I won’t promise that this will be my last review. I already posted my no spoilers review. And it’s possible that over the next few weeks, as I re-watch it, I end up posting one of those scene by scene things that takes me forever to write. But right now, I want to get up a SPOILER post, if nothing else so we all have a safe place to talk about the movie without worrying about ruining it for other people.
Usually with my SPOILER posts, I put up a little thing about how you should see the movie instead of just reading this. Or about how you shouldn’t see the movie, because it is terrible, you should this read this instead. But in this case, no one is really watching the film for the plot. Sure, the plot is interesting, but it’s the visuals that will draw you in, and there is no way I can convey them in a bare plot description. So, read this, don’t read this, I don’t care! Use your own best judgement.
Whole plot in two long paragraphs:
We open in the past, Past-Prabhas has just been announced as king. Queen Mother Ramya Krishnan orders him to travel the kingdom and surrounding areas with Katappa while they prepare for his coronation. Prabhas travels to the outskirts and sees warrior princess Anushka defeat a troupe of bandits and immediately falls in love. Kattappa serves as his wingman and convinces Anushka that they are simple travelers and she should take them home with her. Anushka figures out pretty quickly that Prabhas is putting on an act of being a weak coward, but lets it go because she enjoys the flirtation. Meanwhile, back home, Rana has learned that Prabhas loves Anushka and he himself has fallen in love/lust with the picture he received of her. He convinces Ramya Krishnan, feeling guilty for passing him over in her choice for king, to promise to marry him to the girl he desires. Ramya Krishnan sends messengers and wealth to Anushka’s kingdom for her hand, and Anushka insults the messenger and turns him away. Kattappa and Prabhas take this as meaning that Ramya has separately decided to marry Prabhas to Anushka. Anushka’s kingdom is attacked, and Prabhas reveals himself as a great warrior, and in love with Anushka. Her family is supportive and approves of the match. But Prabhas has received an order from Ramya to take Anushka back as prisoner, as punishment for insulting her offer. Prabhas tells Anushka that he will swear to protect her from all insults, she can come with him to Mahishmati, they will explain to the Queen Mother, and she will bless their union and all will be well. Of course, it doesn’t happen like that. Anushka and Ramya take an immediate dislike to each other. And when Anushka declares she will not marry Rana because she does not love him and should not be forced to marry against her will, Ramya takes it as an insult and orders the guards to seize her. At which point Prabhas’ love for Anushka, and his earlier promise, come into play and he is forced to go against Ramya’s orders and defend her. In fury at this dishonor, seeing it as her son choosing some woman over her and over the laws of the kingdom, Ramya declares that Prabhas will either step away from Anushka and give her up or lose the crown. Prabhas, of course, chooses Anushka. Rana is crowned, but the people still love Prabhas. INTERVAL
Things go from bad to worse after that. Rana keeps driving a wedge between Prabhas and Ramya. He forces Anushka to appear in the wrong and Prabhas to defend her. He slowly strips Prabhas of all his power. In the end, the couple is exiled. But they are still happy, living in a workers’ camp, Prabhas designing and building tools to make labor easier, Anushka preparing for her baby with the village women. Rana decides that so long as Prabhas is alive, he is a threat. And so he devises a plan to drive Ramya to order his death. He arranges for Anushka’s cousin to overhear a conversation between Rana and his father. His father pretends to be protesting against Rana’s plan to kill Prabhas. The cousin then asks Rana’s father for help, and Rana’s father convinces him that the only solution is to kill Rana. In the end, it was all a trap, to make it appear that Prabhas had sent his cousin-in-law to kill his brother out of jealousy. Ramya, now prepared to believe anything of Prabhas as she sees his mind as having been turned by Anushka, reluctantly orders his death. A group of Kalaka warriors is sent to the village, with Kattappa as bait. Prabhas is pulled away from his wife’s birthing chamber to go save Kattappa. He is injured over and over, but refuses to leave Kattappa, no matter how he begs. Finally, Prabhas has defeated all his enemies, and Kattappa has no other choice but to deliver the final blow himself. As he lays dying, Prabhas thinks only of his mother and his kingdom. Rana arrives to gloat over the body, and Kattappa overhears his confession that this was all an elaborate scheme, Prabhas has never done anything wrong. Kattappa rushes to tell this to the Queen Mother, who is bereft when she realizes what she has done. At which point Anushka arrives, still struggling after giving birth, with her new baby. The Queen Mother is sent by Rana to tell the people that Prabhas is dead. But instead, she takes the baby and goes out on the balcony to announce that the baby is the new ruler of the kingdom. The guards attack her, she manages to escape, Rana shoots her in the back (the arrow we saw at the start of the last movie), and she sinks into the river, apparently dead. Anushka is captured by Rana. Back in the present day, Prabhas is furious after hearing all of this and orders that all the farmers and cowherds and working people be gathered up and told to prepare for battle, along with Kattappa’s elite troupes and Tamannah’s rebel fighters. Huge battle scene, in the middle of which Anushka is captured again. And Tamannah gets her one line of the movie, “Shivu!” Prabhas and his men manage to get into the city and take the battle to the courtyard of the palace. Prabhas finally kills Rana and then, very abruptly, it is his coronation. He is blessed by his adoptive mother, and then the crown is given him by his biological mother, and his wife (?) Tamannah helps him to the throne.
