Rise of Sivagami Plot and Why I Didn’t Like It (SPOILERS)

So, I just FINALLY finished the Rise of Sivagami novel.  And I really really didn’t like it.  Which isn’t to say you won’t, or that you shouldn’t.  It just wasn’t for me.  I’ll give you a really brief run down in generalities for why it didn’t work for me, and if you think it won’t work for you either for the same reasons, then you can read the rest of the post and learn all the plot details and stuff without needing to read the book. But if you think you might like it, you should totally read it for yourself!  And if you already read it and really liked it, fair warning, this is a very mean review (full index of Bahubali posts here)

What I loved about Bahubali the movie is how simple it was.  There were very few characters, even actors with speaking parts and names can be limited down to less than a dozen.  For two full separate movies, that is really not a lot.  And the world we were in was more sketched in than clear.  A kingdom, a royal family, a code of laws we never learned the details of, even geography that was just general instead of specific.

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(Compare it with, say, the number of named and speaking roles in Lagaan, and all the details we learned about the village and the Raja and everything else.  Makes you realize how simple Bahubali really was)

Everything was stripped away so we could focus on what mattered, our few main characters who had enormous depth and complexity.  And our central situations, which had similar depth and complexity.  Not complexity like “so, so-and-so overheard this, and there is a missing key, and a misunderstanding about this other thing”, but complexity like “there are two wrong options, which is the better one to choose?”  Things you can really dig into and discuss for ages and ages, and come out of it not just having learned more about this fictional world, but having learned more about yourself and what your actions should be in this real world.

The novel, on the other hand, gives you aaaaaaaallllllllllllllllllllll the details.  And brings this world down to the human level.  Instead of talking about moral complexity, it had a whole bunch of explicit sex scenes.  And death scenes.  Instead of a handful of characters who are all clear and memorable, there are dozens of them and I couldn’t remember who was who.  And instead of keeping motivations simple and basic, on the level of “I love my mother but I think she is wrong”, the motivations are complicated and constantly shifting and never really seem connected one to the other.

Finally, there is so much backstory!  Which, for me, weakens things.  I don’t want this kind of backstory.  I like getting the characters as we got them in the film, we see what they are today and can sketch in what might have made them that way.  But what matters is today, now.  Whereas in the novels, rather than giving us a clear sense of who they are today, now, it gives us way too many details of how they got here.  And the same for the setting.  Instead of simply giving us “Forest”, “City”, “rural Kingdom”, it gives us a million little details about each place.

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(Here’s another movie with only a handful of characters and a sketched in setting.  Because that’s not the point, the three people in that picture there, that’s the point of the film)

None of this is necessarily bad.  I just don’t like it.  And I think the reason I don’t like it is because I’m not watching the film for an elaborate backstory.  I am watching it because i want to talk about Big Questions.  And if you get bogged down in details, you can tend to lose track of the Big Questions.

But if you want to read a novel that expands the world, fills in all the gaps left open, and gives you an incredibly detailed backstory for each character.  Plus gives us all the explicit sex and violence that wasn’t included in the family friendly film.  And is an easy read, not terribly well-written (the English vocabulary is not varied, or consistent in terms of formality, which is a bit odd to my eyes), but with that “cliffhanger! Change scenes!” structure which keeps you turning pages.  Then you should read the novel.

Oh, one final note on the canon-not canon debate.  I think it’s still open.  The introduction explains that, basically, it was a quicky job.  The author met with Rajamouli and talked about the characters in general.  Then went off and started scribbling out chapters and sending them to Rajamouli for comments.  Of which there were none.  So, this is not K.V. Prasad sitting down and handing over a detailed outline for what he thinks each character should be.  Or Rajamouli paying close attention because he will be using it for background for his next in universe film.  This is the author getting some general indications of character options, and then running with it, and Rajamouli saying “yeah, okay, that’s fine.”  It’s also not Rajamouli saying “no, this is terrible!”  He is okay with the novel, so I think in terms of conan, if you like it you can take it as background.  But I think if you don’t like it, you can also ignore it (as I will be) and make up your own canon.

