Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Baahubali: The Beginning [2015]

MPAA (Would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing

Forbes (R. Cain) interview w. writer / director S.S. Rajamouli

Hindustan Times (M. Fadnavis) review
The Hindu (S. Devi Dundoo) review
Indian Express (S. Gupta) review
Times of India (R. Vyavahare) review

The Guardian (M. McCahill) review (P. Anjuri) review
The Hollywood Reporter (S. Tsering) review

Baahubali: The Beginning [2015] [IMDb] [FiBt] (directed and screenplay by S.S. Rajamouli [IMDb] [FiBt], story by Vijayendra Prasad [IMDb]) is the first part of a planned two part Telegu /Tamil (South Indian) historical adventure saga based on the revered Jainist religious figure Baahubali.  The film became THE MOST EXPENSIVE INDIAN MOVIE EVER MADE (with a budget of about $40 million USD) but it also became the 2nd highest grossing Indian film in 2015 and the 3rd highest grossing Indian film ever.  (The film is available in the United States on various internet streaming platforms for a reasonable price).

I decided to view/review this film TO BEGIN my 2016 Indian Film Tour which like my 2015 Russian Film Tour I've decided to undertake for similar reasons -- I'M TIRED OF SEEING ONLY CERTAIN KINDS OF RUSSIAN / INDIAN FILMS BEING CONSIDERED by American Film Critics -- ponderous and PONDEROUSLY BORING Russian "epics" like Alexey German's Hard to be a God [2013] or Aleksandr Sokurov's Faust [2012] or Indian / India themed films that focus _only_ on "India's backwardness / poverty" like Slumdog Millionaire [2008] or Lunch Box [2013] (lovely even poignant movies, BUT ....)

Hence my 2015 Russian Film Tour included a Russian MOTHER'S DAY MOVIE Mamy [2012], a RUSSIAN RomCom My Boyfriend is an Angel [2012], and a spectacular RUSSIAN "Twilight Saga-like" movie called Dark World [2010] two of which produced multiple sequels in Russia / Russian television series spin-offs and ALL OF WHICH were FAR MORE COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL IN RUSSIA than the BORING EVEN TO RUSSIANS "epics" that pose as "Russian cinema" to Westerners here.

My intention here is to do exactly the same now with Indian films.  I wish to present in my 2016 Indian Film Tour to Readers here the recent INDIAN films that have found both popular / commercial success and critical acclaim IN INDIA.

What better way to start this 2016 Indian Film Tour than to view / review a critically acclaimed and successful 2015 Indian film that could be called India's answer to Thor [2012]? :-).  Indeed, BOTH the Nordic God Thor and India's Jainist hero Baahubali have previously become inspiration for comic books (Thor in the U.S. thanks to Marvel Comics) and Baahubali [AChK] [Indj] thanks to Amar Chitra Katha [Amzn] AND Indrajal [Amzn] comics in India).

Baahubali: The Beginning [2015] [IMDb] [FiBt], the first of a two part Indian historical adventure saga (Part II, Baahubali: The Conclusion is set to be released in 2017) is largely an "Origins Story" -- how did Baahubali (played in the film by Prabhas [wikip] [IMDb] [FiBt]) come onto the scene and become the stuff of legend?

So in the opening sequence of the film, we see the infant destined to become Baahubali being carried by a fleeing woman (his mother? a caretaker?) to a river at the base of an enormous waterfall where he, the infant, is carried, presumably by the hand of the Hindu God Shiva across the river to safety and care of a humble family residing at the base of the waterfall (whose power is somehow representative of the (destructive) power of Shiva).  The sequence carries obvious resonances to the story of Moses in the Book of Exodus in the Bible though the similar "helpless infant destined for greatness carried on the waters to safety" motif can be found elsewhere in Ancient Near Eastern Literature including in the Legend of Sargon the Great.

So the future Baahubali, named by his adoptive parents Shividu (a derivative Shiva), grows up _strong_ ("the favor of the Gods were upon him...") and ever looking-upwards to the top of that impossible waterfall (named after Shiva), wondering what exists "up there," while his adoptive-mother (played by Ramya Krishnan [IMDb] [FiBt]) would really like him to "stop dreaming" (stop looking for his destiny at the top of that waterfall, which no one had climbed to anyway) and focus on the here-and-now.

Well, one day, Shividu, in heroic indeed Herculean manner, fulfills a seemingly impossible oath that his adoptive mother had made to Shiva (in hopes actually that her adopted son would once and for all stop "looking upward to the top of the waterfall") and ... Then, after he finds a mysterious MASK at the foot of the impossible cliff / waterfall that he had SPENT HIS LIFE gazing upwards toward, guided BY DESIRE (in the form of A BEAUTIFUL MUSE) he finally manages to miraculously CLIMB the said cliff to reach the world of THE HIGHER PLAIN that he always knew EXISTED but HAD NEVER BEEN ABLE TO REACH BEFORE.

There he quickly meets (and falls in love with) a young female warrior named Avanthika (played marvelously by Tamanna Bhatia [IMDb] [FiBt]) who, along with her guerilla band was trying to free her Queen Devasana (played by Anushka Shetty [IMDb] [FiBt]) chained for 25 years in the Capital of a kingdom ruled by a quite Evil and as quite possibly usurper King (Rana Daggubati [IMDb] [FiBt]) who had been grooming his son (played also by Rana Daggubati [IMDb] [FiBt]) for the throne.

Obviously all this has to do with orphaned "dropped out of the sky" ("dropped down a seemingly an impossible waterfall") Shividu's past and his future destiny as (the returning) Baahubali.  But how?  And why?  The rest of the story ensues ...   

And yet, Readers remember, that Baahubali's destiny isn't simply to "return / become a king."  If you've read the Wikipedia article about this Jainist hero, it becomes much more more than that ... ;-)  And much of that will probably play out in Part II of this Saga.

So this becomes one heck of a story and the cinematography, art & set design / wardrobe, battlefield choreography, etc, just plain general _direction_ generally meets the challenge of telling it right.  One really feels, repeatedly, that one's entered into another spectacular and beautiful world. 
The result is a truly spectacular film, worthy of its praise!

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  1. A good choice to see this movie. It is loads of fun, keeps the plot moving like a videogame where the hero has to solve new challenges to proceed to next level.

    I also suggest you watch "MunnaBhai MBBS" & "3 Idiots" & Dhrishyam (Tamil & Malayalam versions not Hindi which is a waste)

    1. Thanks! And two of them are available on Amazon Instant Video (needless to say ... I'd need the subtitles ;-)

    2. The reviewer is wrong on two counts atleast:
      1. The story is not of a Jain
      2. The adopted Mother of Baahubali is Rohini -