Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

Baahubali-2-Poster

In the lead up to possibly the biggest Telugu film release this year, the question I wanted to know wasn’t so much, ‘why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?’, but rather, was Baahubali 2 going to be worth the wait? And the answer has to be a resounding yes! Rajamouli breathes new life into the traditional story of sibling rivalry and dynastic disputes, ensuring that The Conclusion is every bit as exciting as The Beginning. There is the same epic scale, fantastical scenery and gravity-defying action sequences plus plenty of Prabhas and Rana in fine flexing form. Best of all, this time round Anushka gets to prove that’s she’s just as much of a warrior as the guys and she completely kicks butt as the beautiful princess Devasena.

Rajamouli’s commitment to blood and gore starts right from the opening credits where a number of key events from the first film are loving re-created as CGI ceramic statues – including a torso and detached head with spiralling blood. You just know it’s going to be spectacular when even the opening credits have such exquisite attention to detail – and it just keeps on getting better.

Logically, the film begins where we ended last time, with Kattappa (Sathyaraj) relating the story of his father to Mahendra Baahubali (Prabhas). Straight away we’re swept back into the flashback and the conundrum of who will rule Mahishmati – Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas) or Bhallala Deva (Rana Daggubati)? Although at the end of Part 1 Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan) declared that Amarendra would be King, Bhallala is still plotting and scheming along with his father Bijjaladeva (Nasser) ensuring that the path to the throne is likely to be littered with dead bodies. Once Amarendra leaves for a whistle-stop tour of the kingdom before his coronation, the way is clear for Bhallala to plan his brother’s downfall and even if the story is relatively predictable, it’s how we get to that final betrayal that really matters.

On his tour, Amarendra travels through the vassal kingdom of Kuntala where he meets Devasena for the first time and falls in love. The romance is beautifully developed, from the moment when Amarendra sees Devasena wielding a sword and is completely smitten, to a sequence where, in the middle of a battle, he teaches her how to fire multiple arrows at the same time. It all unfolds very naturally with little of the sexism of the previous film – this is a more equal partnership and both treat it as such right from the beginning. Anushka is completely mesmerising as Devasena and has as much arrogance and belief in her own self-worth as Sivagami, ensuring that the two have some powerful clashes that almost outdo the fights on the battlefield. Here is all the back story we wanted that explains how Devasena could survive for those 25 years chained in front of the palace with her all-consuming desire for revenge. My favourite part is Devasena’s reaction to Bhallala’s sleazy commander-in-chief when he harasses the women at a temple. She believes in swift and pertinent justice, which got a huge cheer from the cinema and totally won me over to her side for the rest of the film.

Ramya Krishnan is wonderfully regal as Sivagami, ruling in declarative sentences and still disinclined to believe that her son could possibly be evil. Rajamouli gives Sivagami the chance to show a little maternal guilt over her clear preference for her nephew over her own child, making her seem just a little more human. Later, she has doubts and struggles to reconcile her perception of Amarendra as the ‘perfect prince’ with his combative stance when he dares to question her decisions about Devasena. Some of her choices seemed a little unlikely when compared to the wily and competent ruler from Part 1, but factoring in her determination to uphold the law and the universal truth that a mother tends to believe her child, her decisions are within the realm of possibility at least.

Another big plus is CinemaChaat favourite Subbaraju as Kumara Varma, Devasena’s cousin. Although his character is initially played for laughs, there is a serious side too, as despite not being a fighter or showing any signs of a courageous heart, under Amarendra’s influence he finds the strength to fight back when necessary. In Rajamouli’s world, heroism is infectious and it’s not just the god-like heroes with super-human endurance who can make a difference, ordinary people can stand up and fight too. The theme continues when the film moves back to the present day, although not so well-defined, but it’s good to see a move away from a completely hero-centric storyline and more substantiative support characters.

I adore Prabhas and he is completely amazing in both roles here. As Amarendra he is fierce and combative, but also shows off his comedic skills along with a more romantic side to his character when he meets Devasena. The fight scenes are superb and I like that Amarendra has a handy, portable, travelling axe that is more effective than expected – it’s also a nice contrast to Bhallala Deva’s more ostentatious lawnmower of death and massive telescopic mace. Amarendra also shows commitment to science and engineering, taking the first steps to introduce Mahishmati to an industrial age with various contraptions he builds. Some of these are more practical than others, but obviously the skill is genetic since his son comes up with some similarly inventive ideas when faced with the challenge of attacking the city walls back in the present day. There is plenty of shirtless flexing too, although Prabhas mostly keeps his chest under wraps until later in the second half when he has to compete with Rana!