Okay, FINALLY, SPOILERS

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

I’m not going to bother with all the many many many characters who only have like one scene, or who die within this book without really changing anything.  The thing with the “cliffhanger! scene change!” structure is that it can hide the fact that nothing actually happens.  You feel like stuff is happening because of all the cliffhangers, but then most of the time the cliffhangers are resolved many pages later after you have changed scenes 5 times, and nothing actually changes because of them.  But you don’t remember that because so much else happened in between.  Oh, and so I also won’t be dealing with all the cliffhangers and events that end up not mattering.  I’m going to keep this pretty straight and tied to the characters we actually care about because they were in the films.

 

 

Bijjalla: Established as strong and a great fighter, but stupid and selfish and a slave to his own desires.  He is easily tricked by a pimp into sneaking out of the palace, getting drunk, and stumbling around chasing a prostitute.  And the promise of sex basically makes him willing to do anything.  And any perceived insult to his masculinity makes him easy to control.  Oh, and he has two fully functional arms and is still the heir apparent at the end of the book.  Essentially, he is the villain in any 80s jocks versus nerds movie.

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(Think Biff from Back to the Future)

Prabhas 0/Vijayandra: The younger brother and not the presumed heir.  Weak, bad at fighting, a coward physically.  Dreamy, unable to speak up for himself.  Falls in love with Sivagami at first sight because she is so pretty and water pools between her breasts (I tell you, if you ever wanted to read 400 pages of unimaginative descriptions of breasts, this is your book!).  At the end of the book, has faced his physical fears by surviving a fight and his father is beginning to respect him.    He is the cowardly nerd/author standin from every 80s movie/bad sci-fi book/bad fanfic.

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(George McFly from Back to the Future.  But a more blatant standin for our presumably shy and sensitive author writing this book who wishes he had a chance for people to see his inner strength and goodness and have sex with Sivagami)

Kattappa: You know how you watched Bahubali and thought “boy, it was interesting to consider the price of loyalty and slavery, but what I really wanted was more information on Kattappa’s erections!”  Oh wait, you didn’t?  Too bad!  This book gives you all kinds of Kattappa-erections information.  He is a young physically perfect slave, but “ugly” and “dark”.  Bit of a problem for me there, I don’t remember him looking noticeably darker than anyone else in the films.  So the constant emphasis on his dark skin in the novel feels like it is racializing slavery in a way that was not required.  Why couldn’t he be noticeably lighter than his masters?  If we are making everything up anyway.  Oh, and he is struggling to fulfill his father’s lessons of absolute loyalty, while his younger brother rebels and joins a group of forest fighters.  And he learns that his family betrayed the forest people generations ago which is why they are now slaves.  Oh, and slavery is like “a thing” here, Kattappa is just one of many slaves.  Which is kind of confusing, to mix this ancestral vow with “oh yeah, slave markets and all that”.  But mostly it is about Kattappa trying to resist all his bodily desires of all kinds in order to achieve perfect service.  Which I am okay with.

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(He really isn’t that dark, is he?)

Rest of the royal family: Prabhas -1 is barely on the scene, doesn’t spend much time with his kids.  Does have a harem and enjoys dancing girls.  His queen is supposed to be from an ancient better family than his, very strong willed and looks down on her husband.  And then there is this whole invented system of noble lords and the chief advisor who has a special name and on and on.  But again, ends up not really mattering that much.

Sivagami: Finally!  A character who matters!  And whose backstory kind of matches my conception of her from what we saw in the films.  But only kind of.  Mostly because it is so so so so so complicated!  Her father was executed as a traitor when she was a small child.  She was raised by a family friend.  For the last few months before she comes of age, her adoptive father gives her to the royal orphanage to live.  The orphanage is a Dickensian nightmare, but she bonds with the other fully grown girl there and starts to maneuver her way towards the royal family so she can get her vengeance. Oh, and along the way, one of the princes falls in love with her and she maybe with him.  In the end, nothing she planned ends up mattering, she randomly stumbles into a fight scene and instinctively saves the king, which leads to her receiving back her father’s lands and status as a reward.

