Well, I got all bogged down in the last section between the rights and the wrongs of it all. I’ll see if I can un-bog myself and do a bit more a straightforward account of what happened in this section. (last section here, you can go back in time from there and read the rest)
We are coming up on the tipping point of the film, the point at which everything shifts. Which means this is the last section where you really need to know in any amount of detail anything that happened in the first half. And also where my summary is the longest, because we are almost at the end. So, Prabhas was declared heir. His mother Ramya sent him off to go find himself while he waited for the coronation. On his travels he met and fell in love with strong princess Anushka. Back home, Rana learned of Prabhas’ love affair and convinced his mother to engage himself, Rana, to Anushka. Anushka rejected the proposal, with prejudice, which Ramya took as an insult to the whole kingdom and ordered Prabhas to arrest her and bring her back. Prabhas convinced Anushka that she just has to explain herself, his mother will understand, and they can be married. And to reassure her, he promises to be her protector and not let her be harmed or disrespected. He also takes on a promise to serve her to his dying breath, but that’s just because he is in love.
And now here we are in Mahishmati! In the throne room. It started well, Anushka apologized for speaking hastily, Ramya nicely forgave her, and then invited her to go stand next to her “future husband”. And Anushka took a few steps towards Prabhas, and then sensed the mood in the room change and looked confused by what was wrong. And Ramya demanded what she was doing, Anushka indicated that her future husband was Prabhas, not Rana, and Ramya declared that was not true. And Anushka pulled her dignity back together and pointed out that she has a perfect right to choose her own husband and Ramya is the one in the wrong for denying her that right. And Ramya totally completely overreacts and orders Anushka captured and chained.
As I said in the last post, the most significant moment to me was when Anushka looked confused. Because she was so clearly obviously confused, and innocent of any awareness that she is acting wrong. Sure, she’s spoken out of turn and been insulting. But the really fiendish evil that Ramya suspects, that she is purposefully embarrassing them all, or has an elaborate plan to trade brothers, that is patently untrue. And if Ramya were seeing things clearly, she would know that and acknowledge it.
But, she isn’t seeing things clearly, and so she orders Anushka to be chained. And Prabhas’ promise comes into play. But, honestly, it’s not about the promise. He made the promise because he trusted that Anushka would always show good judgement and he would always want to defend her. Promise or not, he still would have thought she showed good judgement and was in the right here, and he would have defended her.
I skipped over some of the moving parts in this scene, because I couldn’t remember them all, but my nice commentators reminded me exactly how it plays out. While Anushka and Ramya are the central figures and their conflict is the most important, there are other conflicts as well. After Anushka goes towards the wrong man, Kattappa jumps forward to take full responsibility.
Poor Kattappa. He is always taking responsibility. Because he always feels he is responsible, his rulers must be perfect and just, so any flaw would be within himself. He sees this whole situation as simply a result of him miss-interpreting Ramya’s initial proposal to be a reference to Rana, instead of Prabhas.
(Kattappa! So powerful on the outside, so fragile on the inside)
Apu, in the comments, suggested that at the moment Ramya wrote the proposal, she honestly was not thinking of herself as a mother of two sons. And I think I can see that. Nassar is always nagging her, drawing a line between her “real” son, and the baby she took in. And in the second half, while Prabhas continues to call her “Amma”, she tells him he has no right to do so. Indicating that she saw their relationship as mother and son as a conditional thing, based on how they feel for each other, not a recognizable fact that the outer world would understand. Kattappa, in all his innocence, did not see this difference, or acknowledge it, and so he assumed the proposal to be referring to Prabhas, the son of her heart.
But is this all the fault of Kattappa and a poorly worded proposal? Not really. Kattappa is seeing it as “sorry, we misinterpreted your intentions, leading to this minor misunderstanding, but now that we understand what you want, it’s all fine.” But that isn’t the problem. It’s why this moment is so awkward, but it’s not the central conflict.
The central conflict is that, firstly, Ramya is trying in a very high-handed manner to force Anushka into a marriage she doesn’t want. Take her relationship with Prabhas out of the picture entirely, and it would still be wrong. And then put back in the relationship with Prabhas, and that’s the second part of the conflict. Anushka should have the right to choose, and what she has chosen, is Prabhas. Rana’s brother and Ramya’s son. Meaning her choice will break the family.
