I know I know, there is beauty in tragedy, no success without loss, blah blah blah. I don’t care, it’s SAD! I can’t take it! So before I go into the really really dark part of Bahubali 2, I am going to have to write my own imaginary happy version of it. So I can pretend there is some other fictional universe where it all worked out in the end.
As with all great tragedies, there are many moments when it feels as though things could change, something different could happen. But I think I would rather if nothing bad ever happened at all, so let’s go back to the very beginning, when Rana decided he wanted to propose to Anushka.
What if Prabhas and Anushka got engaged before Ramya’s messenger arrived?
It’s not unrealistic that this didn’t happen, Anushka and Prabhas were both clearly enjoying their little romance and were in no hurry for it to end. But it also wouldn’t be impossible for it to have happened, Anushka kind of knew already that Prabhas was putting on an act, for her benefit, and really was kshatriya in disguise, and therefore a potential groom. And Prabhas kind of knew that Anushka returned his feelings. Why not just sit down and have “the conversation”?
How about this? The morning after Anushka sings her love song in the guise of a hymn to Prabhas, she comes by his quarters to check his “injury”. Kattappa greets her, tells her how wonderfully Prabhas slept, that he is still asleep. And then asks the ladies in waiting for help carrying vegetables, which gets them out of the way, leaving Anushka and Prabhas alone. Anushka smiles at him and says “well, so long as you are asleep, I might as well check your injury.” She takes his hand and gently moves his shoulder, bending over him. She brushes his hand gently against her waist and away and then again and again. Prabhas’ eyelids flutter, and the camera shows his other hand flexing, resisting the urge to grab her waist. Finally, Anushka gives up, says “Well, it seems your sleep cannot be ended”, and starts to stand, when her hair falls down onto Prabhas’ face, and he can’t resist any longer, grabbing her around the waist and pulling her to his chest with a laugh. Anushka rolls away and runs across the chamber while Prabhas watches, only to slam the door shut and drag a table in front of it (showing her warrior strength). And then she comes back to the bed where Prabhas is lounging and smiles at him until he makes a sudden dive and grabs her. Love song!
(Like this, but a lot less date-rapey)
Love song over, Prabhas and she lie in bed together. Anushka starts to leave, Prabhas grabs for her and gently holds her down. Anushka laughs and says “I am a princess, you know, I can’t spend my life in a kitchen”. Prabhas traces her face with his finger and says “no, you are not a princess, you are a queen. My queen.” Anushka smiles like she thinks it is just love talk. Prabhas looks a little more serious and says “what would you say if you learned that I am not really a traveler, that I have a home with many people waiting for me?” Anushka narrows her eyes, “is one of those people a wife?” Prabhas smiles “no, but I would like to have a wife. But not one who would wait for me, one who would travel with me, match me stride for stride.” Anushka says gently “I have a responsibility to my people as well.” Prabhas asks, “What if you could serve your people by leaving them, coming with me and helping me to serve your people and many thousands of others?” Anushka looks puzzled. Prabhas says carefully, “I am about to take up a great responsibility and an honor. My wise mother told me, before I did so, I should travel the world and learn more about the world and myself. I feel the greatest lesson I have learned is that I cannot handle that responsibility alone. Will you join me? Will you be the Queen of Mahishmati?” Anushka’s eyes widen, but she doesn’t pull away.
Back in Mahishmati, as Ramya is talking with Rana about the woman he loves, a bird arrives and lands on her hand seconds before she is about to offer it in promise. Rana shows his hand slightly by impatiently demanding for her to finish her statement before reading the message, Ramya gives him a puzzled glance, Kattappa reminds her that this is the messenger bird sent with Prabhas, it must be important. She reads the message and looks horrified! Prabhas has sent a message that he and the princess of Kuntala have just become engaged. What a terrible thing she has almost done, promising to one son the beloved of another! What a close escape! Of course, she is very sorry for Rana, but the best thing to do is to ask Prabhas to bring Anushka as an honored guest, let her spend time with both men, and choose for herself.
Prabhas gives this message to Anushka and her family. Anushka is at first insulted, that her choice is not being respected, but her brother and sister-in-law talk her out of it, saying that it will do no harm to honor the Queen’s request. And Prabhas vows that, unless Anushka herself sends him away, she will still be his bride. “Hamsa Naava” song happens like before.