(If you want to know why Kattappa killed Bahubali, it is because Bahubali gave up the throne to marry Anushka, which made Rana king and drove a wedge between Bahubali and Sivagami. Rana exploited that wedge, finally convincing Sivagami that Bahubali was planning a rebellion, and in order to prevent civil war, Sivagami gave Kattappa the order to kill.)
That was a very very long paragraph! Here’s the big thing to notice about it, how many times the names “Anushka” and “Ramya” are mentioned, versus “Rana” and “Prabhas”. It’s almost equal, right? And that’s in the stripped down plot, I can’t describe it even in the simplest terms without talking about all the things Anushka and Ramya make happen.
In the middle of their first scene together, I leaned over and said to Dina “This is just a Saas-Bahu soap opera!” And I stick with that! When you get down to it, the film is about two basic human rivalries: two sons over their mother, and mother and wife over son/husband.
There are two things that make this soap opera remarkable. Firstly, that it is expanded to be a question of “dharma” versus “law”. I don’t think this is an inappropriate expansion. There isn’t much difference between Princess Anushka declaring she will only marry the man she loves because that is the higher “dharma” and Queen Mother Ramya Krishnan declaring that the law says she should marry the man Ramya has chosen, and current arguments that a woman should stay with the man she has married because that is what the law says she should do, while the woman herself argues that a higher law is self-preservation and happiness. Personal problems are constantly being pulled between moral justice and the rules and laws of society. I like that this idea is being gently introduced to the audience in a fairy tale format.
And secondly, what makes this remarkable is the destruction of the mother! Typically in Indian film, “motherhood” and mothers are revered as the strongest and most important forces. But in this film, nope! Sure, Prabhas loves his mother, and that is right. But that doesn’t mean everything she does is right. Especially when she is guided by her motherly love. In fact, her motherly love consistently steers her wrong! Her guilt over making the right decision as queen but wrong decision as mother when she elevates Prabhas over Rana is what drives her to promise Rana anything he wants for his own happiness. Her jealousy over Anushka’s power over Prabhas drives her to ignore her own judgement. If she had stayed a “bad” mother, making decisions just based on the greater good instead of her motherly love, then the whole thing would have turned out better.
(I’ve read a fascinating article blaming everything bad in Deewar on Nirupa Roy, but I know that isn’t the common interpretation)
That sounds terribly anti-feminist, that a woman can’t be logical. But the film is careful to present it as her being driven by guilt and resentment. Social pressures, not instinct. Her mother’s instincts are still good, she loves Prabhas and can’t bring herself to love Rana in the same way. But the pressure her husband is putting on her, representing all of the broken parts of society that cling to rules, that is forcing her to lose herself, to lose faith in her own instincts and her own intelligence, and be open to suggestion.
And, as I said in my tweet of my non-spoiler review, this movie is ultimately feminist because it’s hero isn’t a hero at all, it’s a heroine. Sure, Prabhas is in most of the movie, but he’s playing two different characters. The character who stays for the whole thing, who starts it off and ends it, that’s Anushka. And she is also the only character, besides our two heroes, who never makes a single misstep, is never fooled, never weak, never gives in to pressure or fear.
(She even gets a better hero’s introduction than Prabhas did)
It must have been so frustrating for Rajamouli to hear all those complaints about female characters in part 1, knowing this was coming in part 2! His female characters were flaws in part 1, and not all of those flaws are addressed here, but most of them are.
Avantika/Tamannah is the real problem, in both parts. She just isn’t a full character, and there is no getting around it. She is the beginning of an interesting character, the warrior woman who has cut herself off from all the beauty of life, falling in love with an innocent who followed his vision of her all the way into danger, and then joining in the final rebellion and ending up as queen. Only, she has literally ONE LINE in this entire film!!!! ONE LINE!!!! There’s no resolution to her character, we never get any backstory, we never find out how she feels about being queen, none of it.
(You see that 2 seconds she gets in the trailer? Okay, now you’ve seen half her screen time)
It feels like, since she is one of two prominent female characters in part 1, that this is a problem with women characters in general. Especially since Ramya Krishnan, who is a seemingly strong character, in fact is just part of a standard “Rani Ma” type template. The strong asexual mother character who holds the throne for her son and gets her powers from her connection to her son. It just seemed lazy! While Prabhas and Rana and Rana’s father and Kattappa and all sorts of other men got these complicated scenes and backstories and so on, the women were just tossed off with half a character.
