Bahubali 1 and 2 Theme Post: The Significance of Fire and Water, or Why Prabhas 1 Has Fluffy Hair and Prabhas 2 Has Wet Hair

Welcome back to Bahubali!  I tried to resist, to fill that hole with Robot and Oppam, but it’s not the same.  So, time to return to Bahubaliland with some big picture discussions of major themes.

I’m going to assume that everyone reading this has seen both films.  And most of you were there through my incredibly detailed scene by scene breakdowns.  So I’m not going to bother with plot summaries or anything like that, we are past that now.

I will give a brief intro to the naming system I use (just in case you are new to our discussions).  Rather than dealing with which Bahubali is which and what is their regal name versus personal name versus nickname and who is whose mother and father and uncle and so on, I just use the names of the actors.  For the royal line of Mahishmati, there is Prabhas 1 and 2, our main characters.  And then going back in time, Prabhas 0 and Prabhas -1.  The one exception to this “always actors” rule is Sathyaraj, because Kattappa is such an indelible character I can’t think of calling him anything but Kattappa.

 

Okay, all on the same page now?  Here’s what I want to talk about.  Back when I saw Bahubali 1 in theaters, I was struck by Prabhas 2’s introduction, pushing his face through a stream of water.  It’s not a very common kind of introduction, not like driving a sportscar or striding into a room or flipping his hair out of his face or any of those things.  But it wasn’t like huge spectacular kind of thing, just a sort of small and clever idea, using the water as a curtain to suddenly reveal him to the audience.  And Prabhas looks good wet, I mean, his hair is thick enough that it doesn’t thin down when wet, and his sort of strong features do well with water to sort of highlight them.

Image result for prabhas wet

(Remember Varsham?)

And then I started noticing that he gets wet A LOT in this film.  His love song involves going in and out of a waterfall, his big fight scene is in the rain, he even gets an underwater swimming shot.  Honestly, I thought it was just because Rajamouli thought like me that Prabhas looks good wet.  He gave him a wet introduction in Chatrapathi too.

But now we have this film.  And here’s the thing, Prabhas 1 never gets wet!  In B1 or B2.  His hair is always light and fluffy and touchable, even when he takes down a dam, he shows up again moments later sparkling dry and floating on a block of wood.  But what Prabhas 1 does a lot is set things on fire.  All kinds of things.  He uses torches on cattle in one battle, fiery missiles in another.  Torches flare when he walks past them.  His death is against a blanket of fire.

 

Related image

(Fluffy!)

The essential elements, earth fire water air, all have personalities associated with them.  This is universal human nature, not western versus eastern or anything else.  Water is fluid, adaptable, sees no obstacles.  Fire is all powerful, unstoppable.  Earth is enduring.  Air is everywhere and nowhere, impossible to grasp.

If we look at these films, the elements let us read the characters.  Prabhas 1 is fire, Prabhas 2 is water.  Devasena is Earth (women almost always are, everyone from Gaia to Sita).  Her visual representation in the “present day” is strikingly similar to Nargis in Mother India, another famous representation of earth as a woman, or a woman as earth.

Image result for nargis mother india

But air, air is hard to grasp, ever changeable and invisible.  Air is Tamannah, especially in “Dhivara”.  She is an air spirit, meant to be free and flying.  What Prabhas 2 has to do is free her from the grounded existence that has been forced on her.  Which he does, by washing her in his water.

Image result for tamanna bahubali

All of the 4 main characters grow as they learn to master “new” elements.  Prabhas 2 chases air at the beginning of B1.  He finally conquers her, in a land that suddenly becomes green beneath them, signifying his new mastery of earth as well as air.  His arrival in Mahishmati is recognized by all 4 elements (this is not my theory, someone else pointed it out to me but I can’t remember who.  If you are in the comments, identify yourself!).  He rides through a wall, and past a bush that suddenly bursts into flame, then swims the moat, and then jumps over the wall, landing with a puff of air.

Not only is he greeted by all the elements, they take him through the story as well.  It starts with Anushka (earth), then Prabhas 1 (fire) bursts into flame.  Finally, Prabhas 2 (water) arrives.  And then he is joined by Tamannah (air) which is what brings him into the city.

Prabhas 2’s seemingly pointless ride through the ineffective burning rolls of hay while leaving the city is in fact signifying his mastery over a new element, fire.  And his moment of kingship is recognized by all 4 elements joined.  The rain, the mud on his face, the lightning coming down to reveal it and the wind in his hair as he turns.