Of course, the strength of any hero is only as good as the villain he faces and Rana is excellent as the devious and amoral Bhallala. This time he is more obviously evil and deliberately choses the nastiest method he can to undermine Amarendra’s reputation with his mother. He’s also still a magnificent warrior, and the final battle scene with Mahendra in the present day is powerful and compelling as the two slug it out in front of the massive golden statue.

The final conclusion in the present day is fairly short and seems somewhat rushed with little dialogue or preparation before Baahubali heads off to tackle Bhallala. Disappointingly, Avanthika (Tamannaah) only has a very brief appearance during the final battle and no significant interaction with Baahubali at all. I like the symmetry between the start and the end of the film with Devasena’s fire-walk for justice, but I would have preferred a little less flashback and more of Baahubali’s reaction to his origins before the final battle. That battle is awesome, but also seems to finish rather abruptly, so I’m hoping (probably in vain) that we might perhaps get a Baahubali 3 that does delve into the relationships of the present day a little more.

I enjoyed M.M Keervani’s music, although I was too caught up in the visuals and catching the subtitles to really appreciate the full scope. However Hamsa Naava and Dandaalayyaa are both beautiful on the big screen and I loved the martial theme of Saahore Baahubali.

The visuals are stunning and although the CGI isn’t as slick as a HW production, it still looks amazing due to the sheer scale of the images. Although there may not be a waterfall this time, instead there is a beautiful palace in Kuntala, a stunning boat that turns into a flying swan surrounded by cloud horses and a totally epic coronation where a cast of thousands almost bring down the palace with their enthusiasm for Baahubali. The action too is on a grandiose scale. Aside from the titanic battles, Amarendra Baahubali surfs on the back of cows with flaming horns, rides on an elephant and fights almost without even looking at his opponents. It’s truly epic, particularly when combined  with the uplifting themes that justice will prevail and real courage comes from those who believe in truth. With amazing ability to draw you so completely into his world, Rajamouli delivers another enthralling story that needs to be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate his vision. Don’t miss it!

Temple says:

Well, now we know where all those engineering grads with filmi connections end up…They built the kingdom and weaponry of Baahubali 2!

The thing I have long admired about Rajamouli is that even when I know what is going to happen, he crafts the drama and visuals so beautifully that I still care enough to be on the edge of my seat. It was a big ask to follow up the cliffhanger of the first film and not lose the dramatic propulsion to the finale and largely, he nailed it. There are some draggy bits but they weren’t actually dull so I didn’t mind having a bit of leisure to admire the design and occasional flourishes of whimsy. Finally, a director who gets how and when to use a swan boat (even if it looks like a top heavy chicken), and what a fantasy sequence can look like when you don’t try and make it all from painted polystyrene! I do wish they’d done something about Nasser’s rubber chicken claw hand though.

Prabhas is a delight, giving his characters both gentle goodness and a steely core, with the bonus of excellent nonchalant posing. Rana makes Bhalla a despicable and venomous man, but not completely incomprehensible in his motivation. I liked their dynamic together, and they just go all in on the fight scenes. Anushka is one of my favourites and I was so excited to see her character given some depth and competency, as well as all the usual accoutrements of a kickarse heroine. I think Prabhas can evince chemistry with anything or anyone, but Anushka gave Devasena such a liveliness that their scenes crackled with life. I actually didn’t mind that Tamannaah only appeared to kill a few baddies at the end. Based on the first film, she just didn’t stand up to Anushka or Ramya Krishnan and Avantika wasn’t integral to this part of the epic. I was glad she reappeared as a warrior though, not simpering in a sari. Subbaraju did a bit of simpering and flouncing so I guess he made up for that, with his OTT posturing settling into a more genuine will to do the right thing. And what is not to admire about Ramya Krishnan, who has been a charismatic and slightly terrifying presence in films for so long. She is amazing and Sivagami is a great fit for her.

Despite all the Ye Olden trappings, this is a pure masala film. The classic themes of family, orphans, loss, justice being separate from law, duty, and insta-love are all there. Rajamouli knows these conventions and tropes and he is so deft at throwing them into new and glittering configurations. He coaxed some truly epic characterisations out of his modern day urban kid actors, and allowed some of the old hands to shine. Yes there is some dodgy CGI and yes some actors are less impressive than others but it just works. Trust me.

Don’t nit pick. See it on the biggest screen you can. Enjoy!

