Happy Wednesday! By the way, this is your Tuesday Telugu post (one day late) as well. It was going to be Enthiran/Robot which suddenly popped up on Netflix streaming. But Bahubali 2 is taking up all my time, so you are going to have to wait another week before I write that up. (part 1 here, part 2 here)
I think I have managed to crawl about 20 minutes into the movie. Which is shockingly fast for my usual pace with these posts. I think because I’ve only seen the movie once. So this is just my kind of medium well version of in depth analysis. If you want to see me go really hard core, check out the DDLJ posts. Those were so in depth that they wore me out and I had to take a break.
Right, so, movie opened, we saw Ramya do the every-26-years ceremony for the daughter-in-law of the family, and then Prabhas happily celebrate with the people. While Rana seeths and lets other people talk treason around him. Ramya tries to make up for making Prabhas king over Rana by giving Rana a bunch of gifts, which he turns down. Ramya orders Prabhas to go on a tour of the kingdom and he immediately agrees, against his own better judgement. While he is gone, Ramya starts looking for his bride.
And now we have Prabhas touring the kingdom! He sees Muslims, he sees random group with odd turbans, and he sees some brave cowherds chasing behind their cows. And a water wheel. It’s a really pretty song section. And it picks up on my final point from the last post, how this movie is beginning to show what was just hinted at in the last one, that Mahishmati is not the happiest place in the world, even in the “good” times.
The world that Prabhas is seeing on his tour is so beautiful. So clean and fresh and happy and free. And we see Prabhas be slightly more clean and fresh and happy and free in this world as well. There is a moment in the song, when he rides his horse past a water mill, that is cut with a shot of Anushka in the trailer. As if he sees her in the distance as he rides and is struck by her beauty and happiness and love.
(One minute in)
But, he doesn’t see Anushka in that moment. He just sees sunshine and growing things and happy people. And yet his reaction is as though he has seen the woman he loves. Because seeing a place so untouched and perfect is as amazing to him as falling in love. Because Mahishmati is never that perfect and untouched and happy.
Although, there are advantages to the security of tyranny. This rural idyll ends suddenly when Prabhas bends down to take a drink from a stream, and suddenly seas a dead man’s face looking up at him from under the water. And the camera pulls back to reveal a fascinating picture. Gorgeous clear blue water, bright green fields, and in the middle of it, dozens of floating dead bodies. And Kattappa explains to Prabhas that these are the victims of the Pindaris, who send raiding bands and kill for sport. In Mahishmati, this kind of pointless cruelty wouldn’t occur, because the cruelty always has some kind of a point.
Little research trip time, Who are the Pindaris? Well, firstly, they are the group that Salman was part of in Veer!!!! Only Veer was dealing with more historical reality which allowed for a complicated view of them. Whereas this is more the fairy tale view, with good guys and bad guys.
(Yes, this is the historically accurate version)
The historical Pindaris were a band of mercenaries. They began as Mughal soldiers, but after the empire broke up, they ended up moving down to Marathi territory. Where the government looked the other way as they spread out and raided into British territory. Until the British cracked down on them in 1819. Veer represents a fairly interesting view of the historical Pindaris. Suggesting that they weren’t just raiders, but were fighting against British tyranny. This film essentially just borrowed the name “Pindari” for a raiding band of semi-trained soldiers and has nothing else to do with the historical version. Which is an interesting way of building their fictional universe, taking a “real” reference that the audience would be familiar with and putting it in this fantastical setting.
We go from the floating bodies to Prabhas and Kattappa resting at a well nearby. They see a procession arrive, a bunch of men striding around with a palanquin carried in the center in which you can see the outline of a female figure. Prabhas is interested enough to come a little closer, and is brushed aside by Subbaraju. Kattappa and Prabhas kind of joke at Subbaraju’s overly manly posture, how he is a “hero”. And then the Pindaris attack! Prabhas and Kattappa almost make a move, but then the bandits are met and efficiently dispatched with by the guards around the palanquin. And Kattappa points out they were trained soldiers in disguise, setting a trap.
Prabhas turns to look at the palanquin, but it is empty! And there is a great shot of not just the empty palanquin, but the curtain in front of it being dragged away. And then a gorgeous intro for Anushka, the white curtain fluttering in front of her, beating back her attackers. And then a sword cutting through from behind it, slitting the fabric and revealing Anushka’s eyes, at the same time that it stabs out at an attacker and kills him. Another cut shows her lips. And finally, the curtain is thrown away entirely, and Anushka is revealed in full, hair flying, sword out, determined face and bright clothes.
(See the sliced curtain fluttering away behind her?)
