Another Bahubali post! A short one, more of a beginning of a discussion if you want to keep talking in the comments, than the definitive comprehensive take on things. (to see all the Bahubali posts, check the Index here)
Shivudu is perhaps the least complicated character in the films. And his simplicity is his strength. And, in a different situation, might also be his weakness.
The start of the films is Shivudu being rescued from death by the forest people. This is the happy ending, the hope. Not his survival, but his survival in this situation. To be raised in the forest, in a happy free land with no responsibilities, no big questions of “Dharma” and “law”.
If Shivudu had been raised in Kuntala (following the theory that Sivagami was trying to get to Kuntala and continued on underneath the waterfall when she saw it was already destroyed), then I don’t think he would have succeeded in defeating Bhalla. I don’t think he would have succeeded in setting Mahishmati back on the right path.
Even in a small happy kingdom like Kuntala, the royals still learned about duty and tradition and big questions like that. These are the questions that made Shivudu’s father into a better man, but prevented him from defending himself. Shivudu learned none of that. He wanted something, so he took it.
Let’s go back to his introduction as an adult in B1. It is the same as his father’s introduction in B2. Their mother (coincidentally a mother by adoption in both cases) is carrying out a physically demanding religious ceremony. Shivudu’s father assists his mother by working within tradition, helping her to complete the ceremony as safely and easily as possible. But he doesn’t try to stop her, or object to the basic premise of the ceremony.
Shivudu’s mother is not the same, and his situation is not the same. And therefore he is brought to a different conclusion. Sivagami had raised Shivudu’s father to respect her above all else. She was right to do so, her power and wisdom were correct, and she was regent as well as his mother. And the ceremony Sivagami was carrying out was an ancient tradition (meaning besides everything else, it had been done before many times and was clearly physically possible). Because of this, Shivudu’s father did not try to stop the ceremony, respected his mother’s decision, and merely tried to help her complete her task.
(Ramya’s proud smile)
But Shivudu was raised differently. He loved his parents, but he did not obey them unquestioningly. By extension we can assume that the forest tribe was run on a generally more egalitarian structure. In certain moments the authority of their chieftain and chieftess are unquestioned, when Shivudu is in danger as a baby, quick orders are needed and are immediately obeyed. But on a day to day basis, his parents seem to be living as equals with the rest, and Shivudu himself, even though he is both the child of the chieftain and obviously something special in strength and ability, is treated just like anyone else.
(Versus Rohini’s frustrated beating on his shoulders which he ignores)
This attitude means that when Shivudu sees his mother carrying out an exhausting dangerous religious ceremony, he immediately questions her and tries to stop her. Because he loves her and doesn’t believe that she has to do something painful just because it is “right”. He quickly runs through the options, literally runs, asking his father to stop her as representing civil authority, asking the priest as spiritual authority. And then finally taking charge himself by breaking the established patterns altogether in order to find a solution.
If Shivudu’s father had done the same, his introduction would not have been clearing the path in front of Sivagami, it would have been moving the demon icon closer so she could more easily reach it. Or causing a continuous downpour to cool off the coals on her head. Or carrying his mother so that her feet could be saved.
Both men are similar in that they respect their mother’s decisions. Both could easily physically over power their mother, but this solution never occurs to them, because it would be against their moral code to use their physical strength to force someone against their will. But they differ greatly in the point at which they bow to the laws of society, rather than continuing to find another way.
Shivudu is all about the shortest line between two points. His mother wants the Shivum Lingaa washed, he will find a way for it to be washed continuously. The woman he loves is at the top of the waterfall, he will climb the waterfall. And, eventually, his kingdom is under unjust rule, he will immediately attack and put it under his own rule.
(still love this song. But if you put evil “doom doom doom” music behind it, it could just as easily be a villain coming to destroy everything)
He is also about using all tools available to him. Raised in an egalitarian society, he has no problem taking the advice of Katappa (a slave) during battle. Or help from peasants to fight in his battle.
His father was on the way to the same kind of life. Even as a child, he had resented the class limitations, insisting on befriending Kattappa. But it wasn’t until he was a man that he started to expand his awareness to all people of society, how the world was bigger than the palace and the laws he had been taught didn’t cover everything.
But Shivudu was raised knowing that. Laws were suggestions, love was all. And this is where he could have turned into the villain instead of the hero.
Shivudu’s father was always going to be a hero. He had the perfect balance of head and heart. The head kept him under control, the heart guided him in the right direction. But Shivudu was all heart.
Shivudu fell in love with a woman at first sight. He leaped in and made her enemies his enemies and her crusade his crusade. There was no moment to try to learn more about the situation, or consider the greater morality of life and death. He heard a story from Kattappa, and immediately believed it and was ready to go to battle, no consideration that there might be a better solution.
Shivudu’s actions were not just correct in this situation, but the only possible way of breaking through to a “happy ending” for this country. It had to be something sudden, so Bhalla wouldn’t have time to prepare. To grab hold of the momentum of rebellion that had started with his first appearance.
Bhalla and Shivu are the true opposites to each other. Bhalla is all head, no heart. Calculated, patient. Shivu is all heart, no patience, to want is to act. But neither of them is innately greater than the other. If Shivu had been raised with less love, that same lack of impulse and respect for laws could have made him into a powerful villain. If Bhalla had been given a better sense of the underlying Dharma and meaning to events, he could have been a great ruler, a just ruler.
Our “happy ending” is Shivu taking control. But he is taking control with love to guide him. Love, and experience. He is surrounded by the leader of the rebels who experienced first hand the problems of unfair rule; a royal princess who witnessed all the events that lead to this terrible situation; and two forest chieftains who can provide an alternative view on how to lead. And these same people just happen to be the woman he loves, his recently discovered mother, and his adoptive parents. Shivu on his own could have been good or bad. But he has a safety net around him. He may declare that his word is law, but that doesn’t mean his word will come from himself alone.