On My Shelves: Baahubali 1 and 2


Recently Kathleen has been watching a bunch of Bollywood (and related –wood) movies; this pair (technically, I think, a Tollywood production) we watched together.

This is the story you'd get from a collision of 300, MacBeth, and The Ten Commandments, if you also got a musical director involved and gave them the suggestion that everything they did should be BIGGER. Although it might be more fair to say that 300, MacBeth, and The Ten Commandments derived in part from this, because the core legendary events, of conspiracies to take a throne, of warriors battling against stupendous odds, of kings cast down and returned, of the gods influencing the courses of kingdoms… India has had them all for perhaps longer than any other civilization on Earth.

The first movie begins as a woman flees from soldiers, carrying with her a baby. But even here, early on, we learn that it is best not to underestimate anyone in the world of Baahubali; shot from behind with an arrow, crossing a rushing river, the woman (who we later learn is named Sivagami, and is the child's grandmother) rips the arrow from her own back, uses it to kill one man, then kills another to make her escape. But she cannot finish the crossing; the water becomes too deep. Sivagami prays to the gods that they grant her one wish: "Mahendra Baahubali must live!"… and holds the baby just above the water with one hand, the rest of her submerged.

A group of people from a nearby village happen upon the location shortly thereafter, and see the incredible sight; after a moment's pause, Sanga (a woman of importance in the village) commands that the baby be rescued; as the baby is removed, Sivagami's hand turns and points to the top of the waterfall, showing from whence they came.

Yet another proof that this is a World of Badass, and Sivagami herself is one of the most badass of the lot: even if the scene above immediately follows Sivagami's little battle, Sivagami still must have stood, holding the baby aloft while submerged in a frigid, rushing river, for something like five minutes. And if, as seemed more likely, a bit of time passed, she held her breath for maybe half an hour!

Sanga's people notice the signs of pursuit and battle, and discover the cave used by Sivagami and her pursuers; they block it up with immense rocks to prevent any more pursuit. Sanga declares she will raise the child as her own, and names him Shivudu.

Shivudu grows into a tall, handsome young man with a playful and good-hearted nature, if a bit mischievous at times. The only thing he does that really concerns his mother is that he seems fascinated with the waterfall and what might lie atop it, and devotes his efforts to trying to climb the immense cliff. (and proves how badass he is by falling something like 200 feet and getting up just mildly peeved)

As one might predict, eventually Shivudu makes his way to the top, after a mask falls from the cliff above to land in front of him: a mask of a beautiful woman. He climbs the cliff, at times preceded by a vision of the woman (which may also be a sending of the gods). Exploring the forest at the top, he sees a woman very similar to the vision he follows – a woman who beats the living hell out of half a dozen warriors just before Shivudu can start his own rescue attempt.

We soon discover that the young woman, Avanthika, is part of a group of rebels who are attempting to rescue their queen Devasena. She pleads for and is given the right to attempt the rescue herself; but along the way, the besotted Shivudu attempts to woo her (with alas some over-the-top stalkeresque tactics). To the movie's credit Avanthika at first displays the disquiet and distress these tactics would be expected to produce (and with such a woman, a determination to kill the stalker). However, Shivudu wins her over eventually (partly in a so-very-Bollywood dance-and-music sequence) and also demonstrates his battle prowess when some of the warriors of the kingdom Mahishmati appear. Shivudu promises to assist her in her sworn mission, and does in fact enter Mahishmati and make away with Devasena.

A few scenes have also shown us the events in Mahishmati, which is ruled by the terrifically powerful king Bhalladeva (and his scheming father). Bhalladeva is tall, handsome, powerful… and also cruel and oppressive, partly because he is still haunted after twenty-five years by the love of Mahishmati's people for his adopted brother Baahubali. Devasena, Baahubali's mother, he has kept a prisoner in chains mostly out of pure spite against his brother's memory. One of Bhalladeva's greatest resources is Katappa, a slave whose family swore everlasting servitude to the royal family of Mahishmati, and one of the greatest warriors ever to live. Now an old man, there is still no one who can stand against Katappa's blade except possibly Bhalladeva himself and the now-long-dead Baahubali.

When Shivudu escapes with Devasena, Katappa is sent with a force of guards from Mahishmati to kill the invader and kill or return Devasena. The night-shrouded, rain-clouded battle is fierce, and none of the ordinary men can withstand Shivudu; but Katappa seems to be his match. However, when Katappa prepares a final charge to slay Shivudu, a flash of lightning shows his face clearly. Katappa drops to his knees, dropping his sword and skidding to the feet of Shivudu… to call him "Baahubali". For he is the pure twin image (and likely reincarnation) of his father.

The movies then take us on a trip into the past, to show how the two boys were raised by Sivagami ("My word is the law!"), how they became rivals, and how the deep rift between them was created and grew… and how both Bhalladeva and his crafty father Bijjaladeva arranged events to cause the downfall of the popular and heroic Baahubali. Eventually they return to the present, with Shivudu – now acknowledged as Mahendra Baahubali – having to lead the rebellion against his tyrant of an uncle.

Baahubali 1 and 2 are epic tapestries of betrayal, romance, courage, and faith. The characters are drawn clearly and sharply, and if they follow some heroic and villainous tropes, that's simply to be expected; this is a world of myth, a time of legendary heroics far removed from our pale and lesser future.

And they're also movies of such beyond-epic combat that they make any action movie you've seen from Western sources look like Captain Kirk's choreographed fight scenes from Star Trek. The 300 were puny, scrawny, milquetoast wimps compared to the second string fighters in Baahubali. Where else will you see men catapulted from trees to fly through the air in shield-wall formation, to strike like boulders and then leap up, fighting, after blowing a hole through three feet of stone?

But unlike 300, the super-manly warriors of Baahubali don't live in an unrelievedly grim world of rain or shadow or dust; Baahubali is mythic India in its most brilliantly colorful, even when the battles take place in the desert. The epic scale and scenes may echo The Ten Commandments, but this is ultimately a tale of how people make the choices. Yes, the gods may guide them and show their favor, but it is subtle (most of the time; Bhalladeva does get one really blatant screw you image from the gods just before he dies), and it's not about God sending down his word, it's about human beings solving their own terrible problems and learning to build a better world.

I really, really enjoyed these two (VERY LONG – 2:48 for the first and 2:51 for the second) movies. The musical sequences were not intrusive, often fit well with the movie, and were not terribly common. The acting is top-notch, especially that of Sivagami and our main man Baahubali. If you like action with romance and epic scale, this is definitely for you!


Your comments or questions welcomed!