubali’s unforeseen success covers its insubstantial plot. As such, is questionable whether this movie deserves the label “Magnum Opus”.
This colossal success set a trend in the Indian cinema, in which a film doesn’t have to identify itself as anything more than a big-budget film. The distributors and the general audiences are allowed to form an opinion on a film based on its way of branding itself. Syeera, Saaho and many more are upcoming films lined up in this list and are going to be just another light show.
Filmmakers have started to find innovative ways to bring massive crowds to theatres. Shankar’s Rajini starred 2.0 in 3-D is one such movie, and it gathered the crowd it expected. But only the mere branding and the wide-reaching promotion of a film shouldn’t make it a success unless it leaves a sense of fulfillment with the audience.
When various filmmakers want to follow the footsteps of Rajamouli and infuse their films with magnificence and grandeur, they often fail to base them on a strong plot to tread upon, which results in a multitude of actors glorifying films. These widely promoted films with vague plots, which follow Baahubali’s trend, easily get their word of mouth and slots in cinemas, while the minimalist movies struggle for the clout among them.
Lenin Bharathi’s “Merku Thodarchi Malai”, Chezhiyan’s “To Let” and many more are just a few examples of the movies that break the ceiling. A film like Super 30, a biographical drama, doesn’t require a hero like Hrithik Roshan to justify its plot. But the situation here is, no matter how heart-wrenching a story could be, if one wants to reach the mass audiences in Indian Cinema, it is assessed only with the star values and its extravagance.