Okay, I’m gonna try to get through this part, even though it is really frustrating. Because the good people aren’t understanding each other! But at least this opening part has some interesting discussion and character bits. (last part here, you can go back from there)
What’s happened already is that Ramya sent Prabhas away to travel the kingdom while he waited for his coronation. Prabhas met and fell in love with princess Anushka, his jealous brother Rana found out and decided to use this against him. Rana convinced Ramya that he is in love with Anushka and made her swear to marry him to her. Anushka rejected the proposal in an insulting manner, and Ramya overreacted and wanted to go to war over it, but Rana convinced her instead to order Prabhas to capture Anushka and bring her back as prisoner. Meanwhile, back in Anushka’s kingdom, Prabhas fought off an attack by the Pindaris, and then asked for Anushka’s hand in marriage. Only to then receive a message from home that he had to take her prisoner and bring her back to Mahishmati.
I want to re-wind for a second and look at how the Kuntala fighters celebrate their victory. The leaders are all standing on the wall, and then Prabhas floats up on a log to join them. Now, remember how the victor of the Kalakaya was celebrated in the last film. Ramya and Nassar and the Prime Minister and others had been standing far removed observing the action. After it was over, Rana and Prabhas formally came up in front of them, and Ramya made a declaration of victory, and then a formal declaration of which would be her heir. At which point Rana and Prabhas moved forward and took their positions in the group and faced the cheering crowd.
(This is from before the battle, but it is the same kind of idea)
Now, look at Kuntala. First, the rulers weren’t watching from afar. Anushka is clearly the Prabhas/Rana equivalent, the leader of the army and most trained warrior. While her brother is the Ramya equivalent, a good leader, but not the primary war time leader. However, in Kuntala, her brother and even her completely unwarlike sister-in-law are standing there with the rest of them, on the front lines. And, on the flip side of things, in that little group of victorious warriors at the end, a couple of regular line soldiers are mixed in. This is all of a piece with how random traveler Prabhas was not only picked up and taken back to the palace, but was allowed to talk with the royal family. And his kitchen living quarters did not appear unfamiliar to the Princess. In Kuntala, the divisions between court and people are small. And the divisions between ruler and court are similarly small.
Maybe this is mostly because it is a small kingdom, there just aren’t enough people to create the stratification we see in Mahishmati. But then the films, both films, imply that Prabhas 1 was different because he just refused to see that stratification. We saw that over and over again in B1, but the message doesn’t really come through until B2 (one of many reasons that the films feel like they are all of a piece). As a child, he would rather eat with Kattappa and the other soldiers than in the royal pavilion. During the war, he went back to rally the regular troupes when it looked like they were losing. His saving of the POWs was because he saw them as real people, no worse than him. Ramya was so strong about the rules and power and so on, because it was all she had to protect herself. If she stepped off the royal dias, she would become just another woman, easily cut down by her enemies. Well, not easily, but it would be doable. She had to keep that distance, to be revered by the people and feared by the nobles, in order to maintain power and order. Because that was her personality. But Prabhas, he could rule by love. Because he was so good at connecting to people that even with a vast empire like Mahashmati, they could all still love him, just as the common people of Kuntala of Kuntala could love their rulers, who they saw everyday.
The biggest change is that the royal family still interacts like a family, not just as royals. And so when Prabhas arrives, he is greeted by Subbaraju, who embraces him warmly, and Anushka’s brother and his wife, who smile at him and thank him. This is not the proclamation of victory and formal honors that Ramya offered, this is just people being human. And Prabhas is so happy with that, he does well in the formal settings too, but you can see him loosen up and relax in Kuntala, this is the style of ruler he would prefer to be. Whereas Ramya doesn’t exactly enjoy being all formal and untouchable, but I also don’t think she would be comfortable hugging someone in public, like, ever.