 

Mahishmati the Kingdom: 300 years ago, the royal family arrived and tricked Kattappa’s ancestors into revealing the secret of a magical stone from a holy mountain which can be used to make unbreakable weapons.  They used this secret to defeat the forest people and steal their land, and Kattappa’s family promised to always serve them.  There also seem to be older aristocrats who are not forest people, that’s who Prabhas 0’s mother comes from, while the royal family are kind of upstarts.

The big “secret” of the kingdom is that they still need that precious stone in order to make their weapons.  And to do it, they send small children into mines in the sacred mountain and then (presumably although it is not spelled out) kill the small children when they get too old before they can share the secret.  Oh, and there are slave traders who raid villages on the outskirts, kill the men, collect the woman to be sold as sex slaves, and the small boys to be sold into the mines.  The whole kingdom is built on theft, slavery, and violence.  There are various rebel forces trying to tear it down, but obviously none of them will succeed because we saw the movies, and the kingdom’s still there!

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(very much still there)

The heavy implication is that Sivagami’s dead father was going to reveal the secret of the children-mines-thing and that’s why he was branded a traitor and killed.  Oh, and there’s some super heavy handed discussion of how all the “bards” of the kingdom were told to give false stories to hide the truth of the evil that happens and so on, ooooo, all of history is written by the victors!

Without reading (or them having been written yet) the next two books in the trilogy, I can tell you what will happen.  Sivagami will fall in love with the older prince and there will be a sex scene.  Then he will have to marry one of the two briefly introduced in this book wealthy young women in order to secure the family, and Sivagami will have to marry the older prince as part of her plot/a deal.  There will be two more sex scenes.   None of the rebellions will succeed, but we will keep hearing about all the plans in excruciating detail.  Instead, we will have a series of qualified successes: the older prince will lose the power of his arm in a fight; the younger prince will be declared heir; Sivagami and the younger prince will declare an end to the whole mining slavery thing.  The kingdom will become more or less okay, and a lot less rapey, just in time for the opening of the movies.  Oh, and the final scene will be the death of the younger prince and Sivagami’s reaction.  Many many women will have breasts, and have sex.  No male genitally will ever be described in detail, and no women (except maybe Sivagami) will ever have their sexual desires accurately described.

 

So, here’s what I found good about the books.  The main feel of most characters, and the main themes of the film, I think are still there.  Sivagami is always a character torn between what she sees as a higher duty and her emotions.  That is still here.  Kattappa struggles with his humanity versus his duty.  That is here.  Bijjalla is selfish and unable to consider higher goals.  That is here.  Mahishmati the kingdom is a patchwork of influences that is held together by the central power of the royal family.  That is here.

 

But what I didn’t like was the need to layer more and more and more on top of it.  Especially in terms of character backstories.  It kind of reminds me of a long running TV show.  In the first season, everything is new and fresh and important.  But by season 6, we are seeing the same things rehashed over and over again, and every character combination has so much stuff in the background, that nothing really feels special any more.  My personal canon for these characters isn’t that far off from the book.  But with fewer complications.

For me, Sivagami is a from an upperclass family, we can see that with her ease in formal situations.  She had to marry Bijjalla as part of some compromise clearly (because why else would she?), but I prefer to think of it as something normal like a trade agreement, or simply that her father thought an alliance with the royal family would be an advantage.  To me, in the films, she feels like someone who only truly came into her own in that initial throne room scene.  Like until then she was the strong noble daughter-in-law of the family, but no more than that, just a wife.  I don’t like this idea that she had a whole identity before the throne room scene in the minds of the people there, outside of just being the daughter-in-law.

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(This, on the left, feels like her finally coming into her own power, not like a continuation of power)

Kattappa is a slave.  But I don’t think he had any moral dilemmas before the films started.  He seemed contented in his servitude until he started having to go against Bahubali, who he loved.  More than that, I don’t like the implication that his slavery was a choice.  To me, his character is someone who was never even taught how to choose for himself.  To show that his brother, with the same upbringing, was able to make that choose diminishes the tragedy of slavery.  More dangerously it implies that it is a slaves “fault” if they live like that.  Maybe I am just extra sensitive to slavery issues since I am American and it is such a part of our everyday lives, but that really bothered me.  Oh, and also, if Kattappa went through this whole moral turmoil as a young man, really weird it never comes up when he is an adult going through a similar situation!  But the general idea of Kattappa clinging to his need to obey and be unquestioning even as a young man, that rings true to me.