If Kattappa hadn’t misunderstood, this scene would be considerably less public, but it still would have had to happen. If Prabhas had been told “the good news is your mother wants Anushka for her daughter-in-law, the bad news is she wants her for Rana”, would it have changed his feelings? Would he have felt like he had to step aside? I don’t think so. If Anushka had actually been engaged to Rana, sure, absolutely. But he would have still seen it as her right to choose him, even if his mother wanted her for someone else. And by that point in their courtship, he knew she would choose him. And then the Pindari battle would have happened, and I honestly believe, if he hadn’t spoken out after it, she would have. And then he would explain the situation, and Anushka would have remained firm in her choice, just as she does here. And in the end, it would be the same, Anushka coming to Mahishmati as a prisoner/Prabhas’ responsibility, telling the Queen that she wants her other son, not Rana, the Queen getting angry, and Prabhas having to protect her.
(Or maybe she would have said yes to Rana and it would have all turned into Mere Brother Ki Dulhan?)
Kattappa, through out, has declared his incapability of understanding love. And this scene shows that, to him there is nothing greater than duty and obedience. And so this is all a simple matter of misunderstanding Ramya’s orders and therefore disobeying them. Now that everyone is on the same page, there will be no problems.
What’s crazy is that Ramya thinks the same thing! In a lot of ways, Kattappa and Ramya are two sides of the same coin. Both of them feel love for people, are warm and giving and all of that. But they also deeply believe that laws and duty are above everything, are what will keep the world safe. And so Ramya prepares to follow the same argument as Kattappa, she is still angry, but thinks she is in control. Now that everything is clear, obviously Anushka will marry Rana, as was planned.
And it is then that Anushka speaks up. And reminds her of a higher law. And I think that is what gets to Ramya the most, to be challenged on her home ground of law and told that she is wrong, that she has forgotten something. And to know that she is, in fact, wrong. I don’t think being wrong is something that Ramya is used to. And instead of gracefully accepting it, she tries to bury her doubts in bluster and power, ordering Anushka to be captured and forced to kneel (as Siva reminded me in the comments). She isn’t just taking her captive, she is making her subservient, forcing her to acknowledge Ramya’s power in public. Saying that force of power is equal to, or greater than, respect for law. Which, come to think of it, is how Ramya got the throne in the first place. There was no “law” that said she should have it, she took it by setting Kattappa on the rebelling nobles and slicing the face of one of them herself. And that was the right thing to do, there was no law at that moment to cover this situation, and so she resorted to power in order to create a law. But at this moment, there absolutely is law, both the kind written down in books, and the higher laws of Dharma, which say that Anushka should have the right to pick her own husband, to speak out in open court, and not be punished for it.
Avani pointed out that we see Prabhas right before Anushka speaks out. He is still standing there, just listening to his mother. Like he may not ever go against her. We already had this awkward movement, when he comes into the room as Anushka’s champion, standing on her left and breaking the way for her, and then immediately abandons her to run to mommy as soon as he gets to the front. At that moment, it was absolutely the right thing to do, he assumed Anushka would be in no danger, he was taking his rightful place as part of the Mahishmati royal family, and to not do so would have been a huge pointless insult to Ramya. But it also meant that Anushka saw how easily he switched from being by her side, to retreating to the power of Mahishmati. And now she is all alone, standing in front of them all, with her champion abandoning her.
Until suddenly he is back! Standing in front of her and declaring that no one can touch her!
And this is when Rana/Nassar come into play. Rana has been watching, this whole time, with his hand on his father’s shoulder to hold him down. But now he lets go and lets Nassar speak.
The Ramya-Nassar relationship is fascinating. They clearly dislike each other. But she is still the mother of his child and his wife, and he is still the father of her child and her husband. There is a combination of mutual, not quite respect, but lingering social bond. Nassar in many ways is her weakness. She feels, as a proper Indian woman, that she has certain duties towards him as her husband. And he is also the greatest threat to her power, if not a potential ruler, at least a potential regent. So when he speaks, she can’t quite tune him out, not completely. Even though her head says he is weak and foolish, her heart feels guilty for depriving him of a dutiful wife and his role in the kingdom. And there is that same lingering social guilt which leads her to put preference for Rana, her “real” son, over Prabhas, the son she loves more. And as for Nassar, he may hate her, but it is an intimate hate. He knows exactly how to push her buttons, what to say to make her feel the worst.
