Welcome to my tedious and time consuming scene by scene coverage of Bahubali 2! I already put up my No Spoilers review, if you want something to read while you wait to buy tickets. And my SPOILERS review, if you want something quick to read to think about what you just saw. This is something else, the intensive graduate-level-film-class scene by scene breakdown and discussion which will last for a couple weeks and only get a few very dedicated readers. But I haven’t done one of these since Raees, and Bahubali seemed like an appropriate time to dust off the old analytical skills.
First, Saaho teaser! Well, actually, first in my theater was a biryani ad. And then a Saaho teaser. It’s fascinating, because this is such a clear platform, given by the Bahubali team, to send Prabhas’ career off onto another level. Which, fair enough! He gave up more time and energy than anyone else besides Rajamouli to making this film work. And he gave up more valuable time. Rajamouli, as a director and general behind the scenes person, has decades to establish himself and keep working. Prabhas, as a male star, has maybe ten years between 22 and 32 to prove himself, and then another ten years between 32 and 40 at his creative and popularity peak. He gave up almost half that time, 4 years, to just these two films. Even Rana was able to take a break long enough to produce and star in The Ghazi Attack. If Prabhas can’t hit the ground running as soon as his Bahubali commitments are over, he will have sacrificed his whole career for these movies. So it’s only right that his first follow up film is attached directly to the Bahubali “reels”, capitalizing on as much of that audience as possible. Even to the point of allowing him to announce the start of the film by declaring “It’s Showtime”.
And then it really is showtime! I love this movie, but looking back on it, the opening credits gave me a certain shiver down the spine that nothing else in the film matched. And that is because they were calling back to the first film, to that original experience of this world.
They use a CGI effect I am sure I have seen before, I just can’t remember where. It makes the images look like old porcelain, cracking and breaking with little brown lines. It’s a perfect effect for this images, making them look like stories from legends, beloved family legends, like Peter Rabbit and Cinderella. The kind that are made into tiny porcelain figures to keep in your kitchen, not bit stone statues.
The brown lines and cracking, that is also brilliant. It gives them a flavor of nostalgia, of the kind of thing you would find in an attic when you were little. And also of impermanence. That this film, Bahubali 1, is over and in the past. Remember it, but let it go.
Only I don’t want to let it go! I want those images with the dramatic thrumming music below them to last and last. To let me luxuriate in my memories. I don’t think that was the intended purpose, I think it was to remind us of the plot of the last film, and then move us on with fresh eyes to this one.
One other thing I find interesting about this sequence, to me an old porcelain figure is so familiar, I can feel it under my fingers just looking at those images. But, is it that familiar in India? I honestly don’t know! Do Grandma’s have figurine sets and does your mother give you an old porcelain doll when you are little? Or is that just an American thing? Is my overly nostalgic response just a freak of my particular background, was this supposed to be merely an interesting effect, not calling back to specific moment in childhood?
(does this image make you a little spooked, or does it make you go “aw, Grandma’s attic”? Or both?)
And with that, I am finally finished with the opening credits! After less than 700 words! On to the film proper. Which I find I don’t remember as well as the opening credits, to my shame. I believe that we start with a voice over, explaining that after Ramya had declared Prabhas the heir, it was time for the annual ceremony in which the daughter-in-law of the royal house carried hot coals on her head to set alit the idol of a demon at the temple. We see Ramya striding forward without faltering, slow but steady. Her hair is coming loose, her face is dusty, and the camera pans down to show that her feet are cracked and bloody. The people (shot of crowd) look shocked at her suffering, but are warned not to try to help, as she must do it on her own. So instead they shower flower petals on her path, softening the ground where he feet step. Which is the first time I figured out the point of the flower petals in path thing! It’s not just to look pretty, it’s to make dirt roads smell and feel easier on your feet.
Also, this made me think about my South American history class in college. The European propaganda had all these stories about the evil Mayans and their human sacrifices. But what my teacher talked about was how it was the Mayan rulers and Priests who suffered the most horrifying torture. Because they were “Gods”, and therefore their suffering would directly benefit the people. If some random peasant slit his tongue and let his blood flow into the ground, it wouldn’t make any difference. It had to be the central figure of civilization, so that the benefits would shower down on the whole country. Which is the same thing that is happening here. Ramya gets to live in a palace and have a lot of gold jewelry and so on. But she is also asked to suffer, for the good of everyone, in a way that a peasant woman would never have to. Which is a theme that keeps coming up through out the film, the price of being a Kshastriya.
(Ow ow ow ow ow!)
