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Bahubali 2: The Conclusion

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Bahubali 2: The Conclusion, is yet another gigantic creation by SS Rajamouli, being hailed as the magnum opus and pride of the Indian cinema. If you see any of the interviews and TV promotions, you would be surprised and even a little amused at the anchors going overboard with glowing praise of the director and the cinema. This unquestioning, single-minded sycophancy is a wee bit amusing and shockingly reflects Rajamouli's social world-view as shown in his movies.

Yes, the flick undoubtedly is visually stunning and keeps you glued to its magnificence. Rajamouli's vivid imagination, and his capability to make his team understand and put that imagination into action is pat worthy. He did not compromise on artistic intricacies of any scene and his history of mass hits gave his producers the confidence to trust him with that kind of colossal investment. The costumes, towering sets, ingenious combat scenes and Prabhas's gorgeous body are worth every penny. This vision, I am positive, cannot be replicated in the near future by any in Indian film industry and neither can the dividends that are towering as well with Rs 900 crores and still counting. The Bahubali series took five years in the making and is a product of sweat and blood by all involved.

However, the director's gigantic, awe-inspiring vision of sets and combats did not correspond well with the story's degenerative social values that insisted on perpetuating existing inequalities. What disappointed me the most is the narration lacks in the department of steady emotions, logic and earthy revolution. In addition, I was very much taken aback by the obvious intention to maintain existing state of affairs, especially regarding social and political issues, of caste system and its power play.

For a movie that is beating its chest with pride as a path breaker, I wish Rajamouli had risen from the stereotypical Hindu inward view and thought beyond caste and sexist dynamics, especially in view of so many dalit students killing themselves in frustration and minorities being undermined by Hindu Gau Rakhshaks (cow-protectors).

Lyrics too depict this slave-ruler dimension through out. (listen to the song Dandalayya (Telugu) or Jaijai kara (Hindi) and you will know what I am worried about. Words like Swami and Rakhwala are liberally used equating king to God and the panhandling is sadly visible. Female power, as being portrayed by Ramya Krishnan and Anushka, is sabotaged, subdued and used for just one purpose: To uphold the supremacy of the male protagonist, in this case the backstabbed Kshatriya prince, Prabhas/Bahubali. In addition, common people of the great Mahishmati kingdom appear nothing but wastrels always looking up to a king who would deliver them from all evils. If he disappears or gets killed, they just bow down to the next ruler, Rana, albeit miserably. No question of revolt or ousting of the evil king; just wait for eternity for the good days to come on their own! This fictional story might have transpired way back in history but same principles work even TODAY, in spite of the socalled democracy in our country. caste dominance and king/govt being equaled to God resonance has defied time! This unquestioning attitude of people, added to their nauseating look of hope, with their sickly adoration made my blood boil. Many scenes depict the ruled as hopeless wastrels!

This single minded bowing down to authority is what made Indians bonded to the rule of the British for more than 300 years, allowed Congress to continue its corrupt regime for 70 years, and is now sanctioning BJP rule with their Hindutva terror agenda God knows for how long. Questioning a ruler and demanding from them their rights must be done with pride in return of the taxes paid not as if begging and taking alms. If not tradition, by exhibiting such revolt Rajamouli would have had his movie immemorial and noteworthy, thus touching the hearts of millions, not just high caste Hindus.

But he, a Kshatriya by caste in real life, kept stereotypes hanging lose with strong Hindu symbols that play on the viewer's mind at a subconscious level: Only the rich and powerful can and will rule-it's a matter of WHICH prince is more capable not WHOEVER is capable, evil be damned!

As this movie is not based on any historical or mythological figures, scenes depicting social change would have been welcomed heartily. But Rajamouli stuck to his deep-rooted stereotypes with his subtle but sure symbols of authority and sexism: King is God, Kshatriyas are protectors (hero actually says it 3 times in Telugu version and once in Hindi version. Yes, we Telugus are more submissive than all) women in general are weak. Though Devasena fights her battles and Shivagami is the king maker, rest of the women without exception are submissive.

For example, in one scene where Devasena's palace is being attacked, hordes of women are shown shivering and shaking in a room, while Prabhas gets busy pep-talking a decrepit prince into fighting the enemy. Alternatively, if all women came together and intimidated the enemy with anything handy, they would have probably had a better chance of survival. In the entire kingdom of Devasena, she is the only female who can defend herself. The rest are all shivering and quivering helpless maidens! I find this very disturbing and frustrating!