Bijjala: Here is where I start to have serious issues.  To me, Bijjala felt like a character who spent his life blaming outside circumstances for everything bad.  And a character whose self-pity lead to a strange kind of intelligence, being able to find the similarly hidden and self-pitying parts in other people.  Him as this big dumb jock just does not work for me.  I see him so clearly as having been born with his infirmity, spending his whole life swinging between self-pity and trying to prove he was just as good as everyone else, and always learning how to use other people to get what he wanted, that the idea of him being at some point in control just makes no sense to me.

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(Just does not look to me like anyone who was ever strong)

Prabhas 0/Vijayandra/whoever: I have less issues with him.  I think we always knew he must have been gentler and kinder than his brother, to explain Bijjala’s disdain.  I don’t like making him into this total nerdy weakling, that feels a little unbelievable.  But maybe (no, scratch that, almost certainly) the future books will build him up a little more.

Mahishmati: I don’t really need a backstory for this.  It’s a kingdom, kingdoms are kingdoms.  There is a forest outside the bounds, most places have that.  And there are other smaller kingdoms within it.  In my mind, it’s a kingdom with a noble class, and a merchant class, and soldiers, and peasants/workers.  And that’s kind of it, I don’t need any more than that.  Putting more of a backstory on it, any backstory at all, feels sort of purposeless to me.  The point of the story is what we do in our kingdom, how best to serve it, not where it came from.

 

Okay, you ready for my real big issues?  And these aren’t really related to movie versus book, this is just what bothered me about the content of the book alone.

 

There is some art that wants to show us how characters grow, how they become better people, how there are moments of nobility possible even from the most low.  And so they have to establish how low and dark the place is in order to show the nobility of the characters in contrast to it.  The point is the nobility, not the darkness.

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(Pyaasa!  Light in the darkness)

Relatedly, there is a use of explicitly bodily everything in order to show us how the soul can overcome the body.  Sexy, defecation, gross eating habits, messy injuries, gaping wounds, it is all there to make the moments of overcoming it the more beautiful.  To make us, the consumer, think “well, I have never been brought so low or so disgusting in my life, if they were able to overcome it, then I should be able to rise above my much more reasonable situation.”

This kind of art is very very very very very difficult to achieve.  To make sure that the reader is remembering and cherishing the moments of grace, not the moments of falling from grace.

What less graceful (in the ancient sense of being full of grace) authors see is “oh, they wrote this and people read it because people are base and disgusting and cannot overcome their human urges.  We should encourage people to fall lower and lower and forgive themselves for doing so”.  That is what this book feels like to me.  It luxuriates in rape, in brutality, in the ugliness of humanity.  And tries to tell us that this is “truth”, that this is what people are like on the inside, that we should forgive all our desires and failures because it is just “human” to be like this.

I don’t want to pick out this book in particular.  It’s clearly a Game of Thrones ripoff, trying to combine two popular tastes among the English speakers of India, Game of Thrones and Bahubali.  It is one of many many many Game of Thrones ripoffs and pretty much none of them got that whole “moments of grace” concept.  Heck, the Game of Thrones TV show arguably missed that point too!  It’s easy to see the sex and elaborate world building and twists in the plot and everything else, and miss the simple message at the center of it.

It just bothers me that on top of the simple story of Bahubali the films, which was carefully without any of that disgusting earthly issues so that we could only see the higher messages, we have now gotten these books that just slam it into the dirt of every other Game of Thrones ripoff novel.

