Welcome back! I decided I wanted to get all the sad parts over with as quickly as possible. So sad part part 1 was a few hours ago, now sad part part 2, and sad part part 3 will be going up in a bit. And then, thank goodness, we just have the big old battle to deal with! Which might wait until Monday, seems like you should all have enough to talk about with these three posts over the weekend.
Previously, Prabhas and his wife Anushka were banished from their kingdom and happily set up a new life together. Only even in banishment, Prabhas’ jealous brother Rana the king still saw him as a threat. So he decided to convince their mother Ramya to order his death, as she is the justice giver of the kingdom and the only one who can do so. Rana makes it appear as though Prabhas sent an assassin after him, which convinces Ramya to order Prabhas’ father figure, the old head of the royal guards, to arrange his ambush. The same night that Prabhas son will be born.
Prabhas is anxiously waiting outside the hut where Anushka is in labor. Prabhas is interrupted in his pacing with word that Kattappa has been captured by the palace guards and is being burned alive for treason. He rushes in to say good-bye to Anushka, who is in the middle of labor, but tells him that he must go, orders him in fact to do it, and bring Kattappa back to hold the child first, as he promised. And she gives him his sword, his horse head sword, to take with him.
Couple of things here, the idea of the trap first of all. Do you think they were waiting for Anushka to go into labor? And therefore Kattappa would be sent for, and could be arrested for treason near the village, thus necessitating Prabhas going to rescue him?
Also, how far has Mahishmati fallen if Prabhas could easily believe that Kattappa is being tortured by palace guards, and that Ramya could have come up with this rous (sp?), showing that she knew this was now a reasonable fear, an innocent being tortured by imperial guards?
And then the farewell with Anushka. If this weren’t their last scene together, it would be a perfect moment between husband and wife. As a good husband, he is checking with her before leaving. And as a good wife, and someone who understands him most, she is not even questioning his need to go, instead giving him the orders he needs to hear before he leaves her, not saying “don’t leave me, I’m scared!”, but instead reinforcing what he already knows he must do. And finally, handing him his sword, which both ties to the idea that she is his sword, his greatest sense of Dharma and his true faith. And which gives us a little look at how close they are as a unit, that she is apparently the keeper of his sword. Not in a ritual fancy way, but in a literal one, like a different wife might keep her husband’s car keys. She is always with him, as close as the sword at his side, and their lives are shared that there is no division between what she holds and what he owns.
(Reminds me of this, a different Ramayana exile film, but one in which the exile similarly seemed to draw the couple ever closer together)
Since it is their last scene together, this is not “perfect”, which is what makes it heartbreaking. This is not the ideal poetic farewell of a couple who may not see each other again. This is the practical farewell of two people who love each other, but think they will still have more time to say everything they need to say, to learn everything they need to learn, to do everything they need to do. I don’t think they even say “I love you”. And they certainly don’t say “I will always remember you” or “Raise my son well” or any of those things that need to be said before someone dies, both by the person facing death and the person left behind. Again, it just feels wrong! At a deep level, this is not how it is supposed to be.
And then the final battle. Gonna go through it real quick, just so we have the logistics. It’s a clever ambush, you can see Rana’s hand here. He is a great strategist, we saw that in the planning for the Kalakeya battle. And he uses that strategy in this plan. Prabhas is surprised here multiple times, confused as new enemies keep appearing. It begins with a simple rescue, scaring off the King’s guards and then freeing Kattappa from where he has been hung from a tree above a fire. It couldn’t just be a matter of rescuing Kattappa, he also had to be tied, tied up and down and all around, so that Prabhas would be forced to stay in one place and focus while he tried to free him, not make an easy escape. And so that Kattappa would not show his hand by refusing to help Prabhas save himself, but rather appear to leave him alone in the fight only because he is physically incapable of helping.
While Prabhas is trapped, helping Kattappa, the faux-Kalakeya’s arrive. They are dressed similarly to the warriors we saw at the end of B1, but slightly different. Which has to be on purpose, right? The two films were made simultaneously, it’s not a “Klingons with/without forehead wrinkles” situation where behind the scenes people just didn’t care how they used to look. So this means it is on purpose that they look slightly “off” in this scene. Which, I think, is meant to indicate to the audience that this is not a real Kalakeya army. They are remnants of that massive organized force, and soldiers in dress-up, organized and paid off by Rana and Ramya. Even the weapon shows us that, their arrival is announced by a rain of arrows. Clearly using arrow technology of a sophistication we never saw from the Kalakaya in battle.
(See? No forehead ridges. Only added in later when they had a movie budget to play with, and then elaborately retconned)
Prabhas is wounded, but not done. He drags himself up and chops off the arrows and carries Kattappa (still tied and unable to move) to cover, despite Kattappa’s pleas to leave him. Remember this hail of bullets, because it will come up again in the final battle, but with a different ending. I also love the way Prabhas sweeps his sword back to chop off the arrows. There is such grace to it, conquering the brute power of numbers with his one clean sweep through them all.