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Dharma Durai (2016)

Dharma Durai poster

Seenu Ramasamy’s Dharma Durai tells the story of a doctor from a small village, his highs and lows and his final redemption through the love of a good woman – of course! The film has a slow start and even after the main character is established the pacing is occasionally uneven and erratic, but it has excellent performances from the main leads, a good story and plenty of thought provoking themes around social justice, caste, dowry and responsibility. However, it’s not as nearly as heavy as that sounds and even though the story is about an alcoholic, there are plenty of light hearted moments making the film an overall entertaining as well as a thought-provoking watch.

The film starts in the village where Dharma Durai (Vijay Sethupathi) roams around making a nuisance of himself, mainly to the embarrassment and general detriment of his brothers. Dharma is an alcoholic which explains his rather erratic behaviour, although it did take me a while to realise that alcohol addiction was the problem. It’s not immediately obvious and Vijay Sethupathi is subtle in his portrayal of a drunk, so it’s not until a village event that the full extent of his alcoholism is made clear.

Dharma accuses his brothers of cheating the villagers with the chit fund they run and seems intent on making life difficult for them, to the extent that I started to sympathise with the family, even though their method of dealing with Dharma is fairly extreme. The brothers decide to lock Dharma up in a shed until they can decide what to do with him, and the signs are clear that Dharma is not destined for a long and happy life. Dharma’s only well- wisher is his mother Pandiyamma (Radhika Sarathkumar) and in classic filmi style she arranges a way for him to escape his temporary prison.

Once he escapes the village, Dharma goes back to Madurai and the medical college where he had studied to become a doctor. The film moves into flashback as we relive Dharma’s years as a student and his romance with fellow student Stella (Srushti Dange). I would love to know if medical students in India really do wear white coats and stethoscopes round their necks all the time. It seems odd to me but at least means that they are easy to recognise as medical students rather than trainee engineers or something else entirely!

Dharma is a good student despite a tendency to spout poetry at the least provocation, and ultimately he follows his professor’s advice to return home and work for the village. After all, it’s the common people who have paid for his degree so he is morally obligated to go back and serve these people. The ethical message here is hammered home a little too much, and the students are all somewhat unnaturally altruistic, but overall the flashback is a pleasant interlude that shows Dharma is a much better light and starts to explain his past.

Back in the present day Dharma tries to track down his old friends – Stella and her friend Subhashini (Tamannaah) who also had an unrequited crush on Dharma. These were the last people he felt who really cared about him, and eventually he does manage to meet up with Subhashini and relates the series of events which led to him becoming an alcoholic.

This is the best part of the film and the flashback to the love story between Dharma and villager Anbuselvi (Aishwarya Rajesh) is beautifully done. Aishwarya is easily the best of the female leads and her characterisation of a farmer’s daughter is simply perfect. Anbuselvi is more than she first seems and it’s no surprise that Dharma is immediately smitten. Vijay and Aishwarya have wonderful onscreen chemistry and Sukumar’s excellent cinematography makes this golden time appear even more radiant as the two romance each other through song.

What makes Dharma Durai interesting is the clash between new and old. Dharma is college educated but comes back to his old village to work as he feels that is his duty. But once back at home, his modern ideas don’t sit well with his brothers’ ideas of caste and dowry and that leads to the serious conflict between them. There is also the contrast between Dharma’s old love – the beautiful and traditional Anbuselvi, and his new romance with the more modern and well educated Subhashini. Subhashini has a shiny new medical clinic of her own, but also has an ex-husband to deal with and her own share of past issues that make it difficult for her to reach out to Dharma. The only real downside to the story is the contrived and unlikely method that Seenu Ramasamy uses to get Dharma back to the village at the end. It’s all a little too far-fetched and unlikely, but why should we let any of that get in the way of a good ending!

One other issue is that the story has a few too many stops and starts as it moves from one portion of Dharma’s life to the next and as a result not all the scenes flow smoothly. The moral messages tend to be over-emphasised which also slow down the narrative and move attention away from the characters. However, once the camera is focusing on Dharma and Anbuselvi, or Dharma and Subhashini the film comes alive again and draws us back into the story. Vijay Sethupathi is wonderful throughout, and his Dharma is the absolute essence of a village boy done good for most of the film. Tamannaah is also excellent as Subhashini, although she doesn’t click quite as well with Vijay as Aishwarya, but her depiction of a career woman with a very definite set of values is nicely done. Radhika Sarathkumar is very good as Dharma’s long suffering mother while Rajesh makes a brief but notable appearance as the college professor. The portrayal of village life and a rural clinic is also very well done – I’m sure that I have seen many of those patients in my trips into rural Tamil Nadu on a health camp each year, which probably adds to the whole authentic vibe I got from the film.