And that’s the way Prabhas’ proposal is offered. The king and queen warmly offer to help him in return for how he has helped the kingdom, and he (or Kattappa? I can’t remember), informs them that he is in love with someone and wants their help. It’s not a big huge speech, or anything. It’s exactly like what the boy next door would say if he was talking to the girl next door’s parents. Well, not exactly, they are still talking in olden-timey language, but the posture and the simple manner of speaking, it’s all just a little nervous because they are in love, but not like he is proposing a peace treaty between kingdoms or something huge like that.
(He’s more this kind of nervous. Also, have you checked out my DDLJ posts? New one going up today!)
And it’s not just about a different attitude in Kuntala and Prabhas being accommodating to that, these people have truly come to care for each other. He has built a bond with each of them. Anushka foremost, but after her, Subbaraju who is that kind of little brother he teased and then inspired, their hug has a warmth to it that isn’t just about the battle they have survived together, but all the days that preceded it, the inside jokes and so on. And Anushka’s brother, who sees him as a warrior he respects, not only for his bravery in battle but for his humility over the preceding days. And Anushka’s sister-in-law, who sees him as the man who has finally won over Anushka, not through his bravery just now, but his teasing and playfulness over the past few days. It’s a new bond, but it is there, all of them feeling especially close just now after having stood shoulder to shoulder in battle. Prabhas’ proposal in this setting is completely right and proper, and a simple continuation of what they are all already feeling.
And then the message from Mahishmati arrives and interrupts all of that. That moment after Prabhas reads it, you can kind of see him stealing himself for a unpleasant task. And the task isn’t chaining up Anushka and dragging her away, he would never do something like that. It isn’t even having to confront his mother back home, he assumes that will all work out. No, it’s breaking the social contract and changing the conversation right now, in this moment when they are all so comfortable together. Talking about the empire, about rules and duties and so on, it’s just plain tacky!
More than tacky, it kind of peer pressures him into discovering how unnatural and just plain wrong the way Mahishmati treats people is. Kind of like that moment when your racist uncle is introduced to your college friends, and suddenly all those things you overlooked because “that’s just how he is” become blazingly clear as you see him in this new setting with people you have come to care about. That’s why he has to brace himself, to give up being part of this group, the group that he cares about and also just plain likes, and ally himself with the other group, the group that suddenly doesn’t seem so appealing.
And, just like with your racist uncle, he tries to explain it. He says that there must be a misunderstanding, or a deeper reason. But, see, there isn’t. Anushka sent a terribly insulting response to Ramya’s proposal, but it was a personally insulting response. There is no excuse for her to use the powers of Mahishmati to bring Anushka back, including ordering her son to do it. The lines get blurry because this is a family issue, and she is involving another member of her family with it. But she isn’t sending a note saying “Prabhas, darling son, this girl said something horrible to me, go yell at her”, she is sending a note saying “Prabhas, prince of Mahishmati, I order you to arrest a prisoner of Mahishmati and bring her for judgement”. And there is no deeper meaning or reasoning behind her action, she was personally offended and she immediately reacted by abusing her powers in an inexcusable manner.
(Remember Dabangg? Remember how Salman was a super corrupt cop kind of, but when he fell in love, he didn’t use any of his police powers to pressure Sonakshi? Because it would have been super wrong, to use his public powers for a personal issue. The public only became personal when the “bad guys” made it like that)
And just like that college friend who listens to your excuses and thinks “yeah, I’ve been Black my whole life, I know racism when I hear it, you are deluded and I’m not going to bother arguing”, Anushka doesn’t pay any attention. She’s been living in her little happy kingdom for a long time, dealing with the occasional demands of the rigid Mahishmati Empire, she knows that just because it is a royal order doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a greater justice and wisdom at work, it could just be a random order that they have to follow for no reason besides an administrator’s whims. And she is certainly not going to hand over total control to the Mahishmati empire and trust them to take care of her. Especially someone who won’t even reveal his own identity. Which is why her burning Prabhas’ clothes with fire just kind of makes sense.
