Well, it looks like it’s about time for that one holiday before every mall starts throwing up Christmas decorations. And I’m not talking about Thanksgiving, it’s Diwali people! The Hindu festival of lights that celebrates the triumph light (all that is good) over darkness (all that is bad). We decided to pop open our Netflix library to see what film best exemplifies the season of Diwali. Throughout our relentless flicking and viewing, we find that S. S. Rajamouli’s Baahubali duology takes the cake here. An Indian epic steeped in mythology drawing inspirations from well-known stories and original elements. Like any good epic, we’ve gotta start from the beginning so in this review we’re tackling the aptly named Baahubali: The Beginning.
Long ago in the mystical lands of Mahishmati, there is a dynastic struggle for the throne and soul of the kingdom. On a cold night, a grandmother flees from a group of soldiers sent to kill her and her grandchild. Against all odds, she endures the sword and the river to keep her baby alive, long enough for him to be adopted by a village leader and his wife who live at the bottom of a waterfall. Dubbed Named Shivudu, he grows up to be a strong and virtuous man who finds himself inextricably drawn to the world above the waterfall. Throughout his youth, he attempts and fails to scale the mighty torrential mountain, that is until he finds the motivation to conquer it. Soon, he finds himself wrapped up in a war between a rebel faction and an evil empire ruled by the magnificently cruel emperor Bhallaladeva. Along with the dauntless warrior, Avanthika Named will embark on an adventure of multiple lifetimes to save a dethroned queen and to find the truth of his past and future. This is the legend of Baahubali.
When approaching the film, I think it’s important that we leave our ideas and notions of traditional storytelling at the door. Because frankly, Baahubali was quite confusing at first but as the film went on, it became clear what writer K. V. Vijayendra Prasad was doing. Baahubali isn’t an adaptation but rather a homage to Hindu mythology. Building upon the trappings and themes of the cyclical nature of time and life. You’ll notice at certain points in the film that certain actors will have two roles. This decision is one of artistic merit instead of budgeting. It adds a new level of depth and context to how we perceive them. Characters aren’t just singular souls but in a way are the collective legacies of their families and past selves.
For some, the pacing of the film can feel a bit rushed as events seem to be glossed over or happen in the blink of an eye. Man like woman? Woman like man? Married! I mean sure there’s a bit of development here and there but for the most part, events in the film can feel strange and abrupt. I suspect that Prasad is also doing this intentionally as he wishes to mirror the classical styles of myths and stories, that often scarce on details and developments. While it can seem intimidating to those unfamiliar with this particular genre of storytelling, Baahubali is by no means boring. I absolutely loved how narratives and important lore was conveyed through song in the films (and not in the cheesy Bollywood way). It’s little details like this that make the world of Mahishmati feel alive and rich. The reason why we love films like Lord of the Rings is because it doesn’t try to pander to our blockbuster sensibilities. It invites us to see the world through a different eye and to hear its tales, quite literally in a different tune.
Speaking of Mahishmati, the world of Baahubali looks freaking gorgeous from the guerrilla base in the jungles to the massive Egyptian-esque capital city. A common problem with fantasy settings in films is how static its environment can seem. Beyond the court intrigue and big battles, nothing’s really going on. Mahishmati thankfully doesn’t suffer this foil, whether it be the breathtaking beauty of the kingdom’s natural splendour or the brutality depicting in the city. Mahishmati lives, which makes the struggles and upheavals have weight and stakes. It is a war for the soul of a land. Vistas aside, the production quality, in general, is phenomenal. Sometimes, the fight scenes can reach Return of the King proportions of epic and awesome. There’s a really cool scene that involves catapults and clothes that had me grinning from ear to ear. And then there are times, they come off as corny and clunky but for the most part, the work is exceptional here.
Actor Prabhas plays the titular Mahendra Baahubali/Shivudu. He perfectly captures Mahendra’s journey from childlike naivete to warrior king, even with the pacing of this film. Personally, I loved Sathyaraj as the badass swordsman Kattappa, who wrestles with his duty to his queen and his convictions to see the emperor fall. Actress Tamannaah as Avanthika is also a lot of fun as Baahubali’s partner turned wife. Though, I did wish she continued her role in line with the former than the latter. I watched the film both in its original Tamil version and Hindi dub. Obviously, I preferred the original but as far as dubs go, the Hindi version wasn’t terrible. It’s certainly doesn’t fit perfectly with the original dialogue but the voice actors still manage to mimic the intent and intensity of the lines.
Baahubali: The Beginning is a film that should not be overlooked in the eastern fantasy genre. Baahubali’s powerful narrative, complex characters and admirable setting make it a worthy addition to any fantasy buffs collection. If you’re looking for a film to play this Diwali, for the love of Shiva pick Baahubali: The Beginning! In a sea of countless Robin Hood and King Arthur renditions, it’s refreshing to have something original. You can catch Baahubali: The Beginning on Netflix today. Be sure, to watch out for our next review on the sequel, Baahubali: The Conclusion coming real soon.
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Baahubali: The Beginning
Impressive in scale and majestic in all of its mythic glory, Baahubali: The Beginning is an epic that should not be missed, Indian or not. Beyond a few technical gripes, it is a fantasy masterpiece. Eat your heart out Peter Jackson.
Baahubali: The Beginning