 

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15 thoughts on “Rise of Sivagami Plot and Why I Didn’t Like It (SPOILERS)

  1. OK, I read this till the beginning of the spoilers section. I’m about 90% sure (and always was) that I’m not interested in reading this book. But, since there’s still that 10% chance, I didn’t want spoilers at this stage, as they might be all the book has going for it.
    But the question I have for you is, why do you feel that the Bahubali universe in the films was “sketched in” only? In many interviews of Rajamouli starting with Part 1, he has talked at length about how much work the team put in to develop all the details of this universe, to make it consistent, but also to make it make sense for the characters and their motivations. Yes, most of it is not in the films (as Rajamouli acknowledges), but they needed to do all that work to decide even mundane things like the differences in the characters’ costumes, whether they were in Mahishmati or the forest, or part of the Kalakeyas. Rajamouli specifically mentioned in several interviews (most of these were in Telugu, and I don’t know if he ever repeated this information in his English interviews) how they worked out in detail both the history and the geography of the kingdoms (since this was so crucial to the plot), including such things as what kind of crops were planted in Mahishmati versu Kuntala, and the rebel band’s lands, what their trade relations were with their neighbors, etc. So why did you feel all this was “sketchy” — because we didn’t get an info dump at the opening of Bahubali 1 (though the “jeeva nadi” song pretty much does go over the geography and history)? And, as a corollary, do you think the book was just that kind of info dump? That is, was the author given all of the notes from each department, for him to put together in words what was depicted or hinted at via images on screen? That could be why you feel you got “all the details” in the book that you didn’t want. I also wonder if you didn’t want all those details because it curtails your options for fan fiction?
    You say the book has all the sex and violence that wasn’t in the films, because the films were for a family audience. You know that outside of India, the film was rated for “mature” audiences in pretty much every country? In any case, while I agree there wasn’t any explicit sex in the films (flowers did the trick 🙂 ), I’m baffled at what more violence can be included in the book in addition to what was already shown? Did you mean that it had more incidents of violence, not that the amount of violence was more, or more graphic?
    When the book was first announced, I was quite eager to read it. But, from the few spoiler type of information given in the comments here (in several of the Bahubali posts), I lost interest . So I still don’t know if I will ever bother with this book, as a good part of the reason for my original interest was due to my thinking that it would be heavily based on the film team’s background notes and development. If it’s the author using his imagination, I’m not interested, just as I’m not interested in reading the fan fiction posted here and elsewhere.
    In any case, thank you for the review, which, like the films, does not give any unambiguous answers. 🙂

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    • Kind of hard to respond to this, since you don’t want spoilers. I’ll start with the “sketched in” idea. That wasn’t a criticism, in any way. It felt like the filmmakers made the decision not to give us a ton of information, because it would make the film more about memorizing little trivia about this world, instead of about the story they were telling. The books do not make that decision.

      In the prologue, they are very clear about the level of involvement of Rajamouli in the book. There was one meeting, and then the author was on his own. I am almost positive that he had no notes from the filmmakers. Partly because what he describes seems to contradict sort of the mood of some parts of the film. Just for a small example, Kuntala is mentioned as a famous matriarchy with female warriors and rules. Which doesn’t explicitly go against anything we see in the film, but it feels odd that a) Prabhas is slightly surprised to see Anushka fighting if this is an Amazonian warriors type of land, b) Anushka’s sister-in-law is not a fighter, c) Anushka’s brother is the king not herself, and so on and so on. But there’s nothing that is exactly “wrong” in that description, we can come up with all kinds of explanations, it just doesn’t feel exactly “right” in the way I would expect if they were working off Rajamouli’s notes.

      the big problem with the book is something I say at the end of the SPOILERS section, which isn’t actually a spoiler, it just makes more sense once you’ve read the rest of it. There is a kind of art that gives us explicit gross bodily details in order for us to appreciate the triumph of the human spirit over the mundane. That, from the analysis I have read, is the point of the Game of Thrones books. Not how low people can go, but how high they can rise. However, the books that rip off Game of Thrones (including this one), miss that and tend to just throw in shocking moments of humanity falling low without making it clear that we are supposed to be disgusted by this and wishing for a triumph of humanity in response.

      Oh, and for violence, the film had beheadings, sure. The book has children being killed and thrown into a mass grave. Described in explicit detail. And that isn’t even a main scene. In the same way, the film has sex. The book has a woman being drugged, stripped naked and whipped, described in detail.

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      • Thank you for your detailed reply. I can now say you have removed that 10% chance, too. 🙂 I wish we could get a book of the film unit’s notes, even just in their raw form. This book sounds more like just a licensing agreement to use the characters and world of Bahubali.

