It's not for nothing that there has been incredible buzz around 'Bahubali'. It's not the director alone or the genre alone that is the reason; it's both. 'Magadheera', whether the audience consciously experienced it or not, presented intriguing moments with the best possible mass appeal; Ram Charan making fun of the villain in the first scene he meets even without being aware of their past lives, is a case in point. Such scenes are the ones which invite repeat audience as much as extraordinary action sequences or songs in a film of any genre.
SS Rajamouli here narrates a story that is packed with hackneyed elements, although the execution comes with majestic toppings - something which the film had promised. The sheer scale of production values is sublime. But we did expect more. Heroism was supposed to come with a maha magadheera streak. Emotions were admittedly to be watched out for.
The film is definitely different from what we thought about its characters. Where we thought Anushka (who was her make-up man?) and Tamannah (what was she doing?) to make an impact, it is actually Ramya Krishna and Sathyaraj whom we remember. (Small screen space doesn't mean the impact would be necessarily insignificant).
Punch lines? But why should we even have them, you ask? OK. But lines like these in a film of this scale and ambition? "Nenu adigedi godal ni kadu, mimmalne.." and "Dharmanike dhari choopinchaevadu Baahubali." And of course, Prabhas is excused from saying any screen-scorching dialogue in the first place. All that you have is a veiled attempt to make Prabhas' Bahubali look better than Ram Charan's Kala Bhairava in the form of this moralistic take: "Vanda mandini champina vadu veerudu avtadu. Kani okkarini brathikinchina devudu avtadu." Notice the 'vanda mandini..' reference.
The film begins with a pictorial presentation of the geography of Mahismathi kingdom and the abutting regions, where all the major characters live. In the kingdom, the sadistic Bhalladeva (Rana Daggubati) is feared for his atrocious behaviour by his subjects. On the other side of the mountain, Shivudu, the young boy, yearns for climbing up the mountain, which he eventually does, on growing up, the day the Divine wills. When he goes on the other side, he discovers a macabre story involving those baying for blood and others whose determination to emerge victorious over the evil makes them want to give themselves in sacrifice. He soon knows his destined task and the difficult people he will have to confront, albeit not completely in this Part-I (The Beginning).
While the film has its share of highs and lows, the visual treat and innovative screenplay don't always go together. Bhalladeva makes a swashbuckling entry; the scene is well-conceptualized, bringing out his character and that of the others in his circle with less dialogue. Another high is the scene where Shivudu (hitherto not seen much on the screen) romances with Avantika (hitherto seen as a bit polished version of Bandit Queen), undressing her a bit, lifting her up and uplifting her looks to let her realize that she is a woman, not a mere masculine soldier. Yet another high is the scene where Ramya Krishna spearheads a courtroom massacre through minimal speech; watch her as she sings lullaby to kid as soon as she is done with eliminating the challenger to the throne!
The battle scenes in the run up to the end are the film's pride. Shot at a vast scale, the sheer ambition is gigantic, with technical talent and writing talent converging to deliver a dekko. The moments see Prabhas, Prabhakar (as Kalakeya), Rana, Ramya Krishna, and Nasser at their intense best. Prabhas does a Rajeev Kanakala from 'Sye' in the climax (saying anything more would amount to giving out a spoiler). The scenes that come in the run up to this episode seem a bit stretched, but in hindsight they are alright. Prabhas and Rana going on a hunt for the traitor are totally in place, given the significance of catching hold of him and the same leading to a larger-than-life, Hollywoodish climax.
Prabhas passes muster in the title role. His character is arguably not flawlessly written, something which everyone who feels there is not enough dose of Prabhas will vouch for. Bahubali is a Superman with a Shiva soul and rustic costumes, complete with mythical energy levels (that also helps him eliminate an unspecified number of enemies). Rana proves to be a good choice. The only complaint is that his classy, sophisticated Telugu (as that of Adivi Sesh) proves to be a handicap.
Tamannah almost renders Avantika lifeless; she doesn't fit the bill. Anushka plays a cameo, with her horribly wrinkled and sooted face unseen but for two or three shots. Sudeep as a Muslim king is another cameo.
Sathyaraj gets a good share in the pie. His costumes and make-up are picture perfect. He has a larger role (apparently) in the second part. Ramya Krishna makes a praiseworthy comeback. Nasser is convincing as the cunning old fox. Prabhakar delivers his career best. Adithya Menon is difficult to recognise. Rohini and Tanikella Bharani are OK.
Keeravani largely does justice to the script; Rajamouli's visualization is not at its best though. The cinematography (Senthil Kumar) and art direction (Manu Jagadh) are top notch.
It is the VFX part that really is 'baahu' enough.
Verdict: A visual feast, 'Bahubali' is not Rajamouli enough. The Hollywoodish ending may well be a trendsetter, but the question is, are the audience ready for such one? A one time watch.
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