Time to talk about gender! I love how Bahubali 1 and 2 deal with gender. I do not like how Bahubali 1, in isolation, deals with it. But that’s just because it was only half the story. The two films have to be viewed together for the concepts of the male and female and how they are handling them to become fully clear. (my last theme post is here, and my full Bahubali list of posts is here)
I am not an expert on Hinduism, really I barely know anything about it. But I know that Shakti and Shiva are the male and female forces at the most basic level, not like Ram and Sita or Krishna and Radha who have their own stories and enemies and so on. But an essential unknowable force of male and female.
The female is the creator, the inspirer of change, while the male is the one who destroys, who acts. It is the females part to cause change, but not to actually make it happen. It is the male part to act, to do the change, but not to have the initial idea for it, to need that spark to start their fire.
That is what we see in these films. The men have talent and powers, but they have no purpose for them. The women do not have as much strength and power as the men, but they have the ability to inspire these men, to guide them and change them and control them. The women needs that power, but the men needs that inspiration, before anything can happen.
The one exception to this is the very opening of both films, the one time that a woman acts in service of a man, not the other way around. Ramya uses her strength to defend and save baby Prabhas 2. Inspired to great actions by his promise and presence.
It sets up a false premise, makes it appear that Ramya’s how story is that of a “Ranimaa”, a woman who only leads because of her connection to a man. We take that same vision of her doing everything to serve the dream of Prabhas 2, and put it on our flashback vision of her ruling on behalf of Prabhas 1, making it seem as though her sons are what inspires her rule.
But, seeing the full story over two films, it becomes clear that she is what inspires her sons. She is not ruling to serve Prabhas 1 and Rana, they are preparing to rule to serve her. Ramya is the spirit and dream and essence of Mahishmati.
That moment at the very beginning, Ramya is not serving a man, she is serving another woman. It’s there in the dialogue, she says that Prabhas 2 must live for his mother who waits for him. Ramya is taking the place of her son, in atonement for killing him, doing what he should have done for his own wife, Anushka, the new female power who inspires and directs.
If you remove that initial moment of confusion, clarify that Ramya is serving Anushka at that point, then a woman is in control for the entire two film story. Taking it chronologically, Ramya inspires the nobles and the entire kingdom of Mahishmati, serving to guide and create it in the way she desires. Her sons grow in her image, her “good” son Prabhas 1 is fully dedicated to her service. Ramya’s desires are his sole guide, all his power is focused on serving her.
This is the significance of Prabhas 1 refusing to kill the leader of the Kalakeya. It is not about non-violence or peaceful resolutions or anything else, it is about blind obedience to Ramya. As a man, it is his duty to obey the guidance of a woman. You need the balance of the two for a healthy kingdom and a strong rule.
Rana, on the other hand, never fully embraces his need for female guidance, resists it. As his father resisted it before him. Rana pretends obedience to his mother, but in fact resents her rule and does not fully bow to it. It makes his power unbalanced, twisted, rotten at the core. A man needs to acknowledge his weakness, his lack of power in the face of a woman, before he can fully understand his own strength and its limitations.
When Prabhas 1 meets Anushka, it is not merely falling in love with her, it is a sudden vision of the new female essence that can draw out in him new inspirations and powers, can force him to grow into a stronger better person. And Anushka recognizes in him the male power that can fully contain her strength, can handle the challenges she sets him.
That is what we see over the rest of the sequences after their courtship. Anushka, the new stronger power of creation and inspiration challenges and defeats the last one, Ramya. Prabhas 1, with Anushka to draw him on, raises to greater and greater heights of magnificence. Rana, with another female power that he sees as a threat, tries to ignore and minimize Anushka. Ramya struggles to find her new place. If she is no longer the inspiration for Prabhas 1, what is she? What power does she have without him following her? She is forced to fall back on Rana, on Kattappa, even on Nassar.
Until, in the end, Ramya finds her new place, not to struggle to find a new follower and keep her power, but to fall in line as yet another follower to Anushka. And that is what brings her to save Prabhas 2, to act directly for the first time in years, to serve rather than to lead. But to serve a woman, not a man.
The forest people, in what little we see of them, have this same structure. When Prabhas 1 is first spotted in the river, Rohini orders her husband, who then orders one of their followers, to go save the baby. In the few moments we see of this group in the rest of the film, the same pattern remains. Rohini’s husband technically holds the power, is the chieftain. But he obeys the orders of Rohini, trusts her judgement to guide his. Rohini herself does not have power, does not “do” anything. But does not need to, because her place is to guide those who do have power.
This is what Prabhas 2 grows up with. And so, when he finds that woman who he senses can guide his own powers, he follows her without question, abandoning his mother, his first guide, without a second thought, as he looks for this new one.
Tamannah is the one who was raised in a twisted system. Without Anushka to guide them, the people of Kuntala are lost. Anushka’s brother attempts to create a society of fighters, but he lacks inspiration, strength, a true goal. Instead of finding something to inspire them above all else, he simply cuts out everything from their lives but that one pure goal. Tamannah is trained that a man is there to control and lead, and she must beat down all her natural urges of creation and freedom and beauty. She is trying to live as a man, not as a creative force but as a destructive one.
And so, when Prabhas 2 approaches her, she does not see him as a potential servant, but rather as a potential master. This is where their misunderstandings come from. Prabhas 2 marks her, not as his own, but so that he will be hers. She is the tail, the one that creates beauty and individuality, on his body which is there to serve. Prabhas 2 follows her and fights her, not to control her, but so that she can see her control over him. That moment when her sword pierces his chest and he smiles, it is not because he is so much more powerful than her that he does not fear her, it is because he would be happy to die for her, if it is a way of serving her.
When Tamannah gives in, it is because she learns how Prabhas 2 has already served her. That he climbed the waterfall, for her. Not to meet her or to win her, but as a way of serving her. She has found a strong servant, a man who can fulfill all her desires and needs, and one who delights in serving.
That is what the “Dhivara” song is about. It is not about Prabhas 2 being in love with Tamannah. It is about his discovery of her unlocking something within himself, unleashing a power within him that had been hidden until the right key unlocked it. Just as Anushka did for Prabhas 1, turning him from an obedient son and prince, to a free-thinker who questions social norms.
For Prabhas 1, he went from serving his mother to serving the woman he loved. Because the woman he loved was superior to his mother, a more sure guide. But for Prabhas 2, it is the reverse. The woman he loves is less strong and sure than his mother. And so, he goes from following his adoptive mother (well, not really. He disobeys her orders not to climb the waterfall), to following Tamannah, to following Anushka.
But there is no conflict in this switching of allegiance, because unlike Ramya, Tamannah is able to see the superiority of her “rival” and take a step back, to let Prabhas 2’s allegiance stay with the other woman, and allow her allegiance to follow his. Prabhas 2’s wife is his wife, and his mother (Rohini) is his mother. But the guiding force of his life, the Shakti to his Shiva, is Anushka.