Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Baahubali: The Beginning / Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

The best moment of this extravaganza is the very beginning of Baahubali: The Beginning, when a beautifully rendered Telugu song is heard, and Ramya Krishnan impressively wades into the river, drowning but saving a baby, the to-be Mahendra Baahubali. But then, things go rapidly down, and in The Conclusion, the film makes a mockery of people's intelligence. But, maybe not: after all, it is one of the most successful films of India by now in terms of gross revenue earned. And yet, cinematically, the two films do not deserve much writing about: their crassness can be summarised in a few phrases.

The much-vaunted special effects of the films, on which the films rely so heavily as to even forego basic sets for them, are extremely badly executed, especially in the second part: are Indians praising them just because they are so blinded to a regional/national product? In terms of acting performances, Ramya does well throughout, and the first part overall is not too bad, but the second part topples: Anushka's performance as a young Devasena is poorly performed, not helped in that her part is badly sketched as a mindless, arrogant girl. Baahubali's abilities to do things overleap the bounds of belief in the second part, and so does Prabhas's believability; from a gritty general, Sathyaraj as Kattappa is not able to pull off the comic, endearing capers of an Anupam Kher; and Rana Daggubati, as chief villain Bhallaladeva, is reduced to a smiling assassin's role, with no scope given to his acting prowess, though Rana is otherwise a good actor. Long songs in weird settings punctuate the film, or rather interrupt it; lengthy action scenes, some of which again lack believablity, again strip the film of any pretense to telling a story. The film's dialogues are unbelievably cheap for a film that is rooted in a mytho-historical context: the absence of any intelligent conversation in the film, and modern attitudes getting reflected in characters of both Devasena and Avanthika (the former due to the dialogues given to her, and the latter due to poor acting skills) make you wonder if the film just showcases might, and more might, coupled with charitableness, as the basis of rule, and forgets that subtlety is the art of ruling, of politics, not a strength of hundred elephants, nor condescension. Wit is absent: and that is an extremely hard thing to forget when dealing with a royal context. It is not that in India, wit was absent from the royal context: for that, see the Merchant-Ivory film In Custody (Urdu poetry and witticism developed primarily due to royal patronage and the context of being used by elites). Or, for how subtlety and the art of cunning are paramount in the world of politics, see the 1966 classic A Man for All Seasons. But, then, intelligent fare does not earn buckets of money: not just in India, but worldwide (otherwise, Hollywood supermen/women and most of disaster movies would not be running their franchise businesses). Yet, but why should Indian ambassadors and critics sing paeans for a film that can only advertise Indian cinema badly: and that, when India should be proud of its long-existing cinema, its originality, its beautiful escapist fare and yet a realism in it, its excellence in narrating a tale, and its strength in drawing artists and spectators alike in a land where money is not aplenty. Instead, today, India is more and more switching allegiance to the Hollywood mores of telling story: the Baahubali franchise is a sad attestation to how India is changing. If special effects-laden films required lesser money to make or if India had been richer, one suspects that such films would become standard course. This reflects very aptly today's India, an India that is composed of people who confusedly take their self as same as the label Indian, who go for flash-bling-bling of a nouveau riche, maybe even a nouveau (faux-)libre. But about that, I will write separately.

Note: I have watched the films in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi. Telugu, however, is the original language version of the film.