I continue my crawl through the judgement/banishment scene! I truly did not realize how deep this section went while I was watching it, it’s only while writing this report that I realized how many moving parts there were. Essentially Part 13 was the personal layer, Part 14 was the massive internal issues going on with Prabhas and what this said about him (and his son). And now Part 15 is where I can get into the general question of what this scene says about Mahishmati, and a little bit into the banishment period.
This time, the summary is skipping everything before intermission! Prabhas and Anushka are married, Anushka is pregnant. Prabhas’ brother Rana is king, his mother is still Queen Mother/Chief Advisor. But there are stresses between them all, because Anushka is carrying the presumptive heir, and the people still want Prabhas to be king. Anushka chopped off the fingers of the head of the army because he was molesting women at a temple. Ramya and Rana had her chained and brought into the throne room for judgement. Prabhas, furious at this insult, arrives and takes over the trial, insisting that Anushka be allowed to say her side of it, and then issuing his judgement, that the proper punishment is not for the fingers to be chopped off, but his head! And Prabhas slices through the neck and the head goes rolling away.
Now, in this section, I want to talk about the snappy way both Prabhas and Anushka confront “Mahishmati Justice”. Anushka starts it, complaining about wearing chains, asking why she is on trial, being generally difficult. Prabhas goes even farther, ignoring the Mahishmati style entirely and just creating and executing his own. And then it ends with a complete rejection of the entire system of government.
What I find most interesting is that we, the viewers, are for the first time getting a close up look at that “system”. Anushka is in chains, not just because Ramya and Rana find her threatening, but because the system allows for it. As the accused, she is automatically put into chains until proven innocent. And the “victim”, whoever it is, is allowed to present his version of the situation before judgement, the victim is not allowed to talk. And then Ramya issues her judgement, after consulting the prime minister and his stack of old books of laws.
Look at the set design of this situation. Not the set design that Rajamouli set up, but the set design that Ramya, the character, has arranged for her trials. Or who knows, maybe it even predates her, maybe this is an ancient tradition. To the left is the victim, with the prime minister and the shelves of books to the left of him. To the right is the victim, in chains, with the guards holding them to the right of her. Ramya is on a throne, seated, far above them both, and slightly off center, to the left, towards the law books. And in the center, even farther above, is the king, observing it all.
(See what I mean about triangles? This doesn’t show the greater triangles I mean, but it shows how the room was designed to reflect triangles)
There is a message in this arrangement, before anyone even speaks. Ramya is literally on the side of law. And, also literally, the law is on the side of the victim. The accused is set away from them both, on the side of punishment, cut off from the law. And the king himself is above it all, letting judgement come from Ramya, from the old texts, with himself uninvolved.
There are 3 separate triangles of power here. Ramya, victim, accused. And enclosing that triangle, law books, Rana, guards with chains. This is the system that Anushka objects to. It appears to be balanced, if you look at the smaller triangle. Two equals being judged by someone seated between them (okay, Ramya is slightly more on the side of the victim, but not much). But you have to look at the bigger triangle. Anushka is enclosed by force on one side, law on the other, and Rana/the king above it all. And nowhere is there justice, is there humanity.
That is the triangle that Prabhas breaks. He turns it from a triangle to a line. Anushka/Accused on one side, Bully Boy/Victim on the other, and judge in the center. There is no space in this triangle for the guard on one side or the law books on the other. Or, most importantly, either Rana on his thrown far above or Ramya on hers slightly closer. Prabhas isn’t just issuing a judgement on this decision, he is issuing a judgement on the whole system, breaking the pattern that has kept the kingdom stable for years.
But it is a BAD system! Once you look at the larger triangle, that becomes apparent. The king should not be so far removed from the people, literally removed. And the law books and the guard on the other side should not be the other parts of the triangle, should not be there at all. Royal justice does not involve books, and should not require an additional show of force.
(By the way, there is a move afoot in America to re-incite the “War on Drugs” laws, which removed the ability of judges to use their own judgement in handing down punishments, and made the laws be applied without mercy or logic just because they are laws. You can sign a petition against it here)
I’m going to assume that Mahishmati has lower courts somewhere in the city, let the law books and guards be there. But in the royal court, the responsibility should rest with the royals, not with the chains and the books. That is their duty, to find the true justice, and then to enforce it. If they have come to rely on outside forces to do so, then the system is already broken.
And it is this whole system that Prabhas puts on trial and judges when he makes his alternative judgement. He shows how a true king, a true ruler, would dispense justice. Not by consulting old books or ordering others to follow his commands, but by looking within himself and performing his own actions.
Ramya herself, this is how she started. In fact, now that I think of it, Prabhas’ entry in this scene is startingly similar to Ramya’s then. A low angle slow motion stride into the room as everything is about to go wrong. And, like Prabhas, Ramya issued her own decry, and enforced it herself (slicing the noble who tried to grab her). She had no need to consult law books then, in fact if she had they might have disagreed with her decision. It is only in years since that she has come to rely on them, and to rely on the guards at her beck and call, to become used to ruling through passively obeying the system instead of guiding it.
