BAAHUBALI : THE PASSION

Entertainment has been around humans, almost since humans have ever existed. Their inception had only one purpose : to make humans forget their daily course and indulge in things that made them happy. To forget for a while that they have to survive tomorrow, and just focus on how to live today.

Of course, like we humans, our entertainment has taken shapes and leaps to various bounds. To many, it is what we live for.

If all of this sounds completely unrelated to the topic in question, you are wrong. Because Baahubali, the two-part movie event is not another Friday release which you will see today and forget tomorrow. It’s rather a magic that captures the essence of what we call as “Entertainment”. As the great Silk Smitha told us once.

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At its core, the story of Baahubali is a simple one heavily inspired by the Amar Chitra Katha comics and our two great epics. Nothing to it was new. It felt so because the retelling is so fascinating! If given the story, anyone might have just made Amrendra’s story in the first part and Mahendra’s in the second. But it was the pure genius of Rajamouli that he gave us the cliffhanger of the century and made us wait for an answer which actually was not that hard to guess. But it made us understand the depth of loyalty Katappa had and the loss a kingdom faces when they lose their rightful king.

Like every great story, this one too depended on multiple characters. It may have one (or two) titular leads, but the story would have been nothing without the others. Rajamouli made us care for Sivagami, Katappa, Devsena and even Bhallaladeva as much as Baahubali. Amrendra and Sivagami’s relationship was at the core of the story, Katappa became the guide of both Baahubalis, Devsena exposed the bubble of greatness Mahishmati was living under and Bhallaldeva flexed equally huge muscles and proved to be the perfect nemesis. It then set the ground for (both) Baahubali’s motivations and actions. You can’t help to just root for him to do all things right.

What most Indian films (the ones under “masala” gene) have been doing since long is make their main characters do those same actions, but never making the audience understanding the effect of it. You whistle not because Amrendra swings and cuts a senapati’s head. But because he makes an important statement of how any kind of molestation should never be spared.

The film(s) received thousands of admirations but not from everyone. When comments like Rajamouli is the “Tolkien of India” or the film is “our answer to Game of Thrones” started to surface, some were quick to laugh it off. In their viewpoint, how can a film where people are crashing into kingdoms flying from palm trees or a warrior princess getting unknowingly tattooed on her arm be compared to the contemporary classics?

To their credit, they are not entirely wrong. But given the industry that the film comes from, these are small licenses the film decides to take. It’s a clash of sensibilities. It may be cringe-worthy to some, and fun-to-watch for others. Except for such nitpickings, Rajamouli gives each characters just the right amount of swagger and superhero abilities. He also gives them smart tactics which are equally laudable. Be it the use of tents in burning a chunk of their enemies or using flaming bulls and broken dam to defend a small kingdom from a gigantic army of soldiers, we adore the Baahubalis for both their strength and intellect.

And yet, the hero of the film is not the actors, characters or even the writing – it’s the visual effects. Again, many might point out some tacky sequences which still doesn’t match to the all the GoTs and LOTRs. Let’s not talk about the most famous excuse – cost factor. The movie might have been made at 1/4th the cost of a Hollywood summer blockbuster, but there are many disparities like that of labour costs which doesn’t make it a worthy reason.

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An overview of the budget disparity

Today when you see an extravagant spectacle from Marvel, WB or Disney, they appear flawless not only because of the amount of money and time spent on it but also simply because the industry is now very much used to making CGI-heavy films. The amount of VFX-laden movies made here are just a handfull. Even so, it’s not even made by the most established industry of the country. Reportedly, there were close to 30 VFX studios across the world working on the films, major work done by Hyderabad-based Makuta VFX. A task never done by a 100-year old industry was thrust upon one small company.

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The awesome folks at Makuta VFX

I think the greater achievement here is not the collection, but the ability to pull off this ambition with such aplomb. Sabu Cyril, the production designer of the film in an interview with Rajeev Masand pointed out how lucky he feels to get an opportunity like Baahubali. It was once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If making the film was a new thing, it’s certain that watching the film was a unique experience too. Above all, Baahubali had the novelty factor. It followed closely to what the last two all-time blockbusters – namely PK and Dangal had : A good content. While a film like Dangal was made in a year filled with sports biopics and PK had the same message as that of OMG Oh My God, Baahubali stood out with its novelty. It could hence compete and even topple the other two films even when competing against one of India’s biggest actors.

There is so much for Bollywood to learn from this film. But most probably they won’t. Unless the attitude towards film changes, it won’t happen. Unless people start working on what they need to show to their audience instead of what they think the audience wants, it’s impossible to create a Baahubali.

Till then, there will be unnecessary sequels made, festival dates tightly booked and the aim would be to maximize the opening numbers.

Good thing though, when big numbers are thrown in next time we will get to say this for ages to come – “It’s nothing compared to Baahubali 2.” 

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