Bahubali Theme Post: Shivudu! Our “Hero”?

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.

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30 thoughts on “Bahubali Theme Post: Shivudu! Our “Hero”?

  1. I just love how everything circles back and is mirrored between the two films. I had not remembered or thought about how both films start with a mother doing an arduous religious rite, and both sons helping with their super strength — but in very different ways.

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    • It didn’t even occur to me until I was writing this post! The films are so rich, even on post 35 or whatever this is, I am still finding new things.

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  2. I think I’ve said this before, but Shivudu makes the most sense for me if I think of him as his mother’s son, 100%. Because like Devasena, he has the intuition to know who to trust or love with very little information (after all, Devasena commits to Amarendra when on paper, all she knows about him is that he’s a simpleton who’s stronger than he claims, in contrast to him seeing that she’s a princess/talented fighter/committed to protecting her people; and Shivudu doesn’t bother to find out the full story about Mahishmati and the rebels before committing to Avantika’s cause, even after watching her coolly murder random soldiers*) and because they tend to be always right, they both trust their gut above all else, tend to act on instinct alone, and share the same impulsive/quick tempered personality.

    * we know she is justified in her actions. But I’m don’t think Shivudu has any proof that she is! For all he knows, she could just be a random robber or murderer.

    I remember we talked about the two head-chopping scenes paralleling each other, but you know what Shivuhu’s version reminds me of a little more? Devasena’s finger-chopping in the temple. In both those cases there’s none of the waiting/testing to see if which witness is nervous that Amarendra engages in; both mother and son see an injustice and immediately enacting justice.

    So I guess I don’t think a hypothetical Mahendra who’d been raised by Devasena alone would be that different, whether raised in Kuntala or with the river people? Maybe he’d be a bit more aware and disciplined but not by much. But if you mean if he’s been raised by his uncle/the rebel leader, totally agree that would be a disaster. There’s no way he would have put up with the strict rules if the rebel camp, and I see him leaving as soon as possible.

    And love the point about Bhalla and Shivudu being total opposites. But I still feel that we are meant to see Amarendra as the best possible king, the best combo of head and heart, except he was killed too soon, so we make do with Shivudu (down to him looking ridiculously like his dad, beard and all, at the coronation- I saw a screen cap of that scene the other day and was really confused for a few seconds), because while you can teach someone who is all heart to use their head, you can’t do anything with someone who has no heart.

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    • Oh! And both mother and son react to an insult to womanhood, in the abstract! okay, Shivudu’s mother is the one being insulted, but he doesn’t know that yet. He just sees a woman being disrespected, just as anushka sees the women being disrespected in the temple.

      I feel like Anushka, even if she didn’t give Shivudu a big sense of rules in general, would have instilled in him a sense of respect for herself at the very least. And general codes of conduct, like “Kshatriya’s must protect the rest of the community.” It’s not much of a difference, but it is a difference. Shivudu was raised in an entirely lawless society, so far as we can see. All about the needs of the moment, no thought for the future.

      Excellent point about how you can train Shivudu to use his head (Kattappa does just that in the final battle), but you could never train Bhalla to use his heart.

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  3. Happy to read one more post on Baahubali. Thank you Margaret. Points well made.

    One more point of comparison between Shivudu’s father and Shivudu: Shivudu’s father tried to save the woman he loved (and her family) from the Pindaris by breaking the dam, Shivudu actions to save his lover from the Mahishmathi soldiers triggers an avalanche and swallows the soldiers.

    About the point that Shivudu just believes Kattappa and his story. I dont think this is blind belief. We see earlier how Shivudu sneaks into Avanthika’s groups hideout and was listening to their conversations about Rani Devasena and Bhalla. The conversation had also included about Kattappa, how good a man he is, and his loyalty to Mahishmathi throne.

    The other point I wanted to make was on Mahendra Baahubali’s oath. When I saw the movie the first time, I was irked by the “My word is law” part of the oath but the second time some thing else that Mahendra says caught my attention. Mahendra says Mahishmathi people who are honest, law abiding, Dharmic will live with dignity and those who harm the honest people will have their heads chopped off. Mahendra essentially takes the “My word is law” format from Sivagami and combines it with the belief espoused by his parents (Amarendra and Devasena)- the format of instant justice (head/finger cutting).