And that’s why this is the moment when Prabhas could have taken a step further and taken everything. And perhaps he would have, if it had been an empty throne. Ramya made her move, and followed it by walking to the empty throne and taking it. And she has kept that place for 25 years, finding her power in that security. But Prabhas would have had to follow his by walking up that looooooong step and taking pushing Rana out. It’s a different level of action. And I can see why he resisted it. But perhaps this was the moment when he should have acted.
Instead, he broke the smaller triangle of power (Ramya, accused, victim), but bowed to the larger one. He allowed Ramya to call on the law, which mean bringing out a tiny little leaf book which declared that a member of the royal family going against royal decree would be banished. And he allowed the guards to follow them and walk them out of the palace. And he allowed Rana to sit far above and watch all this happen.
The last time I watched it, my friends and I suddenly started snickering at the way they pulled out this law book. Like, “oh yes, of course we have a law already on the books for this particular situation!” But it’s supposed to be funny. Or at least, odd. Prabhas has just had this viral simple gesture of justice, and then we have this doddering old man with his long white beard pulling out his old piece of paper and reading it off. The Mahishmati law books are this detailed, because it is their way of minimizing that virality, that possibility of change. Ramya tried to fight against it, but she was worn down by the system, and like everyone else, she clings to these old books for protection.
It’s also funny because this old book is declaring that Prabhas and Anushka should be banished, and this silent man on the throne far away, and this old woman asking this even older to read out from the book, are the only ones to support it. And Prabhas and Anushka are so strong, that they could upend all those books, throw away that old woman, and the only one who might be able to stop them is the silent man on the throne, far away. Remember that moment in B1 when Prabhas 2 shrugs out of his armor like he is shaking himself free, and uses it to swing around and hit a guard coming towards him. That’s what you are waiting for from them here, Anushka and Prabhas 1 to shake off these trappings of civilization and fight back.
(did not realize that Prabhas 2’s promotional hashtag is #TheUnrestrained. But that’s exactly what I am talking about! Prabhas 2 would never have put up with crazy old law books telling him what to do)
But, they don’t. I’ll have to watch it again to see if I am remembering correctly, but what I remember is that they don’t even seem angry, or unhappy. They simply turn and leave. And then I do remember when they get out to the steps. The crowds have gathered to watch and protest, but Anushka and Prabhas don’t seem like they want to protest particularly. Prabhas takes off his jewelry and drops it on a tray, like he is taking off a coat or a hat, something he doesn’t need any more and might as well leave behind. If I am remembering correctly, he and Anushka are almost smiling as they descend the steps. And when the crowd stops protesting, when one of the men in front declares “why should we be sad? He is coming to live with us where we can see him all the time!” the mood seems to change, and suddenly Prabhas and Anushka and all the people are on the same page.
One small note, do you recognize the peasant woman with a speaking role who calls out “why?” or “say it isn’t true” or something? She is the only speaking role peasant woman! This poor lady, captured by the Kalakayas, then almost stampeded by an elephant at Ramya’s procession, then leading the chants at the coronation as Prabhas fails to be crowned, then getting felt up by the bully boy at the temple, and now once again trapped in a crowd. At least she also gets to be there when Prabhas 2 shows up and take part in the final battle! I hope the intermediate 25 years of her life were less exciting. (I do understand the practical reason for this, just hiring one speaking role extra and giving her all the lines in all the crowd scenes, but it is odd to think about the coincidence of this same woman appearing in every significant moment of the story)
(This women. Such an eventful life! and always something to say about it)
And then “Dandaalayya” starts! A lot of people have mentioned in the comments that this seems like the happiest time in Anushka and Prabhas’ life. But while that is what we see from their characters, all the other cues in the film are sad. The song is slow and mournful, the lighting is aggressively dark. They may be happy, but it is a happiness in the middle of disaster, doom is coming, is already here but they don’t see it.
Beyond the mood of the song, there are several fascinating moments to consider within it. Firstly, remember how I was talking about Anushka being so aggressively visibly pregnant for this section of the film in order to remind us of her power (carrier of the future of Mahishmati) and her weakness (physically less able to defend herself)? There is another purpose to it, which becomes clearer in this section. Anushka’s pregnant belly is a reminder that Prabhas 2 is here as well. Later in the film, Kattappa will tell Prabhas 2 that he grew in the light of Prabhas 1’s intelligence. Starting with the baby shower scene, we can picture a little -Prabhas as a part of it. Or at least starting with that throne room scene. Little fetus Prabhas 2 sensing his father’s fury at his mother in chains, and the clarity of his justice in slicing off the head of the man who glories in it, who has disrespected her. And seeing his father break those chains and toss them aside, in the same way he will do 25 years from now.
And in “Dandaalayya” it was reminded over and over that Prabhas 2 is on the way, is there and involved. Anushka’s belly gets larger and larger, and a running theme is Prabhas 1 putting his hands on it, trying to feel the kick. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, because it is too sad to think of Prabhas 1 never interacting with Prabhas 2 in any way, but it also feels like a reasonable interpretation, that Prabhas 2 on some level learned everything he needed to know about being a ruler, being a Kshatriya, and just being a good man, from what he sensed through his father’s hands.