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  2. I left a really loooong reply earlier, which I have no energy to rewrite. The thing is, it didn’t show up i the comment count on the main page, but when I came to the actual post, it was there. At least it was there the last three times I checked, but now it’s disappeared. If you can find it, fine. If not, also fine.

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  3. “I decided that Anand should be our official story-hunter who could travel back into the forgotten annals of Mahishmathi’s history and bring them back to light.”

    So said Rajamouli. And so I do consider this book as part of the Bahubali universe. Just as I consider The Lost Legends part of the Bahubali universe (Rajamouli is credited as one of the executive producers and I like the series for what it reveals of Bhallaladeva).

    I have a fascination for political plots/events, both contemporary as well as those set in the past, and that started with my fascination with the Chanakya tele-series.

    I did like the book. The book reinforced my view that Mahishmati sucks. And I skipped all those unwanted “sex” details. Perhaps this book is really an introduction to the important characters of Mahishmati. And the real story comes in the planned next two books. I do look forward to reading the next book too.

    The book, though named “The Rise of Sivagami”, is actually about the rise of Sivagami, Vikramadeva, and to some extent Kattappa. It also lays the foundation for Bijjala’s hatred for his younger brother Vikramadeva and in the movie that hatred is carried forward towards Amarendra. I am interested in knowing the depth and extent of feelings of Sivagami towards Vikramadeva. (Perhaps that is why Sivagami is more close to Amarendra-the son of the man she once loved, compared to Bhalla, the son of the man she was forced to marry and hates).

    And what made Vikramadeva marry someone else. Did his mother (I forget her name) give a throne or Sivagami choice? Did Vikramadeva actually choose the throne over Sivagami? Perhaps the answers might explain as to why Sivagami reacted the way she did towards Amarendra giving up the throne.

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    • I think skipping the sex scenes might be key 🙂 Those were the parts that felt the most out of synch with the feel of the film. There was sex in the film, but it wasn’t naked prostitutes running around kind of sex.

      All of the reasons you give for liking the book and choosing to consider it canon make sense to me. But I do like that there is enough of a gap (it’s not like Rajamouli is saying “read this book or else you won’t understand BB3!”) that I can choose to not consider it canon, or want to read it. Because I don’t like the politics and all of that part of it.

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  4. ….Um. So that sounds like it’s definitely something. I agree it’s probably quasi-canon, but the details – at least as you’ve described them here – don’t fit with the hints I see in the films.
    – Definitely agree with you that in the scene with Martand, they all clearly underestimate Sivagami. I can’t see them being so surprised that she outmaneuvered them and outfought them if she already had a reputation for being a heroine, enough to be recognized by the past king and given an official position. But I think my biggest problem with the books is having her as somehow who rebels against the royal family and its conventions- because to me it makes it unrealistic at worst, and tragic at best that she becomes exactly what she was fighting against later in life. Why in the world would she find it so unthinkable that Amarendra and Devasena are skeptical of Mahishmati’s customs (and you could argue that Sivagami, during her rule, has made changes from what we see here, but even if she did, when she lashes out against them, she clearly states she resents the insult Mahishmati’s heritage, not what she created.) when she did the same thing herself as a young woman?

    – Not entirely sure how I feel about Prabhas 0/Vikramadeva (right? Wasn’t that his name? Or Veerendra, if you’re going with the Tamil version.) and Sivagami having been a thing. I kind of preferred it when Sivagami just liked Amarendra better for himself, instead of as a reflection of her great lost love or whatever. But maybe it is put in to explain her overreaction when Amarendra, from her perspective, chooses another woman over her.

    – I could actually see Bijjala being injured later in life, actually – I think if he had been born with his deformity, he might have been so entitled to the throne if he’d never been raised to expect it. But losing his arm and his right to the throne in an accident that also proved his unworthiness? That makes more sense to me in how he’s so convinced that it was specifically his arm that cost him the throne, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

    – Kattappa definitely does not strike me as dark or ugly (doesn’t he have that line in BB2 where he’s telling Amarendra the ladies were quite taken by his fighting skills when he was young?), and while I had the impression that the rest of his particular regiment were also slaves (they specifically prostrate themselves to the ruler during the coronation in a way the other branches of the armed forces don’t), I 100% don’t get the impression that Mahishmati has slaves otherwise. I mean, isn’t Sudeep/Aslam kind of shocked and disturbed that Kattappa is a slave? I don’t he’d be quite so weirded out if there were slave markets all over town.

