S.S. Rajamouli is one of the few directors in the Indian film industry who has the ability to appear as though he is sitting across the audience and narrating a story ‘once upon a time’ and hold their attention for the next two to three hours. His canvas has grown larger over the years, barring exceptions like Maryada Ramanna , and complemented heavily with visual effects. Still, it’s the storytelling that has shone through. His last outing, Eega , turned adults into children, making them laugh and root for the humble fly, and leave cinema halls with the satisfaction of being treated to a well narrated story.
Baahubali unfolds on a mammoth canvas, with the scope of changing the dynamics of Indian cinema. Rajamouli leads us into a mythical kingdom, Mahishmathi, ruled by Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati), where Devasena (Anushka Shetty) has been held captive for years. Chained and covered in grime, she lives with the hope of being freed by her son someday.
The story of Mahishmati with its young princes Bhallaladeva and Baahubali (Prabhas) is like the one you would read in Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama , gleaned out of the epics. One prince wants to kill for the throne and the other is a saviour of his people and a fierce defender of his kingdom. The lust for throne leads to politics in the time of war. A war that pitches their small kingdom against the much larger Kalakeya group and its war lord (Prabhakar).
The war formations that form a chunk of the latter portions of the film are the best we’ve seen in Indian cinema so far. These portions are spectacular and show the technical finesse of the cinematographer (K.K. Senthil Kumar) and the visual effects teams. The waterfall, the mystical forests and water bodies above the cliffs and the lead pair escaping an avalanche all add to the spectacle. Give into its magic, without drawing comparisons to Hollywood flicks.
As with previous Rajamouli films, there is the scope of a strong narrative but because the makers want the story to unfold in two parts, we can’t help feeling something is amiss. In part two, we’ll get to know more about different shades to each of the principal characters in the revenge drama. But Baahubali – the beginning falls short in its writing, in its ability to grip the viewer with its storytelling. The ‘once upon a time’ doesn’t hold attention when the film dwells more than necessary on the romance between Sivudu and Avantika. A needless item number takes the attention away from the two princes tracking down a spy.
M.M. Keeravani’s music, Sabu Cyril’s art direction, Rama Rajamouli and Prashanti Tipirneni’s costumes are in sync with the film’s setting. Prabhas does his best in the dual job of playing the carefree Sivudu and the revered Baahubali. There was no doubt that Rana would look the part of a warrior, but here he shows his growth as an actor. Anushka Shetty is gutsy to take on such a role and emotes through her powerful eyes. Had she faltered, she would have been a ‘mera beta aayega’ mother one has seen in Hindi cinema of 70s and 80s. Yes, we want to see more of her. Tamannaah is impressive in her warrior princess act. Sathyaraj and Rohini are pitch perfect in their parts.
In her brief role, Ramya Krishna effortlessly shines over everyone. Years after playing Neelambari in Padayappa ( Narasimha in Telugu), she shows she is still the best bet for a regal character.
Baahubali is several notches higher than a regular Telugu film. But it was meant to be a game changer, not a regular film. If a spellbinding saga is what you go looking for, some portions can leave you underwhelmed. The writing could have been better. Yet, there’s so much to root for.
As for part two, bring it on!