This is the section of the movie it is kind of hard for me to write about because it is TOO SAD. And also, too real. Which is a sign of what a good film this is, it’s set in a fantastical setting with swords and elephants and so on, but it manages to get right at human emotions I recognize. (part 10 here, you can go backwards from there.)
We are now at the interval, which means I don’t really have to give a lot of background because most of the stuff from the first half is resolved and done with. Prabhas fell in love with Anushka and when the Queen mother ordered her chained and forced to kneel for speaking her mind, Prabhas defended her. The Queen mother, egged on by her husband and son, saw this as an act of rebellion against her and the laws of Mahishmati. When Prabhas refused to give way, she decided that his mind had been turned by Anushka and she could no longer trust him, and therefore took away his kingship and gave it to her son Rana instead.
In my last two sections, I went into this scene in exhaustive detail from each perspective. The end conclusion is that this was not a big misunderstanding with tragic consequences, this was more of an inevitable tragedy kind of thing. For 25 years, Ramya had been getting more and more rigid, and more and more confident that her way was the only right way. It was inevitable that Prabhas, with his greater sense of empathy and instinct to do the right thing no matter what the rules said, with his ability to think outside the box, would conflict with her at some point. Especially once Anushka entered his life, someone he loved and respected partly because her fearless ability to see and speak the truth. Yes, Ramya had made a vow to marry Rana to Anushka, and Prabhas had made a vow to serve and protect Anushka, and those two vows are now in conflict. But it’s not really about that, it is about the perspective and personality that lead them to make those vows, Prabhas ready to trust that Anushka is an innocent and therefore should not be harmed, and Ramya ready to trust in her own power to make anything happen, even forcing a young woman to marry her son. Just like Prabhas puts it here, this is “law” versus “Dharma”. Ramya believes in law as a source of order and power, Prabhas believes that all laws must bow to Dharma, to a greater sense of right and wrong. This conflict was coming for a while.
(Can you picture gentle Bahubali sitting on a golden throne angrily issuing edicts? No, he would never have been that kind of ruler)
The only person I haven’t discussed in full yet is Rana. He is standing there saying nothing this whole time. All he does is put his hand on his father’s shoulder to hold him down, and then lift it at just the right moment. Avani remembered in the comments that Rana is holding his father until after Prabhas has spoken and officially agreed with Anushka and told Ramya she is wrong. Because Rana couldn’t be sure about everything in this scene, but he could be sure of Prabhas. He knew that Prabhas would say something, if they gave him a chance, and it would be aggressive and against Ramya.
We talked last time about how the movements indicate characters’ minds. Anushka and Prabhas are still and firm in their beliefs. Ramya starts out that way, but as she is being driven to different decisions, believing Anushka to be rebelling, believing Prabhas to be rebelling, believing she has the right to force Anushka to marry, she starts pacing and moving about. Nassar, of course, is always moving like that, physically showing us the way his mind constantly treads the same patterns instead of finding a thought and staying with it. But Rana in this scene is the most motionless of all. Even Anushka and Prabhas have slight movements. Prabhas literally goes from his mother’s side to his loves. Anushka starts to go to him, goes back to the center, and waits for him to come to her. Rana just stands in one place, the whole time. He is the only one whose desires do not change. He wanted the throne and saw this potentially nasty confrontation as a way to get it, and that’s what happened.
(You know there are no Bahubali themed chess sets available yet? How is this possible! It’s the perfect metaphor for the film)
Rana also never really speaks. He hardly speaks in this whole first half of the film. He arranges for others to speak for him, to maneuver the pieces on the board into the places he wants around him, while he stays still. Essentially, his tactic is to clear a path rather than to break a path. He is always there, in place as heir number 2. He needs his father to get behind him and push, and his mother to step aside, and Prabhas to step back, and then he can sail forward in a nice easy straight line right to the goal. If he tried to maneuver and move himself, those other pieces would be alerted and come forward to block him. This is going to be a big deal in the second half when, finally, Rana does start talking and telling us what he wants.