Devasena's brave character is yet again betrayed by director Rajamouli, who makes her pine for years at the mercy of the cruel king (in reality she could have been raped, abused and brutalized by the cruel captor and made her his mistress very easily as history is witness to such atrocities) just so her 'son' could free her. Instead she could have escaped, revolted with the help of her followers and at least helped her own kingdom that is ruthlessly being broken down by Rana. Instead like a dumb idiot rots there waiting for a son to bring her valor back! What a waste of strength!

I also found her being given away by her brother to Prabhas to be taken with him to his kingdom, without even getting them married, utterly shocking! Which responsible parents/brother would send her sister/daughter away with a stranger (however indomitable he may be and however much she is in love with him)? This is another way of saying that it's ok for girls to be given away without marriage to powerful kings, like the Rajputs often exchanges their daughters in marriage or otherwise to save their own throne.

Female mitigation of strength does not end there. In Bahubali The Beginning, Sivagamini as the mother Queen was dominant not just because of her queen capacity but also because she was portrayed as noble, objective, powerful and even sharply sly (she would deter opponents coveting for throne in one stroke through her spies and Kattappa help) but in the second half she unexpectedly becomes this dimwit who doesn't seem to have her own sources of information (spies) and her own thinking of what is right and wrong. She becomes so dependent on her wily husband and plotting son who she already knew (first half) are both cruel and conniving. This behavioral change is in such contrast to her original character that it is hard to swallow. Such injudiciousness in making judgments, especially about a son like Prabhas, who she loves and cares for deeply and vice versa, doesn't gel with the a strong and sly character of Sivagami. She is neither fair to her people nor to her adopted son/daughter-in-law in the second half. Instead she comes across as narrow-minded, arrogant, drunken in power and prejudiced. She actually asks Prabhas to conquer the little kingdom and bring Devasena in chains just because Devasena rejects her offer in marriage! Her characterization is disappointing to say the least.

Mirroring Devasena's frustrating dependency on an unseen son, the weakness, meekness and maddening unquestioning servitude of people reaches to such a pitiful limit that they become immune to their so called "savior's" wife's entrapment. She is captured, chained and showcased right in the middle of the city and this so called loyal people simply don't care enough to revolt and free her!!!! Disgusting! A behavioral change of questioning, demanding, fighting is what is seriously and urgently required to our Indian psyche (to end our corrupt ruler/corporate/media conglomerate) and Rajamouli could have brought in that subtle difference to make his movie a notch higher in values.

Kattappa killing Bahubali is also not convincing. Why would anyone with a sane mind kill a good human being just to show some blind, unquestioning loyalty to the throne, especially if the person is so close and kind to not just Kattappa but to all and sundry? This Drona-like character is not convincing at all. I wish Rajamouli bypassed this sychopant characterization and showed some spine, revolution and intelligence in Kattappa.

Kattappa looks Muslimish and there are Muslims shown as praja in a scene. Otherwise Bahubali 2 is basically a Hindu dominated movie unlike Bahubali 1 where different kinds of worship are shown (a female goddess that doesn't resemble anyone and some tribal worship). In part 2 Lord Ganesh, Krishna predominate, staying in tune with the current BJP ruling regime in Delhi. Showcasing equality of religions and castes is glaringly missing in this film. These are the parts that I wish Rajamouli took care of, setting a greater example to his audience and in tune to the current strapped times. Such care wouldn't have downgraded his movie in neither quality nor profits: Instead it simply would have made it a more humane, soul-touching and global movie, appreciated by all thinking junta.

I found Rana's characterization in second half a little subdued and his dialogues a pinch cheap, Nassar a bit over-emoting.

There are several moments otherwise I simply fell in love with: The scenes of archery between Prabhas and Anushka, (though how these bows keep appearing from nowhere in their sheaths remain a mystery) her walking on his arms, Subba Raju's endearing humor as good yet weak prince and above all Anushka and Prabhas' instant justice to sexual harassment by the commander-in-chief! Such punishments (though kangaroo) will scare other offenders away forever!

I thoroughly enjoyed the magnificence of the movie, the creative excellence, Prabhas's natural charm, Ramya Krishnan's easy performance and Anushka's ethnic look. Some scenes are so brilliant and so minutely managed that they leave you openmouthed. Even my young son who definitely saw a lot of English magnums revealed that he has not seen anything so magnificent so far. However, he, and many other young viewers the day I went to the movie, agreed that the movie lacked in soul and futuristic liberal vision to have become a globally motivating magnum opus.

 
Bahubali 2: The Conclusion
Grand Vision, Deep Pockets, Shallow Values
An Opportunity Lost

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