    And I don’t believe Bhalla would have turned out any differently than from we saw. Bhalla was taught the lessons on Dharma and meaning to events by Sivagami, the exact replica of those that were taught to Amarendra by Sivagami but they still turned out to be different. I guess Bhalla had Bijjaladeva’s heart while Amarendra had his father Vikramadeva’s. As they say in Tamil, it is the Piravi gunam.

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    • Picking up on your last point, it is the fatherless children who turn out stronger. You could say that it is a virtue for them, that they can make their own way without the baggage of the past. Shivudu, arguably, would have ended up in natural conflict with his father. They may look the same, but they have so many points of difference. this way, Shivudu grew up his own man and never tried to be anything else. Amarendra, on the other hand, was able to find his own father in Kattappa, which gave him a connection to another part of society and broadened his horizons.

      But then there is Bhalla, tormented by his father, never receiving guidance from him, only anger and bitterness and jealousy.

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  4. Pingback: Bahubali Posts Index | dontcallitbollywood

  5. “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.”

    He witnessed the atrocities firsthand. Right from his first steps atop the waterfall, he’s seen Mahishmati soldiers attack and kill. He didn’t just fall in love with Avanthika and agree to go do her job for her. He saw the angry Kuntalas in the cave, he saw Mahishmati soldiers chase Avanthika with an intent to kill, he saw the atrocities the public faced within Mahishmati before he heard Kattappa’s story. He had the firsthand input of how dire the situation was before he commits to the battle. Plus, they were ready to kill him and the woman he just rescued so it was a personal decision too at that point.

    AND his tribe and adoptive family had joined the public listening to Kattappa’s story. He had people around him who he trusted and none of them disagreed with the battle plan. He has no reason to second guess the action plan. We must consider that they’re just outside Mahishmati at that point and they’ve just beheaded the prince and rescued their captive. They know they have all the might of Mahishmati military ready to come for them if they don’t go for them first. Going to battle is more about self-preservation and offence is the best defence in that particular moment.

    In India, all classes of society are somewhat militarised and they have always been so. We’re a very mob minded people, aren’t we? Individuality is not our strongest trait. Actually, I’m not even sure we do individualism. Our individualism always needs a strong public backing to even get noticed!! Someone even remotely resembling an authority figure tells us something needs to be done and we do it. We just do. Sometimes even without thinking. Even housewives, farmers and tradesmen can be turned into soldiers should the need arise (our history of nasty riots that continue to this day are a testament to that!) When Shivudu makes the call to arms, it doesn’t look inorganic for Indian society. Shivudu is just acting on the instinct that is a part of his collective unconscious and it may not be something that is unique to him. Shividu isn’t simple. He’s just Indian. Any other guy in his place would do the same. Shivudu being Bahubali’s blood succeeds. Some random dude wouldn’t have.

    “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.”

    Actually, this is a trope we find in all Hollywood disaster movies. Hero meets some random girl, likes her a bit, and then while the world is literally ending he goes out his way to make sure she is OK! I guess at this point, we’re too conditioned by Hollywood to even question why anybody would risk everything for a person they just met instead of worrying about if their own family is still alive.

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    • Good point about Shivudu being surrounded by his allies at the time he went to battle, it wasn’t just him with a bunch of strangers he had decided to trust. Although, even with all the lines he had already crossed, and even with seeing the problems of Mahishmati first hand, I still think if his father had been in that situation, he wouldn’t have rushed to battle. He would have sent in spies to gather information, looked into the laws of Mahishmati to see if his claim was legal, etc. etc. And maybe it would have worked just as well, or maybe not.

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      • Amarendra the trained and polished Prince would probably do a Kuntala Adventure-II. We dont even know what Amarendra sans the polishing would look like! His loooong training montage kinda reinforces that emphatically!

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      • “I still think if his father had been in that situation, he wouldn’t have rushed to battle. He would have sent in spies to gather information, looked into the laws of Mahishmati to see if his claim was legal, etc. etc.”