Okay, I think that’s it for this very depressing scene in which good people with different mindsets come into conflict. Prabhas has lost his position as crown prince and it has been given to Rana. Oh no! One more thing. Notice that this isn’t really “that bad”, at least from a family dynamics perspective. Anushka and Prabhas aren’t arrested or even thrown out of the palace. Prabhas and Rana were always going to have the top two jobs in the kingdom, it’s just that their places have been switched. There is no real loss of face for Prabhas, he is still a prince and still second in command in the palace. Ramya has just declared that she can’t trust him with the ultimate power and therefore is reversing her decision, that’s all. And this is also back when no one really knew what Rana was like. He was brave and intelligent and trained by Ramya, and had an equal claim to the throne as Prabhas. Prabhas might have had a slight edge for Ramya before because she saw his caring for the people as a plus, but now he has lost that edge so she is back to her second choice. It could all be fine, just a sort of awkward thing where the commander of the army is more beloved than the ruler, but the ruler does an okay job too and it all works out.
It’s the next scene where the true horror begins, both onscreen and off-screen inside my little head. Someone in the comments, probably Avani because she says all the smart stuff, pointed out that it’s not just about Rana being crowned and then Prabhas being announced as commander and getting so much more applause, it’s that all the symbols of kingship naturally go to him. the umbrella falls from Rana’s throne towards Prabhas, the turmeric falls as well, and the elephants roar. He isn’t just more popular, there are so many signs and omens that he should be king and this is a terrible mistake.
Backing up a second, the structure of this scene is fascinating for what it tells us about Mahishmati. And Prabhas. Rana arrives in a huge chariot, with Prabhas walking in front of him. Prabhas has no shame, in fact he has pride. Clearly his attitude is that serving Mahishmati in any way, whether as king or as general, is an honor and he is proud and happy to take it. But also, Rana’s journey to the dias is through the troops, the massive massive troops. Not through the people. He is not being crowned by and for the merchants and nobles, or the peasants in the crowd, but by this massive army surrounding them. Those are the ones who swear their allegiance. It tells you something about where Mahishmati sees its power emanating from.
Okay, now the tricky part. Like I said, this is a fantasy film, a fairy tale. And last year I would have watched it as a fantasy fairy tale. But this year, it really gets to me, because this isn’t a fantasy for me. The unjust ruler being crowned despite the passionate outcries of the people, the feeling that we want someone to do something and those in power are just not listening, that huge sense of just “wrong” and that it is only going to get “wronger” until you want to cry and scream and vomit, oh boy did Rajamouli capture that!
(Days of protests all over America immediately following the election. Which made no difference at all, because our leaders don’t care to listen to us, thus my issues with Ramya being so sure she is right)
I know I’m not unique in having this experience in real life, in fact I was probably more unique before I had it. As you mature and care more about the world, there will be a time when a power shift in your national government, or state, or local, or heck, even in your office, is just so WRONG that it makes you want to cry out in horror. But I am right in the throes of that experience for the first time in my life, and it made this section, really the whole second half of the movie, an incredibly emotion experience for me. No joke, I had to walk out of the theater for 20 minutes last time I saw it, because it was too real.
In Indian film history, this kind of dealing with a public issue in a fantastical setting is common. Sikander, for instance, all the way back in 1944, was mostly a historical film about Alexander the Great coming to India. But the main thrust of the second half was talking about soldiers, far from home, forced to fight for a cause they didn’t understand, and at what point did they have a right to protest. It was hugely popular in India, and the British did not allow it to be shown to any Indian troops. Because while the setting was different and the costumes were strange and the love story was sweet, ultimately it was trying to incite mutiny in the troops.
Sholay, Deewar, a whole cycle of 1970s films are seen as dealing with the issues brought up by The Emergency. Not the literal details of it, but the questions of when ultimate power is needed and when it is not, what is the role of the state, what is the role of law. Is it the outcasts of society, the “outlaws”, who can save us from fear and tyranny?
