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SS Rajamouli retrospective: Baahubali 2 – an inferior sequel to a superior Baahubali 1

In the seventh edition of our retrospective series, we take a look at SS Rajamouli's epic fantasy Baahubali: The Conclusion.

Baahubali 2 was released in 2017.
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Filmmaker SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali: The Conclusion was the biggest film event of the past decade. It won’t be an exaggeration to say, for many across generations, it was a never-seen-before phenomenon. A whole country lining up to buy tickets for the same film was a rare sight. The movie unified the country as diverse as India and inspired the entire Indian film industry.

Following the unprecedented global success of Baahubali 2, which raked in more than Rs 1000 crore from its ticket sales within 10 days of its release, the film industry discovered the true potential of the country’s movie market. Since then multi-part movies have emerged as a new norm for big-budget movies. It has become a winning formula in itself. The blockbuster template is as follows: give a taste of your creation in the first part, end it on a cliffhanger, create anticipation for the next part, make the audience wait for it longer than they expect and ensure a massive opening for it. Director Prashanth Neel’s KGF series benefited from this template. The first part was a hit, but it didn’t break any ground. The second part created history and changed the face of the Kannada film industry.

Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali? This question kept the memory of Baahubali alive in the country for over two years until the final part was released in 2017. It was because people didn’t see it coming. Kattappa is more than just a loyal king’s guard to Baahubali. He’s Baahubali’s father figure. It was easy for the audience to imagine Kattappa taking a bullet for Baahubali, but not him driving his sword through the back of the son he never had.

Baahubali 2’s poster.

Kattappa must have done such a thing under some extraordinary circumstances, no? What was it? Even though many of us connected the dots and zeroed in on Kattappa’s unwavering loyalty to the throne as the prime culprit, we choose to remain curious. It’s because we were not interested in finding out the truth. We were enamoured by the thrill of the possibility of facing a betrayal by people so dear to us. We wanted to remain invested in the character, and take the journey with Kattappa as he undergoes the metamorphosis – from a guardian angel to a backstabber.

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Baahubali 2 has more CG shots and fewer narrative jolts than Baahubali 1. SS Rajamouli spends an awful lot of time on run-of-the-mill treatment to the blooming romance between Baahubali and Devasena. Rajamouli is not bothered about inventing the wheel here. He uses the worn-out approach of the leading man outsmarting the woman of his desire to win her over. In no other aspect of life, one can expect to win the affection of a person by defeating him/her. But, somehow we have come to approve of it in a romantic setting. If you can tame it, you can have it.

SS Rajamouli retrospective: Baahubali 1 | Eega | Maryada Ramanna | MagadheeraSye | Simhadri

While it seemed tolerable the first few times, the repeated viewings make one feel very different about it. The romantic track feels tedious and outdated. While Rajamouli is not trying to do anything fresh in terms of narration, he’s constantly inventing with the visuals. For instance, the image of Devesena using Baahubali’s shoulders as the bridge to get into a boat. It’s simple but oozes intimacy. And the ensuing “Hamsa Naava” duet on the ship is captivating.

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The narration reaches its highest point just before the interval when Bhallaladeva is crowned the king of Mahishmati. The royals could see that they have fallen from grace in the eyes of the people by snatching the throne from the hands of Baahubali. The ground shakes as people, including those in the army, express their support for Baahubali. It emasculates Bhallaladeva and makes him feel simply inadequate in comparison to Baahubali. Rajamouli recreates the same feeling he did with the pre-interval scene in Baahubali 1. And the movie never peaks to that level afterwards. Even when the most-awaited moment finally arrives, Kattappa stabbing Baahubali in the back, the effect is at best middling and not earth-shattering as expected.

It could be because, in the second half, SS Rajamouli rushes through important plot points without properly exploring them for the full effect. We remain only informed about the story and are not invested in the characters and their intrapersonal conflict. We don’t really share the anxiousness of Shivagami and Bhallaladeva as they could see their doom should Baahubali decide to take back the crown. It has a huge untapped potential for an elaborate drama. And the film is also unimpressive in convincing us about Shivagami’s transformation from a wise, just and caring woman into a victim of her own pride and prejudice. The narration is in a rush and rarely pays attention to its pleasure points.

Baahubali 2 is a complex and faulty elder brother to Baahubali 1. The former is inferior in comparison to the latter in stature.

Why isn’t anyone writing a Baahubali series already?

First published on: 08-12-2022 at 19:45 IST
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