Dharma Durai is an interesting story that just needs a little tighter editing to move proceedings along more consistently. The songs are good, the cinematography excellent and both Vijay Sethupathi and Aishwarya Rajesh are on top form, making a perfect match. Worth watching for their performances and for Tamannaah Bhatia and the rest of the cast who all do their part in bringing this fascinating slice of village melodrama to life.

Baahubali

Baahubali-Poster

Baahubali is reminiscent of classics like Patala Bhairavi and Gulebakavali Katha, with long lost princes, secluded kingdoms, stunning visuals and swashbuckling action. Rajamouli builds steadily to the cliffhanger climax with some fun, flirting, fighting and flashbacks along the way.

A baby is saved by the sacrifice of a majestic woman. He grows up happy and ignorant in a small village, but is always drawn to the high mountains. He tries to scale the massive waterfall to reach the peaks but always fails. Until one day a vision of a beautiful woman leads him to success and he stumbles into the kingdom of Mahishmati. Grown up and frequently shirtless Shivudu (Prabhas) meets his dream love Avanthika (Tamannaah). She is a warrior on a mission to rescue Devasena (Anushka Shetty), held captive for over 25 years by ruthless king Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati). Bhalla hates Devasena because she once chose his rival, the legendary Baahubali. And Shivudu is the very image of Baahubali. Hmmmm.

The majestic woman was Sivagami, the queen mother, played by the stunning and regal Ramya Krishnan in an extended flashback.

I was so excited to see her in the cast, and even more so that she has a substantial role. Sivagami is reasonable but ruthless, her eyes blaze with power, and her word is the law. She rules the kingdom and Ramya Krishnan commands every scene she is in. Sivagami has a nice dynamic with Kattappa (Sathyaraj), her enforcer and bodyguard. Sathyaraj doesn’t need a lot of dialogue to build a strong characterisation, and as the story unfolds Kattappa becomes more complex and ambiguous. This royal family has some baggage.

There is always a point where a Telugu film hero pushes all others aside so he can do the hero-ing. I quite liked that when Shivudu tells Avanthika that her dreams are now his so he will go free Devasena for her, he actually had no skin in the game and really was doing it to help her. Sure, he had had some run ins with the kingdom guards but he didn’t know who he was or that he might have a more personal interest in the outcome. Avanthika drugged him to give herself a head start and he didn’t reproach her for that either. It was more of a partnership, with Shivudu acknowledging that she wasn’t going to give up just because she had been distracted by his flexing.

Baahubali-Tamanna

I have high hopes that by the time the second movie starts Avanthika’s ankle is healed and she will resume arse-kicking, and will be motivated by having something to fight for rather than a cause to sacrifice herself for. I also liked that Avanthika’s nihilism was displaced somewhat by an appreciation of beauty and her acceptance of love even if it is a filmi cliche.

The subtitle team gave Shivudu an unexpectedly genteel aspect as he frequently said things like ‘oh my!’ and ‘oh my goodness!” which didn’t seem all that warrior like. Prabhas is so genial and his dialogue delivery sounds a bit too modern and mumbly for a genre piece, but he totally commits to the role and does the best dance-fight-makeover I have seen. While I objected to Avanthika being forcibly partially stripped (mostly due to the inclement weather), I did appreciate that Shivudu had a steady hand with the eyeliner. And that Rajamouli had Prabhas cavorting under a waterfall as much as Tamannaah did. Prabhas and Tamannaah make a nice looking couple but I am more interested in seeing how their story ends.

Rana was very impressive, both for his ye olden days shirtless physique and his performance. Rana gave Bhallaladeva enough smirking nastiness to be delightfully hateful but also showed he was a smart and fearless warrior who legitimately had reason to expect he could be king. Bhalla might not go out of his way to remove Baahubali, but he would take advantage of a situation if fate presented. His scenes with Devasena were imbued with the weight of years of brooding and venom and he declaimed the spiteful dialogue with fiery precision. Anushka gave as good as she got so I am looking forward to their backstory being developed in the next film and seeing a bit less of her dodgy weather-beaten makeup.

Baahubali-Kalakeya

The Kalakeya are Ooga Booga natives complete with dodgy “tribal’ accoutrements, falling somewhere on the Mad Max to Lord of the Rings tribal baddies spectrum. They presumably can’t speak Telugu because they are Orc-ish, and I guess choosing another regional language would have opened up various cans of worms so the faux Bushman-esque dialogue may be a smarter workaround than it seemed.

