Some Ramblings - Baahubali (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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This is Frank Miller and Alan Moore, arguably the greatest graphic novel artists of all time, mashup that Rajamouli serves up fresh as the first of its kind presentation on telugu (for that matter, Indian) screen, a graphic novel movie. In here, the action and emotion are conveyed entirely through motion. Bahubali scales tall peaks, flings himself across gorges, swings and tangles with vines (ok, a little bit of Cameron's Avatar and Peter Jackson's King Kong too), all this to portray his free spirit and dare devil attitude. He growls, he prowls, he scowls, when he sets himself up to lunge at his opponents. All his valor, bravery, and courage are all derivatives of his motion. He stops, and it becomes an act of ponderance, he moves, as a delivery mechanism of bad news and ill-luck to his enemies, he is practically defined by his speed and that even reflects in his token romanticism, where he becomes nimble and lithe

(to quote Nusrat's Afreen Afreen
aankhe neechI huyi to hayaa ban gayI
aankhe oonchI huyi to duaa ban gayI
aankhe jhuk kar uThI to adaa ban gayI
aankhe jin mein hain qaid aasmaan-o-zameen)

This is the hallmark of the graphic novel medium which is the comic book format played at high speed, not just in kinetics, but in tone and emotion. Consider Frank Miller's 'Sin City' or 'The Dark Knight Returns' or the greatest graphic novel of all time, Alan Moore's 'Watchmen', which are essentially freeze frames of hyper-action, capturing only the key moments in 4" X 4" frames, zipping the story through the panels at such breakneck speed as to leave the readers breathless and gasping for a little let up on the pace pedal. And the same goes with almost all the key characters in 'Bahubali'. Bhallala Deva is a reincarnate of 'Mahishasura' character (a nice touch, introducing him going head on with a bull - a tribute(?) that recreates the opening sequence of Spielberg's Jurassic Park with the velociraptor in the cage). Avantika is grace and grit rolled in one. Devasena trudges along carrying the heft of injustice and the hope of retribution. And on these shoulders, Rajamouli moves his pieces furiously, never letting the pace to slacken, glossing and gliding over the wafer-thin story line, challenging the viewer to keep up with his speed.

Strong story (or the lack of it) has always been the Achilles Heel of Rajamouli's movies. It is as though he gets terribly excited by the potential and the possibilities of the story than by the actual strength of it. And it is never more apparent than in 'Magadheera', when once he saw the visuals of one guy vanquishing 100 (the readily available references from '300' also helped) he immediately sprung into action devising and designing his action blocks without paying much attention to the lead up to the action, nor to the fall out of it. And then 'Eega' happened, which played to his strengths where the premise has little say in the overall scheme of things as long as the visuals amped up or dialed down the emotions. 'Bahubali', in that vein, is an extension of 'Eega', which also chucks away the crutches of strong story or intricate plotting (though it does a decent jobs on both fronts) and relies entirely on immersive visuals and pacing to stellar results. That this time around he even shuns his (over-)reliance on Hollywood blockbusters (though there are strong whiffs of them here and there) and instead takes on the graphic novels, in spirit and execution, agrees well with 'Bahubali', for here is also a similar world where power is the only language spoken and might is the only currency traded, and words are mere waste of time. This is entirely a director's movie needing names, characters, a script only to the extent that they can help showcasing a space, creating a world, realizing a vision. A script existed only to chart the flow of visuals (one other recent visual fest, where the action story boards served as the final shooting script, is Mad Max: Fury Road) and not for the usual purpose of conveying the intentions and motivations in monologues and punchlines. For a telugu movie (even for an Indian one), this is confidence personified, a rewarding trust reposed in the audience's ability to overlook the unnecessary (punches - in dialogues and fist cuffs) and instead be carried away by the sweeping scheme and grandiose vision of the director. 'Bahubali' is what Rajamouli has been preparing for through the confounding stumbles and confident strides till this point in his career.

Here is finally an Indian movie that can stand toe to toe, see eye to eye in the visual effects department with the best that Hollywood can offer (adjusted to scale, of course). VFX in a movie should be like an umpire on the field, ideally unnoticeable; but on the flip side, even a simple mistake would appear quite jarring and glaring. Per that standard, the department aids and enhances the director's cause, glorifying the grandeur, magnifying the might and spellbinding with splendor. Indian VFX has truly come of age and has grown up to be reckoned as a vital tool in the director's armory, a la photography or editing, serving not merely as scene enhancers or frame beautifiers, but as scene creators and vision realizers, a big leap for the bits and bytes industry.

Not enough could be said about Keeravani's thumping and haunting score. Using predominantly drums and cello (not since Rahman's rousing use of cello ( in Iruvar has an Indian film made such good use of cello, an instrument that can both be ominous and sound pathos in those lower notes), Keeravani revels and excels at the opportunity of finally meeting a visual that matched his prowess. On the acting front, both the lead men didn't have much to flex their acting muscles as much as they had to the real ones, and both of them look their parts. In such visual feasts, actors become as much props as the rest, and one exception to it is Ramya Krishna, who could convey her ferocity, matriarchy, ruthlessness and sternness all through her eyes and body language. It is no exaggeration that not since Bhanumati (particularly, the 'Nagamma' role in 'Palnati Yuddham'), of yester years, has an actress commanded such presence and attention from a scene and (deservedly) got them in spades. Her voice carried, without getting hoarse, her words thundered, without being loud, her eyes both showered kindness and rained fire.

Rajamouli sets himself a near impossible benchmark with 'Bahubali' to reach and top in his subsequent ventures (but then the same could be said with 'Eega'). And it would serve him well to remember that James Cameron didn't just stop at 'The Abyss' (his most tenuous and path breaking shoot till then), he went on to make T-2, True Lies, Titanic, Avatar (and continuing), each one surpassing the predecessor, pushing the limits of his creativity, skill and perseverance into hitherto unchartered territories.

And in response to whether the second part of 'Bahubali' is still needed to judge Rajamouli's new found flair for visual story-telling, to borrow from 'Jerry Maguire', 'Shut up, you had me at "hello"'



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