Prabhas 1’s mastery is more gradual.  He is introduced on a drop of water.  A small drop, but still there.  It is on a steel blade, metal often being a secondary signifier for fire.  For all of the rest of B1, it is all fire-fire-fire with him.

Anushka at this time is all air-air-air.  Her intro is super windy.  She is an archer, a weapon loosely related to air just as swords are to fire.  And her personality, while strong, is also quick to change and hard to grasp.  Her love song to him shows their joint elements, showering him with air and fire

(Video finally available, woot-woot!)

Considering that Prabhas 2, a water person, will be born of their love, it is fascinating how often water is part of their courtship when they both come together.  The dam bursting and the waterfall being created through the battle that Anushka inspires Prabhas 1 to fight.  His proposal taking place with water as a backdrop.  Him leaping down into the water to let her walk on him.  And, of course, their fantasy love song on a boat with the waves surging below them.

All that is missing is earth.  And that is Rana’s element.  You see, that’s why Rana and Anushka became opposing parties and Prabhas 1 and Ramya do as well.  Prabhas 1 and Ramya are both fire people (notice the torches during her introduction scene, both in the present day and in the past).  Rana is strong, slow to move and slow to change, but immensely strong.  Anushka, when they meet, is the opposite.  She flows right over him, hardly noticing him, and Rana rumbles beneath her, focused on those closer to him.

But “Dandaalayyaa” is where it starts to change.  Prabhas 1 masters his last two elements here.  Taking charge of the stone works and earth movements, and the water source.  Anushka begins to change too.  Settling, becoming steadier, surer.  That is why their life being destroyed feels like such a tragedy.  It is not like before in Kuntala, when Anushka was air and could just flow around it all, and Prabhas 1 could just burn through it.  This time, they had roots, they had something that was not meant to change.

And so Anushka doubled down on that.  For 25 years, she was the earth, the immoveable object that Rana kept pressuring and pressuring and it just made her stronger.  Keeping the fire of Prabhas 1 within herself, waiting for it to come back.

Ramya changed too.  Not during “Dandaalayyaa” (notice the little glimpse we have of her is still lit by torchlight).  But at the end of B2/beginning of B1.  She starts out all fire, declaring that she will bring Rana up on charges.  But that won’t work, the brute earth strength of Rana can defeat her fire.  So she tries a different way, for the first time in years, and turns into water, working her way around obstacles.  She escapes through a water way, climbs behind a waterfall, and finally gives herself up entirely to the current (both literally and metaphorically).  And Prabhas 2 survives, a child of the water.

Water is late to show up in the final battle.  The silly palm tree catapults are clearly air, fire is fire, and earth is that massive destruction of Rana’s city.  Water only appears at the end, when father and son come together to enact justice, rain and lightening again.

Image result for prabhas bahubali rain

 

Now, a note on how literary criticism works.  I am not arguing that Rajamouli and everyone else sat down and plotted out everything exactly as I just described it.  I think they probably went “hey, every time Prabhas 1 gets angry, let’s have the torches flare!”  And they probably went “since the waterfall is so important to Prabhas 2, let’s have lots of water around him all the time”.  And “let’s make Tamannah in ‘Dhivara’ hard to grasp, like air.”  And so on and so on.

What analysis tries to do is to say “now, why did the creators want to do this?”  Not their conscious thoughts, because no one sits down and works out every little detail like this.  But what is behind the subconscious, why did it “feel right” for Prabhas 2 to be so watery and Tamannah to be so airy?  Why out of all the peasant villages possible did it seem correct to put Prabhas 1 and Anushka in a stoneworkers village?  Why was Anushka’s face so caked in dirt?

This isn’t the “right” answer, because there is no “right” answer, but it is constructive to try to take apart where the meaning is in these choices and why we can sense it instinctively.  It helps to understand things in the “real” world, to interpret hidden messages we may not realize we are receiving, and others may not consciously be sending.  And it’s fun to consider our favorite “fictional” worlds from a slightly different angle.

20 thoughts on “Bahubali 1 and 2 Theme Post: The Significance of Fire and Water, or Why Prabhas 1 Has Fluffy Hair and Prabhas 2 Has Wet Hair

  1. I’m glad to see you get back to this, as I was suffering from Bahubali withdrawal. 🙂

    Two points:

    1. In this particular film, the director and actors really did sit down and work out every little detail of how they would portray each character and incident.