In Mahishmati, grand song number welcoming Anushka. Rana reacts strongly to her beauty, and even more strongly when he sees how Prabhas is looking at her. Rana convinces Ramya, to make things “fair”, that he should have 2 weeks of seeing Anushka without Prabhas around, to make up for his two week head start. Anushka argues against it, but eventually agrees, and Prabhas points out that two weeks is no challenge for their love. Anushka and Rana talk in grand courtyards and go on elegant safaris, but Anushka keeps seeing Prabhas’ face in the clouds, in the rocks, everywhere else, smiling at her.
(Like this, but in a fairy tale land instead of London)
At the end of two weeks, she tells Ramya that her decision is unchanged. Ramya, in all her wisdom, decides that the only solution is a double wedding. She lets Rana pick any bride he wants and promises to arrange the marriage. Rana picks the daughter of the strongest neighboring kingdom. Who has insisted that her husband move to her land and give up his own country after marriage. Rana goes through with the wedding, and on the wedding night, we intercut between the two couples. Prabhas and Anushka happy and in love, Rana and his bride (let’s say Trisha) testing each other’s strength in a dark dance. The next day, Rana is surprised in the sleeping chamber when his bride brings in her war chiefs, hoping to catch him in a weak moment, to demand that now he has sworn loyalty to their kingdom, he tells them all the secrets of ways to attack Mahishmati, because they want to take it over. Rana surprises them in turn by calmly agreeing, unembarrassed by his undressed state, and saying that this was his plan anyway, and he is glad to hear that he and his new bride are in accord.
In Mahishmati, word arrives that Rana and his wife are planning an attack. Ramya can’t believe it, and insists that Kattappa sneak her across the border to talk directly with her son. In an epic scene, Rana lets Ramya have it, that she never loved him, she never wanted him, he disgusted her as much as her husband disgusted her, and now he is glad that he will be squeezing the life out of her kingdom just as he is squeezing the life out of her! Kattappa rushes in at this point, manages to throw off Rana, and drag injured Ramya out of the palace and back to safety. She returns to Mahishmati, but is no longer the same woman, fuzzy and fearful and hiding in her chambers. Anushka, now pregnant, takes charge as Prabhas’ consort. The two of them work together on the war plans, Anushka cannot go with him in battle as she is now heavily pregnant, but she is still strong enough to hide her labor pains until he has taken his leave, at which point she collapses. Ramya finds her way from her chambers to Anushka’s birthing room and insists on staying there, Anushka grabs her hand and begs her to promise to care for her child, in case anything happens. The birth is intercut with a massive battle, which ends with the brothers confronting each other and Prabhas winning, but letting Rana go. Back at the palace, in the middle of the birth, boot stomps outside the chamber! Rana has sent an elite troupe through the secret passageways known only to the family to take his vengeance on Prabhas through the best way possible, hurting Anushka and Ramya. While the midwives scatter, Anushka tries to rise and grab her sword, and Ramya pushes her down. Ramya finally has a spark of sanity in her eyes and in a grand moment of heroism grabs and sword and fights off the attackers. Anushka, fading in and out of consciousness, barely sees the battle. And only catches a glimpse of her son, just born, who Ramya takes and wraps in a blanket and says, with madness in her eyes, that she must take to safety, to be raised away from this palace that poisons all their minds. Anushka tries to cry out but is too weak, Ramya takes the baby through the secret tunnels, to the water, down the waterfall, etc.
26 years later, Anushka and Prabhas are noble and great rulers, happy with their daughter Anushka 2. But still grieving their lost son every year on his birthday. They ask the citizens, in sympathy, to put on mourning masks on that day. Tamannah, a young warrior/aristocrat in Kuntala and one of Anushka 2’s best friends, loses her mask over the waterfall. Prabhas 2 finds it, “Dhivara” happens!
At the top of the waterfall, he sees Tamannah being chased through the forest again. But this time, as he is about to rescue her, she handily defeats her enemies with a wooden staff, and they all laugh about how “since childhood, they could never beat her”. These are her childhood friends, playing a run-chase game in the woods. Tamannah leaves her companions and goes deeper into the woods for solitude, Prabhas follows, tattoos her hand, etc. Anushka 2 notices the tattoo and asks where it came from and tells Tamannah she should wipe it off. Tammanna protests, it is beautiful. She sings a song, looking at her hand, wondering where it came from.