Kattappa here gives us a glimpse of his internal morality. He can’t bring himself to tell Prabhas Ramya’s orders, or make an effort to stop what is happening. But he does tell Prabhas to leave him, and he doesn’t make a particular effort to free himself. If Prabhas had left him tied, and had followed his pleading to save himself, Kattappa could have “saved” him. But Prabhas didn’t, and so Kattappa, once he was freed and all the other attackers had failed, had no choice but to kill him himself.
Well, that’s clearly a lie! You always have a choice! Kattappa just chose not to make the choice. As he has done over and over again. Or, more than that, he chose to deny to himself that he was making a choice. He picked Ramya as his queen and put her on the throne 26 years ago. And he continues to choose, every day, to listen to her above all others. Even Rana knows that the only way to get Kattappa to kill Prabhas is if Ramya orders it. That’s not part of his ancestral vows, that’s something Kattappa picked, whose orders he was going to obey out of all the royal family.
And so Kattappa prevaricates and tries to get out of his responsibilities. But at the same time is not brave enough to just stand up and say “No! This is wrong and I won’t do it.” Heck, the worse thing he does in a way is holding off so long. He knows what they are ordered to do is wrong, and he wants one of these hired guards or mercenaries to succeed in killing Prabhas so he doesn’t have to. It’s cowardly, and it reveals his knowledge of right and wrong and that he is on the wrong side.
And then to stab him in the back! He could have killed him to his face, I don’t think Prabhas could have brought himself to fight his beloved “uncle”. He would have left his chest open to attack just as easily as his back. No, it’s because Kattappa can’t face the reality of what he is doing. Even the way he does it, head down, as though he is bowing under a great weight. Only, he isn’t! The only thing keeping him down is his own choices.
Prabhas falls, and Kattappa catches him. They are silhouetted against the fire that Prabhas has been using as a weapon and which now covers the sky. I don’t remember if Kattappa says something at this point or not, but I know that Prabhas says “take care of mother” (which could mean either Ramya or Mahishmati). And then as he starts to fade, Kattappa helps him up and puts him on top of a boulder, giving him his sword to hold, letting him die as the king he is/should have been. And Prabhas does die as a king, his final words the cry of “Jai Mahishmati!”, with Kattappa kneeling before him.
He dies twice though. After I first watched the film, I couldn’t figure out this scene, and then on the second watch I finally did. It’s purposefully confusing. Well, not confusing on purpose, but they wanted it to happen twice which is what made it confusing.
The first time Prabhas dies, he does it in Kattappa’s arms, telling him to take care of “Mother”. This is why Kattappa tells Ramya later that his last thought was of her. Because that was the last thought of Prabhas, the baby she nursed, the little boy she taught, the one who called her mother. But once the outer shell had died and melted away, the different Prabhas inside was revealed, the one who fearlessly gave justice in trials, who vowed without hesitation his entire life to the woman he loved, who broke down a dam and made a waterfall, the one who stopped an elephant in its tracks, this is the King Prabhas, the noble and wonderful and perfect inner core. And he dies a kings death, not the death of a little boy missing his mother.
It’s a double death, and it’s also doubly heartbreaking. As we lose both the person we have come to care about, the sweet man who flirted and joked in Kuntala and was so excited to meet his baby, and the nobility and destiny and goodness he embodied as a potential leader. We grieve for the man, and we grieve for ourselves.
And this is another part where, without any particular reference, Rajamouli managed to capture the tragedy we feel in real life. When President Kennedy died, for instance, it was a tragedy because he had this amazing shining potential as a leader, heading an amazing young and promising government (yes yes, I know, history has changed that estimate a bit, but that’s what it felt like at the time). But it was another second tragedy, because he had two young children who would grow up without a father. And that’s why it really burned, because of the double calamity.
(That’s why this photo is so sad, and so famous, because it combined the great leader and the young children)
The real heartbreak is when you are mourning both the potential of government, and someone you knew personally. Kennedy might not be a good comparison for that, but Roosevelt is (at least for Americans). His photo was in millions of homes, people grew up with him, went to war for him, he was a member of your family, a voice on the radio every week, someone you felt you could go to with your troubles. Not remote and perfect, but human and right there in your life. Although at least his children were grown and his life was winding down, it wasn’t quite the “cut down in his prime” tragedy of Kennedy.
(Another famous photo, because it captures both the public and private grief, playing for both his commander in chief and someone he loved as a person)
And it is all of that heartbreak which Rajamouli gives us here. The great leader, the man we have come to love, and the sympathy for those he left behind, the tragic personal gap he will leave. It’s just sad, is what I am saying!