Right, Ramya keeps walking, and suddenly a CGI elephant breaks loose! The CGI in this movie isn’t bad. It’s not the best, it’s a little jerky at times, but it’s not bad. What makes it great is the imagination behind it. It’s not just that they have an elephant, it’s what they do with the elephant, if you see what I mean.
Suddenly, as the elephant roars towards Ramya, the huge wooden doors start vibrating. The pole holding them closed shatters. A massive wooden platform bursts out from inside. And, dragging it along, is revealed Prabhas!!!!! He pulls it forward, single-handed, and blocks the elephants path. Ramya keeps moving steadily forward, not concerned with either elephant or platform, and sure enough Prabhas stops the elephant before it can damage her, and places the platform so that she can walk underneath it and between its wheels without faltering. The crowd murmurs in respect over how Ramya did not even pause, confident that the path would be cleared before her and faithful to her task. This is the confidence she will lose in the rest of the film.
Once Ramya passes beneath, Prabhas leaps up the platform, and the camera follows him, revealing that it is carrying a massive statue of Ganesha. Prabhas from the top of the statue showers down yellow powder on the elephant, calming and distracting him. And then easily leaps up his trunk and onto his back. Where he uses the elephant’s trunk to pull back his bow, and then shoots the arrow to set on fire the demons statue.
So many things to think about with this section! Firstly, this is not the greatest opening. The last film started with this immediately iconic image, of the baby held aloft over the raging river. And, as I went into great detail to describe in my review, this isn’t just an arresting image, it’s a call to a subconscious level of human understanding. The desire to protect a baby, the idea of carrying a baby away from danger, all of that is something we can understand without a lot of explanation. But this opening, this is all intellectually based, not instinctive or emotional. But then, this film doesn’t have to grab at our emotions to get our attention, we are already paying attention, and so we start with the message that the director wants us to get from the film.
There are 3 big messages going on in this section. Firstly, the responsibility of a ruler to his/her people, the way Ramya is suffering and continuing on a path without hesitation is showing that. A ruler has to be more perfect, and endure more, than any of his/her people.
Secondly, why Prabhas is named “Bahubali” instead of a more “kingly” name. In the first film, we didn’t really see it, but in this movie it is shown over and over again that Prabhas likes getting his hands dirty, likes using his own strength and helping people. He doesn’t rule like Ramya, or Rana. They wear the fancy clothes and prefer to order others to do their dirty work. At this moment, Ramya likes that Prabhas is this way, approves of it, and has faith that his “humble” behavior doesn’t make him any less of a king. But later, her doubts will grow, she will be convinced that Prabhas is too human, too soft, and would be better in a lower role. That he is as uncontrolled and uncontrollable as this elephant.
And thirdly, Ganesha! Not just “the elephant God” to create an amusing visual, but the God of placing and removing obstacles. Which, again, creates an amusing visual in this moment. That Prabhas places the statue as an obstacle to block the elephant. Oh, and Ganesha is also a loyal son to his mother, created to serve Parvati. But mostly, Ganesha is the God of obstacles. And this entire film is about how obstacles are placed in the path of our hero. Until they are finally overcome.
(Ganesha and his mother Parvati. Also, hey! Porcelain figures.)
But Ganesha argues that sometimes obstacles are blessings. Directing us towards a better path, or holding us back until the time is right. Let’s say that Prabhas was crowned king, and married to Anushka, with no issues. At some point, wouldn’t Ramya still have been frustrated with how Prabhas’ rulings conflicted with what she would have done? Wouldn’t Rana still have been a thorn in his side? Wouldn’t the seeds of dissension that went all the way back to the previous generation (when Rana’s father was passed over) still have caused problems? Perhaps it is better this way, that Prabhas 2 was able to be raised away from all of this, and to return with no baggage, free and clear and happy. Perhaps the “tragedy” of this film was really a blessing, as it made things happen later, but better.
Oh, and then there is a song. It mixes images from the last film with this one. Which is partly just lazy, but also important in tying together the different aspects of Prabhas 1. We see him in battle from the end of the previous film. Intercut with seeing his celebrations here, playing with children, picking flowers, gentle and kind and loving. We have to understand that both aspects are there at the same time. Again, it’s a little bit of a “Kshastriya” statement. But also, again, a statement on how he might be perceived as a “bad” ruler. Is it kingly to carry children, pick flowers, etc.? And is just prowess in a battlefield what makes a king? Ramya was confident in her choice at the end of the last film, that Prabhas proved himself to be both brave and also loving. But in this film, we see how she starts to doubt that, if perhaps he is too close to the people, too soft, too loving.