        At the time of Kuntala adventure, Amarendra was the crown prince and King-Elect of Mahishmathi. And he still rushed into helping the Kuntalans in their fight against the Pindaris (or taking on the forest thieves just after he met with Devasena) without considering the repercussions on Mahishmathi or taking permission/sanction from the Queen Mother which I believe is required.

        Amarendra’s and Shivudu’s situation are not the same, but I got the feel that away from Mahishmathi, Amarendra too had an element of impulsive nature in him.

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        • Good point about Amarendra’s impulsiveness. Although, he was also careful to make sure that no one saw his battle with the bandits, and he didn’t have much choice about fighting the Pindaris since they were attacking the place where he was staying. But I get your point!

          Perhaps if Amarendra had lived/been ruler, he would have slowly moved farther and farther towards the kind of sudden judgements and decisions Shivudu showed.

          On Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 11:29 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. ” It had to be something sudden, so Bhalla wouldn’t have time to prepare. ”

    Bhallala had been counting on Kattappa and his contingent on finishing the intruder and bringing Devasena back. Bhallala never prepares for battle because his special forces are already on the job (or so he thinks). He only prepares for battle when he hears that Kattappa has joined the public in the rebellion. And even then, his plan to get Devasena back, close the drawbridge and heighten security on the wall.

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    • Exactly! I don’t think Bhalla was even thinking of it as “rebellion” at this point. He still wasn’t sure that Amarendra’s son was really back. He just thought Anushka had escaped, and he sent the elite forces after her, along with his son for a little treat.

      Before he could learn that the peasants were gathering, that the forest people had arrived, that the Kuntala rebels had reached the outskirts of the city, it was too late. They were already attacking.

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  7. “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. ”

    This is delicious. Sets up BB3 rather nicely doesn’t it?

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    • If we get a BB3 (which I’m still not sure we will), I could even see Shivudu going so far the other way. Being introduced to laws late in his life, he ends up embracing them too much, gets too enthusiastic on how he enforces them.

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      • I think Rajamouli will have about as much choice about B3 as Nolan had for Bat3 after the stupendous success of Bat2. Like Rajamouli, Nolan had also said the plan all along was always to end with Bat2 but the astounding reception made it a no brainer to make a third one (at least in a business sense if nothing else).
        I expect the same again. Rajamouli of course will need to be convinced there can be another story that can be told just as effectively, but I also recall a comment of his own saying if there ever is a B3 then it will not be a continuation but set in same universe (obviously) or something like that. So I fully expect him to give it serious thought after making his next film for a producer he had already committed to before Bahubali.
        (interesting how Nolan packs in so much in his films forcing audience to keep up while Rajamouli is total opposite, tells simple stories as simply as possible but damn engagingly appealing to base emotions)

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        • I remember way back after B1 came out, Rajamouli was already saying that B2 would be “The Conclusion”, for real, for all these characters. No more cliffhangers. But that he might be interested in doing another unrelated story within the same universe.

          I hope he sticks with that, it seems like the best thing for his creativity would be to let himself start fresh somehow and experiment a little. And this world is so rich with stories.

          The comparison that sprung to mind for me is the Star Wars films. Lucas stagnated when he worked on filling in parts of the story he had already done. But once new creators came in and started branching out with new characters in new directions, it got a lot more life into it.

          Also, like Star Wars, I believe Rajamouli owns all the creative rights directly (or his father does, which amounts to the same thing). So he can be pressured all he wants, but unless he actually says “yes”, nothing is going to happen with these characters.

          On Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 12:17 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Not much idea about Star Wars, but as for creative rights I’d think it will belong to the production house, Arka Mediaworks in this case.

            Also about the somewhat unexpectedly resounding and record breaking box office numbers B2 is racking up in Hindi/Bollywood alone despite being a dubbed version (INR 5000m+ when no film had even crossed 4000m ever before and both B1 and B2 were made at a combined cost of ~4500m ), Rajamouli said that as a storyteller he will always like it best when his work has the chance to be seen by as big an audience as is reachable directly, meaning there’s every chance he’ll try his hand at a Hindi original soon. And frankly that may be the only time Bahubali’s own box office records may ever be threatened in the near future.