But now, having seen part 2, Tamannah is still a disaster. But Ramya Krishnan is not at all what she appeared. And Anushka is something totally different than either of them. Ramya, rather than being the “Rani Ma” template, is a rejection of it. Her ruling powers come not from her motherhood, but in spite of it. That superficial way we saw her, that was just because we had never seen her truly tested. Once she was challenged on her home ground, whole other layers of the character are revealed.
And Anushka, my goodness! This isn’t a “strong female character”, this is a just plain strong character! She is a warrior, driven for excellence. Has a clear vision of right and wrong and will not bend in it. But is lonely, in a certain way, and bored at the same time. Her coming together with Prabhas, it’s not just a love story, it’s a testing of mettle. She wants someone who can match her in every way, and someone who will challenge her. Not challenge her because he will fight with her, but because he will not take the easy path in love.
I love that, ultimately, Prabhas’ follows her lead. Anushka declares right and wrong, and he trusts her judgement and obeys. It isn’t just a matter of being a gentlemen or rescuing a damsel in distress. He truly thinks she is wise and good and will do right.
What I really love is that a woman causes it all, but a woman is not at fault. So often we have stories of the slippery woman who sets brother against brother or father against son. But in this case, we have the reverse. Two noble honorable women set against each other by the mindgames of a man. Anushka is the linchpin of the entire film, really of both films. She drives Prabhas 1 to answer to his own conscience instead of blindly following his mother’s dictates, which is the salvation of him as a person of character, but the downfall of his relationship with his mother. It is her rescue that inspires Tamannah’s band of rebels. And it is his vision of her in danger which drives Prabhas 2 to reclaim his sword and his birthright.
The opening of the film is a seemingly random invented ceremony. That every 26 years, the daughter-in-law of the royal family has to perform a sacrifice, carrying burning coals on her head as she walks around the temple. Ramya performs the sacrifice easily, with the help of Prabhas dramatically distracting a rampaging elephant. This sacrifice is supposed to keep evil from the kingdom.
At the end of the film, as the battle rages around her, Anushka carries the coals on her head and walks the circle. And as she finishes her final round, Rana is defeated. It was Anushka’s power all along, she was merely biding her time until the right moment. And ultimately it was Ramya’s failure in judgement that led to the downfall of the kingdom, not Rana’s machinations. The goal of the sacrifice is that, no matter the discomfort, you keep the faith and move ever forward. The crowds cheer Ramya for how she never falters or changes paths. But that is exactly what she did in the rest of the film, she falters, doubts, changes ways over and over again. Anushka though, Anushka never falters. She spends 26 years waiting for her son to rescue her. And before that, she stayed firm in her determination that she wanted to be the best Princess she could. And after falling in love with Prabhas, that she would marry the man she had chosen. Every decision was correct, and every decision was unchanged.
And it was this faithfulness that carried through all the other characters. And that defeated Rana. He admits as much at the end, that for 25 years he thought his happiness was in his crown and his kingdom. But in fact, it was in the awareness that Anushka was in his power that he found all his happiness. And now that she is out of his reach, he wants to die.
Okay, obviously this is the Ramayana. Just as the first film was the Mahabharata. Ram and Sita are a perfect pair, with Sita just as if not more holy than Ram. They are banished, but happy in their banishment. Sita is captured, and defeats her captor through her very purity before she can even be “rescued”. Of course, all the details are changed, some in interesting ways, making our exiled Ram serve the common people in practical ways like building water wheels instead of living in the forest and protecting rishis. And of course having Sita wait for her son to save her, instead of her husband.
But the central idea, of a Ram and Sita who are perfectly matched, the feminine balanced with the masculine, with the feminine possibly even more powerful in her own way, that is what the whole film is about. Not just in our central couple, but through out.
(Also, Shiva-Shakti. Probably not a coincidence that Shiva is the guiding God spirit for the film. Dina pointed this out in our podcast, and she is absolutely right.)
Going back to the final shot of the film. It is extremely abrupt, Rana is killed, and Prabhas is immediately crowned. The film is crying out for another scene with Prabhas and Tamannah confirming their love. Or a scene with Prabhas and Anushka enjoying their mother son bond. Or really, any scene at all between any of the characters before the movie is over! Not just from battle straight to coronation.
But the coronation itself is perfect. We see Prabhas’ adoptive mother bless him. And Anushka give him his crown. And Tamannah stand next to his throne. He is king, yes, but only because these 3 women chose him and molded him. He is excellent only because he is the best of all 3 of them, and he is wise enough to keep all 3 close to him and honor their contributions.