So much to unpack here! Before we even get to Prabhas’ reaction to Anushka. Firstly, the curtain! Forget the amazing image of her face slicing through from behind. She is literally using the social veil brought on by her gender as a weapon! And also figuratively using it, the “trap” had a poisoned bait, by bringing a woman with them, they appeared to be a peaceable travelers, vulnerable. And she is turning every bit of that to her advantage.
All without losing her essential femininity. She still had long hair in this scene, and colorful clothes. She is not like Tamannah, having cut herself off from all joy and beauty in order to be a warrior. She is instead the female version of Prabhas. A serious warrior, but also a whole person who still enjoys life.
And that is incredibly rare for a female character! She is actually fighting, not like “dance fighting” or something, the way women fighters sometimes do. No, she has a broad stance and strong arm movements and is dominating the scene, not just being “graceful”. Her long hair and fancy clothes aren’t pointless (can I say again how much I HATE Deepika’s long trailing hair in all her fight scenes in Bajirao?), they were part of the trap set for the bandits. But she doesn’t wear them as though they are unfamiliar to her, this isn’t a “in costume as a woman” kind of thing. And we see her dressed similarly throughout the film (although in other fighting situations, she ties her hair back). Bright colors and pretty clothes don’t mean you aren’t a serious warrior as well.
On the second watch, I started to notice how Prabhas’ reaction parallels his son’s in the same situation. I love Prabhas’ reaction, he was intrigued by the figure in the palanquin at first, as anyone would be. But it was only when he saw her fighting, strong and powerful and brave, that his mouth fell open and he stared and kept staring. But that’s the same thing Prabhas 2 does with Tamannah! Sure, in their love song he turns her from “strong warrior woman” to the pale-skinned beauty of his fantasy. But, he likes the strong warrior woman too! The first time he sees her in real life, she is running from armed men. He runs to help her, but before he can catch up, she has set off her own ambush and defended herself. And Prabhas’ reaction is to watch and say “Oh Shiva!” (or words to that equivalent, I can’t remember). He isn’t turned off, if anything he is more interested. A lot more interested, like “oh God, what an amazing woman! How am I ever going to win her?” interested. And everything else he learns about her just makes him more determined. Killing a dozen men in armed combat? Hot! Killing a prisoner after interrogation? Super hot! Being part of a dedicated armed band that swears eternal dedication only to their cause? Not “hot”, but not exactly a turn-off, more an obstacle he has to overcome in order to get her attention.
(This is what I mean about a female warrior who has turned herself into a total warrior and lost any other kind of identity or joy)
Now is as good a time as any to talk about gender roles in Bahubali-land. I think they are a lot more fluid, especially in the Kuntala Kingdom, than they appeared in the first film. Yes, this whole trap relied on the bandits assuming that a group traveling with a woman would be vulnerable. But that’s because they thought it was the kind of woman who wanted to travel in a veiled palanquin. In the same way that Prabhas and Kattappa thought that Subbaraju was a “hero” because of his posture and his sword. But during the battle, Anushka revealed herself as the real hero, and Subbaraju as the one to be protected. If they had traveled with Anushka striding along next to the other men, and Subbaraju hiding in the back, like their personalities would normally suggest, I don’t think it would have been that unusual in this society. Some men are heroes with swords and some women need to be protected in palanquins. But not all of them. Just as, in Mahishmati, Nassar is kind of a joke and Ramya is accepted as a fearsome ruler. And the only people who have a problem with this are people like Nassar, people the film presents as stunted and ignorant and backward people.
The next sequence would be my favorite in the whole film, if it weren’t for all the other sequences that are my favorite. It’s funny and touching and exciting all at the same time. Basically, Rajamouli “Pehla Nasha”s a fight scene.
(“Pehla Nasha”, Farah Khan’s break out hit. She sped up the music during filming and slowed down the action later, so the end result was a dreamy slo-mo sequence which still synched to the sound.)
Prabhas and Kattappa are standing still watching the fight, which Anushka and her band of warriors seem to have under control, when they hear something and both turn to go into the surrounding forest. Where they find more bandits lying (laying? in wait). And we get to see Prabhas and Kattappa fight as a team, which is super fun, watching them toss swords back and forth to each other and toss each other around as well. But in the middle, a bandit’s flying scarf reminds Prabhas of Anushka’s hair, and suddenly he goes into slow motion. He is still fighting, but it’s all kind of dreamy and slow. The contrast with Kattappa’s hysterical cries for help makes it funny. But the soft green and brown tones, the graceful movements, the perfect editing to show the audience those little visions of Anushka he is remembering, that makes it beautiful. Oh, and it’s also a pretty decent fight scene! Lots of flying around and kicking and punching and all that.
Okay, I’m going to end here, but there will be a second post going up later today. Because I still feel bad about missing yesterday, even though I had a very good reason.