The action scenes are awesome and the final battle is truly spectacular. While there is a heavy reliance on war machines and fancy armaments (I loved Bhalla’s Lawn Mower of Death), the stakes are still very personal. Kalakeya tries to stop Baahubali by literally throwing more people at the problem. It’s a cheesy idea played totally straight and it just about took the roof off the theatre when Baahubali emerged from under the pile of bodies.

The production design is beautiful and this is well worth seeing in a cinema just for the gorgeous fairy tale design and for all the things. The waterfall! The CGI is sometimes clunky but it does create the right impression even if specific moments are not seamless. I am not sure what I think about the watermark that appeared on screen whenever a CGI animal was in the shot. I wasn’t fooled for a second by the bull that Rana wrestled but I admit I was paying more attention to his shoulders than the bovine opponent. A fight scene in the ice and snow is poetic and deadly like a masala-fied  Zhang Yimou, and the subsequent toboggan escape is pure Bond. There were about 20 shoemakers credited in the end titles. After some discussion Heather and I decided that it must be hard to make shoes that don’t look like shoes but that still do the trick. Bravo cobblers! Take a bow goldsmiths!

MM Keeravani’s soundtrack left minimal impression on me as I was caught up in the story and visuals. The item number Manohari was a stand-out; sensual, saucy, and a bit silly. The girls got handsy with Prabhas as as lots of drunk guys swayed past on ropes or acted as platforms for the ladies. He was more like a prop for the girls, and they used his lanky frame to excellent effect.

Rajamouli has a knack for casting. I’d never thought of Sunil as a leading man but Maryada Ramanna proved otherwise, and we all know the real star of Eega. Casting Ramya Krishnan as Sivagami is genius, and while I was slightly disappointed that Anushka had so little time on screen in this first film I am very VERY excited about seeing her character in the finale. The support cast are all pretty solid and the multitude of characters are distinct and memorable from Shivudu’s villager family to the minor royals and the forces out to liberate Devasena. Oh, and Rajamouli himself, finally venturing out of the end credits and into the main film.

SS Rajamouli has a great sense of how to translate narrative into visuals and how to build the world he needs to tell his story. Baahubali is truly grand and still totally masala, true to its Telugu roots. See it!

Heather says: Baahubali is an epic film in every sense of the word and I loved every minute! It really is sweeping fantasy adventure on a gigantic scale and I will need to watch it again (and again!) to fully appreciate all the amazing detail. From the sheer immenseness of the towering waterfall in the opening scenes and the lavish Kingdom of Mahishmati to the delicate design of the jewelry and everything in between, the film looks amazing – due no doubt to the cast of thousands mentioned in the end credits. But it’s not just a visual spectacle, as Rajamouli breathes life into a classic mix of mythology and folklore to provide an entertaining and captivating story, naturally along with a good dash of derring-do and plenty of flexing of muscles!

I’m a big fan of Prabhas and he really came into his own once he got a sword in his hand. I was quite impressed by his rock-climbing technique too, although he did seem to miss a few good cracklines that might have made his ascent somewhat easier. However it’s not all just about the muscle flexing, and Prabhas does have plenty of likeable charm throughout and adopts a suitably commanding presence on the battlefield. Rana was every bit as good and he seemed to relish the occasional ambiguity of his character even while embracing the dark side.As Temple mentions, Peter Hein’s action is excellent on every level, and the epic battle scene in the second half is simply superb. I prefer to think of Bhallaladeva’s device as the spinning scythes of doom, perhaps betraying my love of LOTR, but there is plenty of other weaponry to make my inner fantasy nerd happy.

Rajamouli is also to be congratulated for including four strong female characters who all have important roles to play in the story and who don’t fade into the background when the hero appears. Ramya Krishnan surely must have the best eyes in the business and her imperial mannerisms were perfectly delivered. I think I need to adopt her attitude for my lectures – my word is the law! Great also to see Tamannaah’s warrior role wasn’t just an excuse to let her run around in skimpy attire and wave a sword, inappropriate winter clothing aside. She did get to do some real fighting and looked appropriately fierce when required. Like Temple I was disappointed in Anushka’s make-up but I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about her character and Sathyaraj’s excellent Kattappa in the conclusion. With amazing production and excellent performances from all the cast, plus Rajamouli’s legendary story telling skills, Baahubali is not to be missed. Just make sure you see if in the cinema for the full effect. All I can add is roll on part 2!