Rana is what makes the difference in this scene, knowing the complicated emotional situation between his parents, but not a part of it. Nassar hates Ramya so much, that he is not able to control his reactions. He can give speeches that will upset her, but he can’t time them right, they just come pouring out of him, because he is upset as well. But Rana, he is cold. He can stand outside and see the perfect moment to deploy his father for maximum impact. Just as he saved up Ramya’s motherly guilt earlier. He could have taken her gifts, the elephants and the fancy new palace, and made her feel better. But instead he rejected them, storing up the guilt until he could find something he really really wanted. Using Nassar now, he is bringing together the two strongest areas of social guilt for Ramya, her biggest weaknesses, her position as a wife and a mother.
Interestingly, coming back to the Ramya versus Anushka idea, for Anushka those are her two greatest strengths. Perhaps because of her actions in this scene. Anushka never compromised, she married the man she wanted, the one who was worthy of her. And her son was born of that love, she has no guilt or conflict in her feelings for him. Anushka may have given up 25 years of power, the possibility of ruling from behind the throne, but she gained a better ending. Ramya had 25 years of power, and raising a son she loved, but it was all built on quicksand. Her initial mistake, marrying a man she could not respect and letting guilt over that decision eat away at her, it is all coming back to her now.
That was the mistake, all those years of guilt over her position as wife and mother. And that initial mistake is what is leading to this moment, here, when she lets that guilt push her to a terrible decision. Again, forgive me for not remembering the exact order of how it comes out. Feel free to add details in comments.
But here is what I do remember. There is a shift in Ramya’s position as this scene goes on. She starts it sitting in the throne, not even sitting, sprawled in the throne. She is at ease with power, relaxed, assumes it will all work out as she wants. And then later, she sits up straight, eyes wide, and issues orders. This is how she has controlled people for 25 years, with the force of her personality. And when that doesn’t work, she leaves the throne, paces up and down beside it. In the same way that Nassar is pacing. While Prabhas and Anushka stand still in front. Ramya has lost control, she is now a moving target, not the power in the throne, but just another piece of this family, striding around the central calm of Prabhas and Anushka. Calm because they know they are in the right and know what they want. Ramya doesn’t know any more. She has gone from simply wanting Anushka to apologize and marry Rana, to wanting Anushka humiliated and punished, to wanting Prabhas to come back to her side and declare his loyalty, to finally wanting Anushka and Prabhas both gone and out of her sight.
I mostly don’t remember this scene in huge detail, but there is one thing I remember. Towards the end, it’s not that Ramya wants Prabhas to not-marry Anushka, she explicitly says that she wants him to leave her influence, she phrases it as though she believes Anushka has twisted his mind. It’s no longer a simple matter of Prabhas disobeying her, she honestly believes that he has lost the ability to think for himself, that Anushka is controlling him.
Which is sort of true, as we the audience know from having witnessed his vow. But also not true, because Anushka would not abuse that power. He is protecting her here both because of his vow, and because he believes she is in the right. And Anushka is not ordering him “go kill your mother” or “give up your kingdom”. She is just standing there, letting his play out between mother and son.
I wonder, do you think part of this fear is because Ramya knows what her powers as a strong woman have allowed her to do? We always tend to see the sins in others that we know of in ourselves. I don’t think Ramya “sinned”, not really, but she did gain power by using her position as wife and mother, using the men around her. And now she can see that Anushka might be able to do the same thing. Anushka won’t, because she is as virtuous as Ramya, and would always look to the higher good and only use that power if she believed it was the right thing to do. Which is why she is just standing her now, wanting to let Prabhas make his own choices. But Ramya is perhaps the only person in the room who fully understands what kind of power a wife, and perhaps mother in future, can wield.
In the end, I think the decision to force Prabhas to choose between giving up his argument at this moment and the crown, is not exactly “choose between love and duty”. It is more, “choose to listen to me instead of her”. Which Ramya sees as “choose to listen to the laws and traditions of the kingdom versus rebellion”. And Prabhas sees as “choose to give up the right thing for a wrong thing in order to get what you want”. And Anushka sees as a simple matter of “right versus wrong”. All 3 of them, by their own lights, have no other options. Ramya cannot risk a rebellious ruler that might topple the fragile power structure she has built and kept up. Prabhas cannot bring himself to start a rule by going against what he knows to be right. And Anushka cannot bring herself to compromise her ideals, ever.