Okay, makes sense if we assume that Anushka had felt the armor under his clothes before. Or even just knew he must be wearing it, because a wise soldier would always have armor on before battle (wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she had protection hidden too, under her sari). Armor is expensive, so a traveling soldier like Prabhas is assumed to be would probably be wearing something paid for by his employer, and wearing his employer’s “Label”. Plus, decent chance the style and level of design will tell her how high or low he is in the command. We just saw that with the Pindaris, their leader had a slightly different style armor than the rank and file. So Anushka burning away his clothes is less an attack, and more the equivalent of searching an undercover cop for his ID.
(Nassar! Also, MASSIVE POKKIRI SPOILERS!!! Don’t watch if you haven’t seen)
The discovery that Prabhas isn’t just a random Mahishmati soldier, but the crown prince, that just makes it worse. Well really, Kattappa makes it worse. As soon as Prabhas’ identity is revealed, Kattappa starts proudly declaring all his titles. This is, once again, showing Kattappa’s blind loyalty to Mahishmati. For him, Prabhas as crown prince is a wonderful thing, and they should all bow to him and be honored by his presence. Going back to the “it’s just tacky” problem, Prabhas has been treating everyone as equals, even now he’s been kind of joking with Anushka, saying he won’t tell his name now but will tell her later, trying to keep it light. But Kattappa immediately changes that dynamic. Now, it’s all about everyone bowing before his power and worshiping him, like Kattappa expects.
Except for Anushka. She is the only one who remains standing, even her brother and sister bow. I don’t think this has anything to do with their love story, I think it is her personality. She is not going to stop seeing him as the guy she was flirting with just because Kattappa lists off a bunch of titles. She still respects him for who he is, brave and smart and all of that. But she won’t bow to his title. And she won’t bow to Mahishmati.
I think that is why she draws the line so strongly between “prisoner” and “servant”. She is happy to serve him in the humblest of ways. But no one else. As his prisoner, she could be handed over to anyone, like a piece of baggage. Which, let’s be real, is exactly what Ramya is asking, “Go over here, pick up this princess-shaped package, and then bring it to me in Mahishmati and I will sign for it”. And that’s what Prabhas is promising will not happen. She will remain his, and he will remain hers. No one else can come between them or try to take her away. It seems a simple promise. Even setting aside the “love” part of it, he is a very powerful man, he is promising to take her to Mahishmati under his protection, and then return her home again. Not “baggage”, but more like “temporary ward”. Anushka would feel safe with this promise from anyone she trusted, Prabhas is saying that this is all a miss-understanding and can be worked out, she is just asking that he back up that confidence with a promise that no matter what, she will not be handed over for wrongful judgement. And I believe Prabhas would give this promise to anyone in a similar situation. If Ramya had ordered him to bring in any innocent as prisoner, he would have been sure that Ramya had a deeper meaning and would not actually punish them, and therefore would have been happy to promise his protection to them, knowing that it would not be needed, just for the sake of their peace of mind and dignity.
The love story is cute, the love story is the “hook” that draws us in, but honestly, the way this plays out with Prabhas having to go against Mahishmati/Ramya for someone in his protection, it could have just as easily been Subbaraju. Or Anushka’s brother. Or even Kattappa. Prabhas would give a promise lightly, sure that real justice would always come to them from Ramya. And then if Ramya’s justice was not true, he would have to stand against her. Good chance Ramya has blurred this line before, between Mahishmati justice and her Justice. But Prabhas has been able to excuse it, like he does here, to assume there is a deeper meaning in her actions that he just hasn’t grasped yet. He needed something he couldn’t ignore or excuse to force the issue, make him stand up to one of her decisions. And Anushka provides both that excuse, and that inspiration. Spending time with her, getting her to love him for himself, not his position, I am sure it helped spur him to start thinking for himself a little more.