Once upon a time, in a fertile valley with an enormous waterfall and the lushest of lush green trees and the biggest of big boulders there lived a little boy and his parents. His mother warned him to never scale the mountain from whence the water fell; the boy liked nothing more than scale that same mountain.
He tried once, he fell. He tried twice, he fell. His worried mother decided to perform a penance to ask the Lord to keep her boy from wanting to go up the mountain again. A thousand pots of water she poured on a giant and rather heavy linga nearby.
When the boy saw this, he was upset. So he decided to carry the linga – several megatons of it – straight to the waterfall. Enough water, God?
Now the parents wonder, whose wish is God going to grant?
And thus begins Baahubali, The Beginning.
SS Rajamouli was not kidding when he said he was inspired by the Amar Chitra Katha. Little tales are sprinkled through the script; bringing unexpected bursts of joy. Some from the Mahabharata – the boy that braves a scorpion-bite to let a prayer go smoothly; the Abhimanyu inspired battle formation…
Others are just inspired.
Where else can you find a superhero that can lift megatons of rock yet moonlights as a tattoo artiste? Fun.
These little details spice up an otherwise bland script with almost no twists. Almost.
At his core, Rajamouli is the master of a uniquely Indian art form. The masala movie. Movies that have a bit of everything, but an excess of nothing. Stunts and romance. Pretty women, hunks for heroes. Catchy music. And a script that waltzes through these in rapid, mind-bending order. Done right, masalas are incredibly satisfying.
Baahubali has grandiose, CGI enriched stunts. It also has a pretty heroine and some very fetching romance. (Alas, fake CGI butterflies are employed to enrich the romance too). It has a plot that is predictable, but with enough twists to be arresting. The writing is intent on moving things along, staying with a scene only to register how grand the filmmaking is.
Snow-capped mountains, an avalanche, a rock falling. Cut. Time for some romance. Such lovely cinematography… cut. Let the guy do some rock climbing now. Baahubali is a spectacularly made masala. And that is nothing to sneer at.
It is the work of a director who knows his strengths and employs them to full effect. And the result? A spectacle if there ever was one.
The Amar Chitra Katha inspiration is everywhere. Characters are barely established, like in mythology. One man is good, we are told. The other one is evil. Why? Because…
That is fine.
The women, they are no slouches. They kill with daggers. They use ruses to fool men. They run countries. They are vengeful and don’t break under torture.
Just like in mythology.
And that is definitely fine too.
The battle scenes are a revelation. The usual million men rushing at each other tropes are accompanied by some very refreshing imagination. A retractable mace. Inflammable pieces of cloth. The value of collateral damage. A strange made-up language. And finally, raw one-on-one combat.
And most of all, a very resourceful lead man. When he sees an avalanche, he makes up a snow-board; when he sees a river too wide to jump over, he imagines a pretty woman on the other side.
Baahubali is a beautifully made film, with lovely cinematography complemented by graphics that blend in seamlessly for the most part. Then, it is carried a bit too far.
Every frame in every scene is larger than life. The props and the sets dwarf the characters, creating a claustrophobic, outsized world. The sense of wonderment evaporates soon, because every scene is colourful, every prop is enormous.
Prabhas and Rana look their part with ease, and play their parts with slightly less ease. It is obvious why they got the roles; when Prabhas flings heavy rocks – he does a lot of that – it is easy to believe he can. Or when Rana stops a bull in its tracks.
For Sathyaraj, this is the role of a lifetime. A loyal soldier. The loyal soldier, almost Casablancaish in his blind adherence to orders. Nasser does as well as he always does, especially because he had rehearsed this exact same evil king role in Kochadaiiyaan and Uttama Villain. And Ramya Krishnan? She who was made for strong-willed women roles. She wields her dagger-like eyes and real daggers to the same effect, and has the only punchline in the movie. Her word is indeed the law.
Add to this mix Tamannah Bhatia, looking like a million dollars, and putting in a surprisingly understated performance; and you end up with a very competent cast.
Why oh why do our composers equate loud, formless pieces of music with grandeur? MM Keeravani’s score mostly consists of a batch of screeching violins in the background. A trumpet set on a metronome, periodically blaring notes of varying loudness.
It is telling that the best music in the movie happens only during the suspiciously contemporary looking bar dance.
Then at the end, the granddaddy of all twists. Because, you see, this is but the beginning. We can’t wait for the end.
Fun Cameo: SS Rajamouli playing a bartender and asking Prabhas to show him the money. Appropriate reaction from a man who has Rs 250 crores riding on him.
Less fun cameo: Kiccha Sudeep. We didn’t spot any flies around him.
Whenever animals appear on screen – horses and elephants and bulls – a warning pops up. CGI. Wish Rajamouli makes some of these animals smoke and drink simultaneously, so the censor board can fill the screen with warnings. That’ll make them so busy, the next SJ Suriya movie can release with a ‘U’.
The Baahubali Review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.