Opening this week

Film review: ‘Baahubali’ is a triumph of size, scale and spectacle

SS Rajamouli’s eye-popping period spectacle raises the bar for the Indian action movie by several notches.

It takes only the first few frames for Telugu filmmaker SS Rajamouli to establish some of the key elements, themes and characters of his swords-and-dhotis adventure. Baahubali: The Beginning, dubbed in Hindi from Telugu, opens with a queen (Ramya Krishna) running for her life clutching a baby. She slays the soldiers chasing her and wades into the gushing waters at the foot of a thundering waterfall. The queen saves the male infant by holding it above the treacherous waters, her resoluteness signalled by her unwavering hand.

Next, the boy, temporarily known as Shiva (Prabhas) and the Baahubali of the title, rapidly establishes his single-mindedness and valour. Curious about the world beyond the waterfall, he spends his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood trying to conquer the rapids, finally succeeding when he chases winsome warrior Avanthika (Tamannaah Bhatia) to the other side, where his real inheritance awaits him.

Shiva’s repeated and eye-popping attempts to tame the waterfall mirror Rajamouli’s determination to deliver the spectacle to beat all spectacles. Valour, virility, vendetta, maternal resolve, operatic emotion, rebellion and conquest are all packed into the inaugural minutes, and they eventually add up to a ravishing feast mounted on a scale that has rarely been seen on the Indian screen.

Royal intrigue

Rajamouli moves through the 159 minutes of part one (a second episode will release next year) with as much speed and ease as Shiva. The familiar yarn of a royal family split down the middle over the issue of inheritance meshes tropes and tricks seen in numerous Hollywood fantasy adventures and period dramas, from Spartacus and Gladiator to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with elements from Indian epics. Bhallala Deva (Rana Dagubatti) is the cruel ruler of Mahishmati, whose skyline is dotted with proto-skyscrapers and forbidding Fascist-style structures and whose ground heaves with the sweat and tears of slave labour and fearful subjects.

Bhallala Deva has a prized prisoner, Devasena (Anushka Shetty), whose hauteur has survived her imprisonment, and who provides the link between parts one and two. Devasena’s followers, including Avanthika, are waiting to rescue her, and Avanthika, borrowing a few moves and the costumes of Keira Knightley’s character in King Arthur, seems ready for the task. But she is conveniently defanged by Shiva, who travels in her place to Mahishmati, where his legacy awaits him.

In a movie laden with symbols and portents, there is no sequence more telling than Baahubali’s entry into Mahishmati. A consecration ceremony for a humungous statue of Bhallala Deva is reluctantly underway. The dancers are grimacing, the chants of the priests are decidedly muted, and even intense whipping cannot make the slaves put the statue into position.

Baahubali’s mere presence electrifies the crowd. The dancers find the spring in their step, the priests brighten up, and the slaves perk up. The game of statutes has been lost forever. In a meme-worthy moment, the stricken Bhallala Deva has a vision of his likeness being dwarfed several times over by Baahubali’s decidedly bigger image.

Big is beautiful

Size is everything in this giga-budget production, which deploys numerous extras and computer-generated effects and frames its characters and sets in a way that maximises their grandeur. One of the movie’s frequently deployed tricks is to make its bulky male leads sail through the air with the grace of birds. Characters are frequently placed against imposing backdrops and different terrains–waterfalls, icy valleys, mountain tops, and the grime of the battlefield.

Yet, Rajamouli’s emphasis on spectacle and grandiloquence doesn’t blind him to the necessity of moving the story along. A flashback reveals the treachery that denied Baahubali his rightful place on Mahishmati’s throne and includes a bloody battle sequence that establishes the filmmaking crew’s complete absorption of Hollywood movies, especially Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. Stepping in for the LOTR’s Orcs are dark-skinned and bestial rebels, led by a one-eyed scruffy leader who, in a less conventional celebration of the prowess of the martial race, might have been a useful ally rather than a disposable enemy.

Baahubali doesn’t tinker with the basic template and the clichés of the warrior epic genre, and the parallels drawn between Baahubali and the god Shiva redundantly underline his  decidedly non-mortal physical strengths. The movie venerates machismo, which is present even in its spitfire female characters, but it has ample reserves of singular imagination and visual splendour. Beautifully designed by Sabu Cyril and impressively shot by KK Senthil Kumar, the movie underscores Rajamouli’s proven ability to deliver a grandiloquent experience. The sprawling cast falls in perfect line with the filmmaker’s ambitions, and he trumps his track record of delivering smart popular entertainment through such films as Magadheera and Eega. Every frame pulsates with the passion of a filmmaker openly staking his claim as the most adventurous soul travelling through mainstream cinema at the moment.



Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.