    2. The basic elements in Hindu thought are five, not four; in addition to earth, fire, water, and air, it also includes the sky. Now these five are not merely “elements” in the western sense, they are called the five divine aspects, and are regularly invoked to witness something are to be sworn on in taking an oath.

    In that Wonders of Bahubali video that I didn’t translate, Rajamouli talks about how they designed Shivudu’s entry into Mahishmati (sorry, I prefer character names, as it’s less confusing). He said that originally, the soldier that recognizes Shivudu as “Bahubali” when he’s rescuing Avanthika from her ambush, goes back to see Bijjaladeva in Mahishmati to say that he has seen Bahubali. Bijjaladeva then scoffs at him, saying, “How can you have seen him? Why, we buried him so deep in the earth –” Intercut of Shivudu crashing through a wall, representing the earth — “we burned his body –” cut to lightning setting bushes on fire as Shivudu rides by, representing fire — and so on, as Bijjaladeva describes all the ways in which they destroyed Amarendra, Shivudu breaks through each element. After earth and fire he is shown diving in the moat of the castle, to represent the water element, he is shown climbing up the wall of the fort suspended on a rope, to represent the wind element, and finally, he is shown jumping down from the wall, i.e., he is “falling down” from the sky. Thus all five divine witnesses have testified to his presence, and it all culminates in the image of Shivudu morphing into that of Amarendra Bahubali. And, kudos to you, Margaret, because that was originally supposed to be the interval point, just as you surmised. But, when they decided to have the statue raising as the interval point, Rajamouli decided to cut out all the dialog between Bijjaladeva and the soldier, and just showed Shivudu going through all the five elements.

    Here’s an interview with Rajamouli recently where he talks about how he and Prabhas worked on the characters:

    The Prabhas portion is from 1:30.

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    • Now I am all distracted by trying to think which character is supposed to be “sky”! Maybe Prabhas 1 post death? I can’t think of anyone else who has a real sky kind of connection. Maybe also young Anushka, with “Hamsa Neeva” and the blue themes to her clothing.

      On Wed, May 31, 2017 at 2:51 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • The thing about the “sky” element is that it is all pervading, always present, thus witnesses everything, and knows everything. I can’t think of any character like that in the film, unless it is Kattappa, because he does act as the “witness” to all the important events, and his narrative is by default taken to be the “true” narrative of what happened for the last 50 years.

        In many puranic stories, a voice from the sky saying something is very important, as it is revealing the truth about whatever is going on at that point in the story. This voice from the sky is called Aakaaasha vaani, which is by definition the truth. I always found it very amusing/ironical that All India Radio’s name in Indian languages is Aakaasha vaani, because it was so often used as propaganda for the government, especially in the Indira Gandhi years.

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        • Like “Pravda” being the state paper in Russia.

          Kattappa could be the sky, his introduction chronologically (if not the first time we see his character in the films) is him leaping down from above to defend Ramya. And he does get the voice overs.

          On Wed, May 31, 2017 at 3:34 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. *Cheers at first Baahubali theme post*

    …My fire/water symbolism setup was different from yours! But I love yours, the way it works in all the characters, including Rana and Tamannah and even Kattappa (I definitely think he fits best for sky/ether! Omniscient narrator, unchanging, always there in the background though he’s usually ignored). And I love how the themes of the movie, of learning and growing and making yourself better, sort of show up as people jump back and forth between elements.

    I saw Prabhas 1 and Prabhas 2 being pretty much fire- and water- associated, respectively. Except I saw them getting both of their natures directly from their mothers, Ramya (yes, she’s pretty aggressively fire, there’s no arguing with that) and Anushka. I read her pretty associated with water, for Hamsa Naava but also just how lush and wet and green Kuntala looks in the scenes of her youth (and as far as dust-covered older Anushka, I read that as her looking parched and dry, showing her robbed she was of water/her power. As soon as she’s rescued, it starts raining, she’s back in her element of water for the first time that we see her. I dunno; I can see her as air, but earth, for some reason, doesn’t quite work for me?). And Ramya and Anushka, fire and water, clash every time, unable to understand each other’s fundamental natures, until the big moments at the end of their storylines, where they switch into each other’s elements: Ramya turns to water to save Prabhas 2, as you point out, and Anushka to fire, to burn Rana.