(same lyrics, different visuals)
Prabhas 2 is watching in the shadows, wearing Tamannah’s mask, looking through the windows of the palace, and smiling. Until Anushka 2 catches him! Sibling swordfight!!!! In the end, Prabhas cannot bring himself to injure Anushka and she cannot hurt him, they don’t know why, but something seems to be staying their hands. As they look into each other’s eyes and almost realize what the connection is, Tamannah rushes up, thinking Anushka is in danger, and hits Prabhas from behind, knocking him out. He gets one glimpse of her as he falls and gasps out “Dard hua” (my favorite line from their sword fight). Tamannah also sees the matching tattoo on his hand and realizes that he is the one who tattooed her. The guards arrive at that point, lead by Kattappa, who insists on dragging Prabhas 2 out, despite the illogical protests of both women, arguing that he is a stranger with a drawn sword in the Princess’ chamber, he must be taken to Mahishmati for sentencing.
Tamannah, who has never seen Anushka’s parents because she cannot bare to leave Kuntala and they are so busy ruling that they never get to leave Mahishmati, goes down to the prison cell to visit Prabhas and ask who he is and what he is doing. He takes of the mask to return it to her (revealing his face, which is meaningless to her), she realizes he climbed the waterfall for her, love song! Tamanna gives him back the mask and he swears to wear it until he sees her again. The next day, Kattappa comes to take him away to Mahishmati and tries to remove the mask, Prabhas fights him off, and eventually they reach a compromise, he will remain chained until he can be judged, and Kattappa will let him wear the mask.
Anushka 2, sensing that Tamannah is in love with someone, lightly promises to do all in her power to unite the couple if Tamannah only admits who he is. Tamannah, sensing an opening, takes the promise and then tells Anushka that she is in love with a royal prisoner and Anushka has just sworn to help in his release. Tamannah and Anushka take off, traveling through the forests in practical traveling clothes of leather, killing birds and roasting them over the fire, etc., as they chase the troupe of soldiers.
Finally, finale! In the courtroom of the palace, as Prabhas is there in chains, his “crimes” of disrespecting a woman being recited, Anushka 1, declares that there is only one punishment for such a man-DEATH! At which point Anushka and Tamannah storm the room. Anushka is also wearing a mask because she doesn’t want to dishonor her parents by fighting in their throne room but also can’t go back on her promise to Tamannah. They take on all of Kattappa’s guards, and finally Kattappa himself. Breaking his heart, as he always considered Anushka 2 like his daughter. He recognizes her, despite the mask, from her fight moves, and leaves himself open to a killing blow. Meanwhile, Tamanna has almost reached Prabhas, when Anushka herself leaps forward to defend the Justice of Mahishmati courts. Tamanna manages to land a blow on her, and Prabhas 1, just arriving from his daily travels through the city to walk among his people, for which he has put a scarf across his face so he will not be recognized, sees his wife in danger and rushes forward, knocking the sword out of Tamanna’s hand and landing a blow on her head. At which point Prabhas 2 throws off his chains with a great roar, and it is father against son!!!! Just as Anushka 2 is about to stab Kattappa, Anushka 1 has reached her arrows to shoot at Tamanna, who is throwing herself in front of Prabhas 2 to protect him, and Prabhas 2 is about to stab Prabhas 1, the mask falls from Prabhas 2’s face, and a great wind comes through the throne room, etc. etc. Everyone stares in shock, and one by one falls to their knees. Until only the royal family is left standing, Anushka 1 and 3 and Prabhas 1 and 2.
Flash forward, a coronation one year later. Prabhas 1 and Anushka 1 are proudly announcing that, for the health of Mahishmati and their family, they have passed on their crowns to a new generation, and will returning to Anushka’s home in Kuntala to enjoy a peaceful life for the remainder of their years. And now they are proud to introduce, the new Maharani, and Tamannah steps forward and gets their blessing, although Prabhas 2 still holds tight to her hand in the background. And the new army commander, and Anushka 2 steps forward and receives her helmet. And finally, the new ruler! He will bring a new life and new world to Mahishmati, thanks to his different upbringing, as the revered Ramya promised them many years ago. And Prabhas 2 gets the blessing of his adoptive mother, before being crowned by his biological mother.
And Anushka 1 and Prabhas 1 walk away, into the crowd, giving away their jewels and royal symbols, holding hands and seeming happier and lighter. The crowd slowly closes around them, and turns away, and turns towards the dias to cheer for their new rulers, Prabhas 2 and Anushka 2 and Tamannah.
Now see, isn’t that a happier movie? Sure it doesn’t have epic scope and deep meaning and all of that, but love songs! And masks! And misunderstandings that all work out in the end! Isn’t that better?