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All Splendour, Old Story

Friday, July 17, 2015
By Deepa Gahlot

There is no arguing with success, that goes without saying. And SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali is already known as the film that made the fastest Rs 100 crore.

The Telugu film, starring Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Ramya Krishnan and Tamannah Bhatia has been dubbed in Hindi, and from all accounts is doing terrific business. If Hollywood films dubbed into Indian languages can make money at the box-office, why should a Southern film not expand its audience base? Many Southern films have had dubbed versions released before, just not on this scale. Karan Johar’s involvement probably facilitated this multiplex blitz.

Rajamouli has made India’s most expensive film so far, and undoubtedly matched the CGI magic of any Hollywood film. But after watching the film a few days after its release, one couldn’t help thinking that if so much money could have been spent on the visuals, couldn’t a fraction of it have been spent on content?

It has the age-old rivalry between princely brothers story that has been done to death in old films. Rajamouli has just taken the SS Vasan kind of costume drama (Chandralekha—1948, being a prime example) and updated the technology. It is set in a fictional universe, with no geographical authenticity of any kind—and that doesn’t really matter; because the audience does see it as a comic book on screen.

An evil king (Nasser) tries to kill his nephew, who is saved and brought up by another tribe. When Shiva (Prabhas) grows up—and he has a chiseled body like an Amar Chitra Katha devta—destiny takes him to his native kingdom. Not surprisingly, the enemy army that appears later is made up of dark and unkempt asura-like creatures.

When Shiva falls in love with a warrior Avanthika (Tamannah Bhatia), the girl who has been introduced with an action sequence, later stands back and lets the hero rescue her. She is also suitably feminized with make-up that he applies on her face, tattoos that he paints on her skin and bright womanly clothes that magically appear out of her drab soldier’s uniform.

Stranger still is the attitude to slaves—a man devoted to the royal family, says he cannot be liberated, because generations of his family is bonded to the kings. So he is a loyal and willing slave, and that seems to be acceptable.

The first part of the film is out, the second will be out next year, but the story moves in such a predictable manner, that you can guess what will happen in the second half—all the palace intrigue, deceit and treachery, leading to the death of Baahubali, Shiva’s father.

With this kind of budget and so much visual flair, the story could have been fresh too, but just like our animators never move beyond mythology, Rajamouli has also stayed within the confines of an old fairy tale. So no matter how spectacular the film may be, it is still a little disappointing.

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