All film industries/popular culture does this to some degree. Because it is popular culture, the idea is that it captures what is popular, what the people are feeling and thinking about at that moment. In America, there is discussion of how Watergate affected the 1970s film industry with more and more outsider anti-heroes and distrust for authority and conspiracy kind of plots, for instance. But Indian film, I think, does it a little bit more. Because it started during colonialism, when the filmmakers were on the forefront of the anti-British movements and were consciously using their platform to help, as much as they could through the censorship laws. I mean, heck! That’s why India has censorship laws in the first place! The British were afraid of what film could do, and the new Indian government kept the same rules in place. And it’s also because, as I have said over and over again, Indian films try to evoke emotions. They can avoid the political realities of a situation, the stuff that would get them censored, and instead focus on working through the underlying feelings of it.
Telugu and Tamil films are not my area, but even I know that those industries have a special relationship to politics. I don’t know if Rajamouli had a particular message in this film, or if it was just a generalized “wrong rule is bad, good rule is good” kind of idea. But as someone trained in the Telugu industry, he would have a natural instinct for making broad social statements on film, for knowing just how to reach in and connect with the audience on a level related to the running of the state and society. Which is why I can’t watch this bit.
(Yes, my main source for politics/film in Tamil and Telugu films is Iruvar.)
Pulling it back from the broader themes and making it personal again, this is also the moment when, finally, we begin to get a glimpse inside Rana’s head. I talked in my review of Bahubali 1 about how going into this film Rana is actually the more interesting character. In B1, Prabhas was the perfect noble prince hero start to finish. He didn’t really change. And I wasn’t expecting him to change in anyway in B2, obviously he was still going to be the noble hero. But Rana had a bit of a journey, from a guy joking with his brother to a guy ready to kill his brother. And I was excited to see that. And we really didn’t get to see that! At least, not until now.
Rana has one moment when he reveals his feelings, early on after Ramya has tried to pacify him with gifts to make up for her guilt in choosing Prabhas. He says all the right things, that he doesn’t care, it’s fine, and then he walks away and his face changes and you can tell that he really really does care and it really really isn’t fine. And maybe says something to himself at this moment too, I don’t remember. If he does, it isn’t a clear mission statement kind of thing, it just lets us know that he has a bitterness inside which he is hiding from everyone.
In this scene, as the crowd is cheering for Prabhas, and the umbrella falls from his throne, he stays still. Again, his purpose is clear, he wants the throne, he has the throne. But his hand grabs the arm and grips tight and his eyes kind of narrow. And you can see the anger inside, that now he has the thing he wants, and it doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t really “have” it. He can hold the throne in his hand, but he can’t hold the people.
This scene also clearly evokes the Interval scene of B1 and retrospectively makes sense of it. When I was watching B1, that interval moment felt really off. The more obvious interval was when Prabhas 2 was saying good-bye to Tamannah, or when Kattappa slide to kneel before him. Those are natural break points in the story, the beginning of a new chapter. The crowd cheering for Bahubali, that is right in the middle of a storyline. It felt like Rajamouli just picked a random point half way through the film, and created a situation that would send the audience out to get popcorn on a high and with a curiosity to see what happened next just for a tidy interval.
But now it all comes together. It felt like an awkward interval moment in the first one because it wasn’t a huge thing for Prabhas 2, our hero. But what the audience didn’t know yet was that it was a huge thing for Rana, our villain. And Rana is the one actually driving the narrative, not Prabhas 1 or 2. That moment in the first one was the first time Rana became aware that there might be a threat in his kingdom. The first time he suddenly sensed his brother’s presence and all those old feelings of jealousy and bitterness came rushing back.
And in this film, this moment now is the birth of those feelings. Before, Rana thought all he desired was the throne. He was willing to kill his brother to get it (remember the rope cutting scene in B1), but there was no underlying hatred necessarily. But now there is. Now he is beginning to see that Prabhas isn’t just a rival who has stolen his birthright, but someone who has something he doesn’t, who can inspire people and make them love him in a way he can’t. And that’s what gives him a new goal, not the throne and the crown, but the love of the people. And the quest for that love, that is what drives him from this moment, until the Interval moment in B1 (if we are looking at things chronologically). That’s why he is building the huge golden statue in the first place, to try to make the people respect him. But when he hears the chants of “Bahubali”, his focus shifts from winning over the people, a competition between himself and himself, to defeating Prabhas, again.