    (Yes, I have been fascinated by Anushka and Ramya parallels these days! It comes of trying to figure out an AU where they get along much better, I’m afraid. But there are so many more than I realized! Down to Ramya wearing a purple sari in her very first chronologic scene, and Anushka wearing purple in the climax/coronation. Royal connotations, yes, but also both of them having reached a balance in their fiery/watery personalities to do the most good? )

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    • I love your Anushka/Ramya mothers giving their element theory. And I also kind of like the idea of Anushka as parched of water. Only, her unbending endurance and firmness of purpose feels more earth-y to me.

      It’s interesting that Anushka and Prabhas 1, also very much a fire person, get along while Anushka and Ramya do not. Perhaps because Prabhas 1 tamps his fire when he first meets her? Pretends to be humbler than he is. And literally douses his fire when he jumps into the water for her. Multiple times. Which brings us back to Anushka being water at this point. I guess I could see that, but I am holding firm with her changing into earth during Dandaalayyaa.

      On Wed, May 31, 2017 at 7:16 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I don’t know, I think I like it more for Ramya and Anushka switching places, but not for the overall picture, I think your setup works better for that. Oh, but how about the elements representing different kingly virtues, and that’s why the Prabhasi have to be associated with all of them? I.e., water=love (Hamsa Naava, the dam in Kuntala coming down Because of Prabhas 1’s love for Anushka, Prabhas 2 carrying the lingam for love of his mother, and going up the waterfall for love of Tamannah), space=duty (Kattappa as mentioned above, Prabhas 1 appearing in the clouds as a sign of Prabhas 2’s duty to avenge him), earth=endurance/suffering without complaint (Rana, Anushka, Prabhas 1 and Anushka living in the workers’ village in Dandalayya), air=youth/honesty/freedom (Anushka in Kuntala, what Tammanah represents in Dhivara), fire=dharma(? Maybe? I’m leery on this one, because honestly, fire is mostly for big impressive moments really).

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        • Yeah, I don’t know if I like fire-dharma. Because Dharma to me feels less of an emotion and feeling kind of a thing, and more specific. Sword-dharma. But fire would be power.

          On Thu, Jun 1, 2017 at 8:39 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Agni (Fire) symbolizes the guardian/upholder of Dharma.

            Prabhas 2 too starts getting associated with fire in BB1, once when he uses fire (setting the window screens on fire) to escape from Rana’s presence and then when he releases Anushka and they escape.

            Fire getting associated with Prabhas 1 and Prabhas 2 could perhaps suggest leadership and the power to transform.

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  3. Margaret, thanks for this theme based post. Was missing the Bahubali posts.

    Interesting analysis. Tamannah-Prabhas2 as Air-Water makes lot of sense. The wind giving shape to water (wave), here, Tamannah leading Prabhas 2 to his destiny.

    Anushka as Earth is apt post Prabhas1’s death. But before Prabhas1’s death, Anushka would be more like Wind as she is the one that channels Prabhas1’s anger and also his clarity of thoughts ( he is able to see what is wrong with Mahishmathi system).

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    • Love your points! I hadn’t even thought about how wind gives shape and changes both water and fire. Whereas it has no effect on earth, Rana’s element.

      On Wed, May 31, 2017 at 10:04 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. We can say that after death Prabhas 1 transformed from fire into sky (space). Thus he is all pervading in the story and Prabhas 2’s job after rescue of Anushka is avenging Prabhas 1’s death.

    In one of interviews Rajamouli really said that Prabhas 2’s entry into Mahishmati is echoed by all five elements.

    By the way I want to share the below interview where Prabhas is very enthusiastic because the interviewer (really a village girl) was very friendly. They added subtitiles recently.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know if anyone noticed this, but the statue erected is in the exact place where coronation ceremony was held 25 years back for Rana, and is also the exact place where where coronation of prabhs 2 is also done.

    That signifies something right? The statue also falls to the right, not full frontal.

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    • The umbrella at the coronation also fell to the right. The statue falls towards Anushka and the umbrella fell towards Prabhas 1.

      On Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 8:32 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Bahubali Posts Index – dontcallitbollywood

  7. Pingback: Bahubali Theme post: Shakti and Shiva, Male and Female – dontcallitbollywood

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