Last Friday witnessed the release of Bahubali, a multi-lingual epic that has since swept the box office and astounded critics and viewers alike with its sheer scale and cinematic prowess. Most cineastes would concur that film technicians from the southern Indian states are usually more proficient and adventurous than those that make movies north of the Vindhyas. SS Rajamouli is one such maverick who not only had the chutzpah to attempt making India’s most expensive film but also the directorial finesse to successfully translate his vision onto the screen. Bahubali, the tale of a mighty warrior king, has already set filmic and fiscal records that will be hard to vanquish.
Coming this Friday is another baadshah, this time from Bollywood, to battle Bahubali at the box office. Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan is set to conquer hearts with a family saga about an ordinary Indian who displays extraordinary valour by vowing to return a lost Pakistani girl to her country. That the hero is Hindu and a Hanuman devotee and the little girl is Muslim, and mute, will undoubtedly touch an emotive chord with audiences across all faiths and deliver a message of peace and brotherhood on the auspicious and lucrative Eid weekend. Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif could not have timed their historic handshake better and for a few days there is a renewed aman ki asha in the hearts of all, except the most cynical and fanatical, in both nations. Sensing a political opportunity, the MNS has hindered the release of a small Pakistani film B in Roye in Maharashtra and there is little doubt that there will be a backlash across the border.
Over the past few years, Salman has emerged as a bulletproof box-office warrior, impervious to critical barbs, media censure and even judicial conviction. For his myriad fans, Salman can do no wrong and they are willing to forgive him for any transgression. And now their beloved bhai will make the transition from Being Human to playing the ultimate devotee of Lord Ram. Anticipating the euphoria around the film’s release, Amazon India is doing brisk business selling silver pendants of Hanumanji’s mace that Salman sports around his neck. I am reminded of more innocent times when Indian youth, irrespective of religion, took to wearing a crucifix, aping Amitabh Bachchan who played the tapori Anthony Gonsalves in Amar, Akbar, Anthony. Meanwhile, a few zealots are bristling at a Muslim actor playing a Hanuman bhakt and some have taken umbrage at the oxymoronic title that juxtaposes two faiths with two words.
Such protestation and litigation only fuels the publicity fire and it seems nothing can stop the Bajrangi behemoth as it inexorably marches into theatres everywhere. Except perhaps the juggernaut, that is Bahubali. Cinemas in the south are reportedly reluctant to give screen space to Salman’s new release because Rajmouli’s magnum opus is still raking in mega bucks.
Before the release of the highly anticipated Batman v Superman, India will witness its own clash of two titans. Can two superheroes co-exist or will one have to necessarily annihilate the other this weekend? This is such stuff that cinematic dreams are made of.