In a career spanning 14 years, with 9 consecutive hits in his belt, S.S.Rajamouli occupies an envious position today, not just in Telugu Cinema but in Indian Cinema itself. Even in his earlier films like Student No.1, Simhadri, Sye etc his passion for excellence and the desire to try something interesting was visible. And with films like Magadheera and Eega he has also demonstrated that he can comfortably handle films set on a large canvas and/or think out of the box. Today when we think of any lavishly mounted film we usually would tend to think of S.S.Rajamouli and Shankar, both being filmmakers bearing quite a lot of similarity. While both of them have shown that they are adept in handling VFX in their films, and with Shankar’s track record at the box office also being impressive, there isn’t much to differentiate between them. But one point where Rajamouli clearly scores over Shankar is that no single film of the former bears any similarity with his other works. Shankar is known for his fondness for films featuring a strong vigilante, being a recurring theme in many of his films. But that is something Rajamouli has always steered clear of.
And Rajamouli has always been spunky, after all anyone else in his position would aim at doing something even bigger after a Magadheera while Rajamouli instead chose to a relatively small film, Maryada Ramanna featuring comedian Sunil in the main lead (later on the same film has gone on to be remade in multiple Indian languages including Hindi). Or imagine making a film like Eega later on where the main lead is a housefly, not something one would generally expect right? But that’s why Rajamouli stands tall among his contemporaries, so there were no real surprises when he announced Baahubali, his attempt at making an epic folk fantasy across two parts. Shot simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil and also dubbed in Malayalam and Hindi, the 1st part has finally released today, Baahubali: The Beginning. While films like these were common back in the 40’s and 50’s, hardly anyone attempts films like these now. Added to it is the financial burden and the prospect of proving that indeed he can pull this off as well. So has Rajamouli managed to retain his charm over the audience with Part 1 of Baahubali? Does he leave the audience asking for more? And does it come across as breaking new ground as expected?
Baahubali starts with Sivudu (Prabhas) landing up as a toddler at the footsteps of a waterfall where is picked up and raised by his foster parents. His mother (Rohini) being fearful for his safety forbids from him from scaling up the waterfall, but the curious Sivudu keeps on attempting the same. Finally one day egged on by a mysterious mask, he ends up reaching the summit of the waterfall in search of Avantika (Tamannaah) only to find out that she and her warrior companions are trying to rescue Devasena (Anushka Shetty) who is kept in captivity in the kingdom of Mahishmati by Bhallala Deva (Rana Daggubati), the ruler. Sivudu ends up falling in love with Avantika and promises to fulfil her mission, which is bringing back Devasena. Who is Devasena, what is Sivudu’s connection with her and the happenings at Mahishmati, what happens when he goes about trying to rescue Devasena? All these and more are answered in the rest of the film.
In terms of what the teaser, trailer, posters and various other promotional tools promised, we do more or less get what we expected to see. It was meant to be a simple tale, but mounted on a lavish scale and overall an entertainer which ideally was worthy of the hype. First things first, yes the plot is very simple, way too simple in fact. The story by V.Vijayendra Prasad is something that you would remind you of tales from Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama from your childhoon. But this is not surprising considering Rajamouli has been vocal about being inspired by the Mahabharata and Amar Chitra Katha. But still it would have been great if the writing had more meat, the first half of the film especially doesn’t really have much to offer except in terms of setting up the base. But then Rajamouli probably believed in keeping us waiting for the attractions as things take an interesting turn post interval especially when the happenings in Mahishmati of the past are brought into focus.
While the VFX is not uniformly of the same standard, they look convincing in a lot of places, especially when it is really needed, like in the final war sequence. In fact VFX supervisor Srinivas Mohan certainly deserves all accolades for ensuring Rajamouli’s vision is carried out effectively to a large extent. Production design by Sabu Cyril is another plus point, the coordination between Srinivas Mohan and Sabu Cyril is well done enough for us at some places where we are unable to clearly distinguish between VFX and props/sets. The war sequence towards the later part of the film is certainly the highlight of the film, not only is it almost of International standard; it is also innovative in terms of certain war techniques depicted. K.K.Senthil Kumar’s cinematography is excellent and portions like the war sequence or the fight that appears in darkness (innovative by action director Peter Hein) are some examples which show us how effective the camera work is.Editing by Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao is certainly in line with Rajamouli’s vision, it ensures the film has the right kind of pacing and ends on a note which makes us ask for more. Also it is interesting to see a totally new language being created by Madhan Karky for Kalakeya (Prabhakar) and his massive army, reminding me of the Na’vi language created for James Cameron‘s Avatar.
Considering that the first half doesn’t really have much to convey it is still to Rajamouli’s credit for ensuring that the film remains engaging end to end, certainly not a mean achievement.M.M.Keeravani who has always composed good songs for Rajamouli’s films disappoints here, as the songs really do not make much impact. But he more than makes up for the same, with his impressive BGM, one of the highlights of the film. The film also benefits from the casting decisions kept in mind from an angle of being a bilingual. Prabhakar is menacing as Kalakeya while Sathyaraj carries out the character of Kattappa with a lot of dignity. Nassar as Bijjala Deva makes a good impact; his physical impairment appearing very realistic is quite astonishing. Sudeep as Aslam Khan has a very brief cameo but manages to leave an impact with the help of a sword fight sequence with Sathyaraj. Baahubali also has some well written female characters, none of them appearing as mere props.
Rohini as the foster mother of Sivudu, Tamannaah as the dashing warrior Avantika and Anushka Shetty in a totally de-glam avatar (as Devasena) are all wonderful, essaying distinct characters with strength. Ramya Krishnan as Rajmata Sivagami is powerful, regal and elegant, easily one of her better performances in her career. Rana Daggubati and Prabhas are good choices, both playing their parts with sincerity. This shows in many ways, their physical appearance, the way they carry out the emotionally charged moments and in their dialogue delivery. Eventually despite a few valid concerns like why was the first half not carrying enough meat, could there have been some more novelty to the plot, why is the VFX in some places not very convincing etc. there is still enough and more to appreciate in the film. This is a film where for once you do not feel like debating the authenticity of the budget (rumoured to be 250 crores INR for both the films). What a similar film like Kochadaiiyaan failed to achieve has been managed adequately by Rajamouli by and large.
As the film ends you are keen to know what happens in the sequel, even feeling a little reluctant to wait for a year for the same. That in a way is more than enough reason to believe that Rajamouli has managed to succeed to a considerable extent in his endeavour.