Baahubali: The Conclusion doesn't enlarge the scope of the first film or deepen its meaning. However, it does expose the smallness of its many ideas, even as it redeems most of its campy elements, feels Sreehari Nair.
It's not every day that a movie critic begins his review with two confessions, but I have two nevertheless.
Two confessions is just my sort of thing -- one would amount to advertising-talk and three or four confessions would be a bit too many.
So my first confession is that I hadn't watched Baahubali: The Beginning until yesterday.
So, after that graceless burst of sad news, which for all practical reasons should immediately disqualify me from reviewing the second part, I also have to confess that I thought the first film was a teasing, hilarious movie.
Before you assume anymore, let me tell you, I didn't think it 'unintentionally hilarious.'
But then director SS Rajamouli's vision of the past is so full of unapologetic kinkiness and grotesquerie, and so in-tune with the fantasy we take for granted when we read mythological books that the movie became truly rapturous.
An unabashed director of spectacles, Rajamouli scores his ribbons by *not* denying us the evidence of our senses.
Baahubali: The Beginning was probably India's first mytho-comic movie, and it had me by my lapel and gave me the tickles.
For how else do you respond to a film in which Tamannaah Bhatia's weather-beaten face turns powder-puffed over the course of a fight?
Or how do you take in a land where even the waterfall seems subtitled?
Or what about that famous hand-out-of-lake iconography which looked like a submerged version of Columbia Pictures' logo, with the torch replaced by a baby?
While vacuum-words such as 'Poignant,' 'Evocative' and 'Visual Extravaganza' were heaped on the movie, I personally thought Baahubali: The Beginning was a speeded-up orgy version of those Set-Max Movies where the sheer energy of the director had turned pure trash into pleasurable camp.
Out there on display was a vision so baroque that it had me slapping hard at my thighs. And this is why I was glad I hadn't watched the movie with an audience that seemed to have taken it in all solemnness. For among those grave souls, I would have been like that boy who laughed in church.
Overheard the below conversation at a Coffee-Shop between two girls, wearing dungaree jackets, and talking with a certain nasal offhandedness:
"Part One was like a Kurosawa movie recreated using VFX."
"You mean to say like Ran?"
"Of course it did; ran big time."
After all those tickles which some of us took for movie-greatness, Rajamouli is now back with the second installment of his opus. It's been two years since the first one, which adds up to 'zero time' in the Mahishmati Kingdom-world.
Baahubali: The Conclusion does not enlarge the scope of the first film or deepen its meaning. However, it does expose the smallness of its many ideas, even as it redeems most of its campy elements.
The movie begins by taking its epic-status seriously, with Part 1 being recapped in computerised sculpture-figures and a running ballad that suggests that revenge is what turns the world. And by the time the titles are over, we are back to tomfoolery.
The neat O Henry finish of the first installment has been the source of all the major excitement surrounding the movie. But expect no answers, too soon. For Kattappa, the programmed royal slave who has trained himself to surrender his mind, wakes up in Baahubali: The Conclusion as a comical Sancho Panza to Baahubali's Don Quixote.
We know he's going to betray him eventually, but they start off here in all jest and happily heckling each other.
Inside the Mahishmati palace, there's Bhallala Deva still sniggering, and his father Bijjaladeva who hand-mimes a crab and works up a spit. Nothing much has changed, not even the way that Ramya Krishnan's Sivagami looks at Baahubali, which (forgive me if I am way off here), to me, suggested startling Freudian undertones.
Feral animals, as in the first part, are all CGI-enhanced, and the servile figures (that happily bow down to royalty) are real ones. Characters take in their surroundings, but there is a weird sort of pleasure in knowing that they are for most part just looking at green screens.
Rajamouli is a careful reader of our most popular mythologies; in that he doesn't question their outlines but is fascinated by their inner tensions.
Rajamouli is not a reinterpreter of mythology like M T Vasudevan Nair or someone, who will try to get at the real meaning of mythologies (like how John Huston did with The Bible); he is merely a student of its most-admired rhythms. He isn't, for example, only interested in Shakuni's or Kaikeyi's evilness but also interested in noting that such evilness was often sourced from these characters' complexes about their disabilities.
Rajamouli notices such populist simmers, and in his movies uses them like elements in a Soap-Opera. This means that the things in his movies that can startle you are also the things that can be seen as supremely funny.
In Baahubali 2, a father asks his son if he ever wished to murder his mother. There is a lake full of bobbing corpses; there are cows with flaming horns, bodies falling from the moon, background dancers taken straight from a Mumbai-based Thai Spa, and a telegram-bringing Falcon.
Three seats to my left, a gentleman was gaping at all of these, while I was laughing hard. What's macabre in Baahubali 2 can also be chucklesome. And in getting at this duality with all vigour, the movie becomes a wholesome celebration of Camp.
All those who may think of this second installment as underwhelming (and there will be many who'll think so) didn't obviously watch the first part for its flaky pleasures.
And all those who'll merely mock at this whole franchise for its 'illogicality' all the while prostrating to such gooey trash as X-Men Apocalypse are obviously betraying two very separate standards for judging camp.
This, to me, is exactly the kind of picture that Pedro Almodovar was talking about in his following theory: "When a movie has a profusion of bad tastes, it becomes a style."
There's no performance here of any intuition and they are all staged to achieve a certain effect.
Anushka Shetty, who appeared in a loused-up avatar in the first part, gets a back-story here, as the warrior princess who sets off the film's central dispute. In one particular sequence, arrows pass through that small space between her lobe and earrings and she blinks, before settling down to do a tango-of-combat with Baahubali as an in-palace battle happens around their dance.
Baahubali himself, in addition to being an artifact of royal valor, is portrayed as a terrific actor, a love-struck child, an engineer of some repute, and in one particular sequence, 'a human bridge.'
As the plot progresses, and as we move toward that big reveal that we have been denied for two years now, Baahubali is shown to run a parallel government that threatens to overthrow the kingdom. That section could have been investigated further, as emblematic of how modern democracies were formed, but in the spirit of Rajamouli's movies, we only get an AV-show of heroism.
If there's one area where Baahubali 2 falls clearly short of the first part, it is in its staging of the battle sequences. I thought the big battle sequence in Baahubali: The Beginning had, in significant measure, helped expand the meaning of its kitsch.
In that sequence, there were notes about the Primitivism of war and about the little engineering of the times; a group of bulgy-eyed warriors added that texture of perversity to the sequence with the war deaths photographed like a Fibonacci Series (you hit one, and you got a handful).
Unlike the battle sequences in say a Bajirao Mastani, there, we felt like we were in the dead centre of a war.
In Baahubali: The Conclusion, Rajamouli falls back on the preferred tropes of war-sequences: it's all ingenious blocking and rain-of-arrows. In one shot, a commoner tries to stop the enemy's advancing steps by hurling at them a stone, almost as if a hartal procession was happening.
Funnily enough, the battle sequences here reduce the scale of the movie.
Despite its gargantuan cast, there are not more than 10 people in Baahubali who actually talk; the others merely exist as echoes. These are people forever chanting their support, nodding their heads in accord, or following directions.
If you think about it, this lop-sided view of heroism is in complete disagreement with the spirit of great movies. But in a world of sheer campy values, as this one, such problems became the very essence of the experience.