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          • I like it when artists are open about wanting their work to be appreciated. Because, why wouldn’t you? Isn’t the point of art to get your message out there in the world?

            If I were Rajamouli, I would take the Hindi deals while they are offered. But I would hold out as much as I could for freedom to make whatever story I wanted. And as a viewer, I would want that too.

            We never would have seen the path between Eega and Bahubali, and yet both of them are brilliant original stories. I love Bahubali, but I have faith that whatever he comes up with next will be just as good.

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  8. Yes, both movies are mirror images and beautifully circle together in similarities and differences. I am also wondering at your mention of both sons helping adoptive mothers in rituals, falling in love with warrior women and both of them delivering instant justice by chopping the evil heads. But while Amarendra failed Shivudu succeeded because of the support around him.

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    • Yes! Amarendra failed when he lost love, both because it meant his support from Sivagami went away, and because it made him doubt himself. Whereas Shivudu never doubted himself and no one around him ever doubted him.

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  9. “He is surrounded by the leader of the rebels who experienced first hand the problems of unfair rule;”

    Who is this guy? Devasena’s brother is dead. And Kattappa sucks at being an adviser.

    “a royal princess who witnessed all the events that lead to this terrible situation;”

    She has no experience ruling. She hates Mahishmati laws and its constitution already. Given her character curve, she would probably burn the book before the coronation ceremony is over. And there’s nothing like an ideal constitution. If she doesn’t change the laws, nothing changes. If she changes the law, new laws need to be made. That’s how all problems begin, not end!

    “and two forest chieftains who can provide an alternative view on how to lead.”

    As king, Mahendra is going to be dealing with aristocrats, ministers, engineers, advisers, scholars, academics, foreign dignitaries. His immediate concerns are going to be the framing of a new Mahishmati constitution, repairing the economy (clearly the public had been robbed of all their gold savings and the kingdom didn’t have enough money to buy gold from elsewhere. Mahendra just ordered a huge chunk of the public’s gold to be thrown in the river! Like, use that gold to trade for goodies for the public dude or just redistribute/return the wealth!), restructuring the army (ridding them of the Bhallala loyalists, people likely to lead a coup, those that enjoyed being cruel under Bhallala), reviving Kuntala kingdom and establishing good foreign relations. His forest chieftain parents can only help him so far.

    “And these same people just happen to be the woman he loves, his recently discovered mother, and his adoptive parents.”

    The woman he loves wanted out of the life of harshness. She’d be great at enjoying her new found status and being able to be a woman and all that but is she up to the challenges of Queening/palace intrigues? Can she overcome the siege mentality that has been a part of her existence?

    Mahendra cannot be Shivudu anymore. He has inherited a 350-year old civilisation. It is highly industrialised, it is highly militarised, it has a very clearly defined class structure. His father required 25 years of training in law, engineering, other academics and military training to be even considered fit for the job. Mahendra is a hack. He can play it by ear only so far. He went from man-child to king in a matter of weeks. How long before he feels totally suffocated/overwhelmed?
    Kattappa is ageing. Nobody else in his posse knows the first thing about ruling or Mahishmati. They’re all outsiders. And Bajjala is still alive! Mahendra only has populism and his good intentions on his side.

    i love how they ended the story on such an imperfect note!

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    • I never thought about the waste of gold in throwing the head down the river! I was so focused on how GOLD DOESN’T FLOAT. Oh! Maybe we are underestimating Shivudu? Maybe he noticed that the head floated, realized that it wasn’t real gold unlike the rest of the statue because they must have run out of materials, and therefore he could make a big impressive gesture with it without wasting government resources.

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  10. “He may declare that his word is law, but that doesn’t mean his word will come from himself alone.”

    In the film universe, there are three instances of promises being given (with the hands). First is from Sivagami to Bhallala , second is Amarendra to Devasena and third is from baby Mahendra to Devasena (he couldn’t have really meant it though, could he?)

    Sivagami and Mahendra are the only two rulers that use the “My word is law” oaths.

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    • I hadn’t thought about that outstretched hand in that way, as though Shivudu was giving a handslap promise to the whole country. That’s cool!

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