A recently released Indian movie made in Telugu, ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’, has created a revolution of sorts in Indian cinema and beyond. Combining the best technology and engineering skills which has given tough competition to Hollywood blockbusters along with the mighty story, excellent acting and complete originality of imagination, the movie had grossed Rs. 1,060 crore within 10 days of release.
In South Asian countries, it has become a new symbol of cultural pride. Citizens from Bangladesh booked a chartered flight to Kolkata to watch the movie, with many even saying that they are proud that such a movie came from South Asia. In Pakistan, after the success of the movie elsewhere, people wrote to Indian distributors to facilitate its release in that country too.
‘Baahubli: The Conclusion’ is the second part of the movie ‘Baahubali: The Beginning’ which, again, enjoyed a high degree of popularity. Besides the technical perfection, originality and artistic finesse, the deeper reasons for the latest movie’s immediate connect with the people lie in the fact that it has managed to connect to the real Indian psyche and collective cultural instincts – and visual mediums can make powerful immediate impacts on the average person.
The first movie viz. ‘Baahubali: The Beginning’ describes the mighty battle fought between the forces of good and evil over the kingdom of ‘Mahishmati’, with the clashes between the demons, ‘Kalakeyas’ and the warrior princes of Mahishmati (Amarendra Baahubali and Bhallal Dev). The second movie viz. ‘Baahubali: The Conclusion’ takes us through the internal battle between the two cousins, Amarendra Baahubali and Bhallal Deva. All along, in the both the parts, Amarendra Baahubali’s son, Mahendra Baahubali (both the Baahubali roles are played by the same actor), is the witness who hears his father’s and Mahishmati’s story and fights the final war with Bhallal Deva.
While the story is an interesting, albeit typical, suspense-filled one about political strategy and court intrigues and evil forces, what sets the movie apart is not the story but the ideas, the messages and their mighty portrayal. Inspired by his childhood interest in Hindu epics rendered through Amar Chitra Katha, the director recreated the kingdom of Mahishmati. Many entities in movie have actual historical references. For example, the evil ‘Kalakeyas’ have origins in Indian scriptures, referred to as sons of Kalaka, who is the daughter of Vaiswanara (son of Danu). Similarly, the kingdom of ‘Mahishmati’ itself has actual historical references, as being the most important city in the southern part of the Avanti kingdom.
Thus, even though the story itself is entirely mythical and a product of the director’s imagination, the naming of many entities in the movie after actual historical objects fulfills the purpose of making it easier for the audience to connect to Hindu cultural objects.
The Larger Implications – Political and Cultural
This sense of Indian culture and its key chords came across loud and clear without any compromise and were, yet, interwoven seamlessly in the movie. Rajmouli, the director, clearly poured his heart out in every scene and gesture, leaving even the most skeptic intellectual audience spell-bound. In fact, it is for the first time that people – including critics – from across the ideological spectrum have united to laud the movie. And this includes the army of feminists, leftists, conservatives and common man. Editorials are being written to analyse the political import of the movie. The sense of unity and identity fostered by this movie is so strong that one or two exceptional critics who have tried to find faults with the movie have been bashed thoroughly by all and dismissed at once.
And while what this well-intentioned movie conveys through its forays into Hindu mythology is nothing as compared to the real thing, it is certainly an eye-opener and a first taste for people, who had so far been completely alienated from their culture. The movie is bold and loud and clear and is not an apologist for any kind of secularism or any such thing.
In terms of the political import, it certainly has left a lot of left-wing commentators shaken, with many even claiming that the movie seems to have come at a right time – a time when Modi is bringing about actual cultural and political changes among the people – since it stands out for its depiction of a Hindu Kshatriya society through and through.
In this context, in Pakistan, it was surprising that the movie received an ‘all-clear’ certificate without a single scene being censored by the Pakistan Censor Board (PCB) – a body which is otherwise known to be very particular about what is being released in the country.
Given these trends unleashed by the movie, there are three things which stand clear:
First, the success of this movie heralds the beginning of a new era of Indian cinema. For the first time, an Indian – and, no less, a Telugu and not a Bollywood – movie has left Hollywood stunned by beating many of its superstars against all numerical odds. In the United States, which is the hub of globally-dominant movies, Baahubali set a big record, becoming the third-top Box Office hit. Even though it was released across just 420 screens in that country (while other Hollywood movies were released across a thousand plus screens), it has stormed the box office, leaving many commentators confused about how a Telugu film appealed to such a wide audience and with a miniscule Indian-American population.
This success is an example of how India will culturally lead the world in all aspects, and excellence in art and films is one such important area.
Other movies will and should strive to replicate the technical perfection and detail as well as the consistency and boldness of the message to strive towards perfection that expresses the inner inspiration of the maker.
Second, this movie sends across the message that powerful movies can contribute to not just a sense of cultural nationalism in the country, but also regional nationalism within the Indian sub-continent, such as being seen in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. And certainly, releasing this movie – which depicts woman valour – amongst a Muslim population is no mean task. Showing outspoken Hindu women warriors, it will raise a sense of yearning amongst the already revolting-Muslim women too.
And coming at a time of political churning in the country, the influence of the movie on the people is sure to contribute to the larger process of national awakening, at least visibly and in immediate terms – this sense of cultural and national pride has been widely acknowledged by people after seeing this movie.