    – Also, I can safely say I have zero interest in hearing about Kattappa learning to control his physical urges. Which, I guess makes sense with his characterization! But I just don’t want to know about it, thanks.

    – I guess what bothers me most, though, is that well, though I’m all for a darker Mahishmati, I just can’t see it having a history of child murder, sex slavery, murder and deceit and because of the themes of the film to make sense to me, it essentially has to be a kingdom worth saving, worth protecting. It’s flawed, certainly, but I have to want it to be rescued; and this kingdom is just awful as described in your review. I can’t see Amarendra taking such pride in his homeland if it had such practices within a generation’s time. Maybe he was never told this, but I can’t see Devasena NOT bringing it up, particularly in the trial scene (and Kuntala has a greater chance of knowing about this seedy backstory), and I can’t see Sivagami defending the law of Mahishmati with such fervor when she definitely does know all these nasty details.

    Instead, “my” Mahishmati is definitely arrogant and imperialistic, but rather like Britain was back in the day: that benevolent overlord that wants to take over because they are just so much civilized and worthy than you are, poor little territory. I imagine back in the day, it earned its name because it was the one kingdom that had a codified law system and kings who felt a duty to their people, unlike the violent anarchy found in their neighbors, and instead of making their slaves toil in the fields or work for uncaring masters, like everywhere else, Mahishmati gave them positions in the royal household and significant amounts of power/ what they thought was a pretty good life (except for the minor, minor detail that they weren’t free). But the problem is that Mahishmati was content to get by with its reputation, so while the other kingdoms evolved and became better, Mahishmati remained stagnant for centuries–imagine, say King Arthur’s Camelot lasting for a thousand years without changing, and how barbaric it would seem (trial by combat! public executions!) compared to modern-day countries. So what was amazingly progressive back in the day is now hopelessly backwards, but Mahishmati still holds on to its reputation and is a little in denial of this fact. It’s not until the Baahubalis are born as a throwback to Mahishmati’s original dynamic, dharma-based rulers that there’s any hope of Mahishmati regaining its past glory, but that is what we are rooting for.

    So basically, the takeaway message I’ve gotten is that it’s definitely quasi-canon, but I don’t know if I’ll be using it. And I think what I like most is that I feel like the makers don’t care – you can seek out or ignore the supplementary materials as you please, it doesn’t affect the overall message at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Starting at the end, yes! Quasi-canon in that, if you don’t seek it out and read it, no big deal, you still have everything you need from the films.

      Moving on,

      -Okay, I was reading the book, and all of these things just felt “wrong” but I couldn’t figure out details of why. I think you nailed it for the bigger reason that Sivagami as an angry rebel rising to the top felt wrong. She is so sure of the rightness of Mahishmati, and defensive about it. It’s a perfect presentation of someone who is (rightfully) proud of their country and it’s accomplishments, but has gotten so used to thinking of it as the best country that any slight criticism feels like an attack and there is no perspective.

      -I think I get what you are saying. In an odd way it feels like it is minimizing Sivagami. Instead of having her respect Prabhas 0 because he was a good ruler, and love Prabhas 1 more because he is a good kid, the love story makes it look like she is leading with her heart instead of her judgement, just like the female stereotypes say.

      -I somehow pictured a similar situation to the next generation. Two boys raised with both as possible heirs. And then when Bijjalla wasn’t chosen, he blamed it on his arm. So, it wasn’t like he was heir presumptive and then was injured, just that in his own head he was heir presumptive and in the shock of not getting it, he blamed his disability.

      -Yeah, the whole “dark-skinned people are identified as slaves by their appearance because they are so common in this society” thing felt really awkward to me. I didn’t get that from the movies at all, the dark-skinned or slavery being “a thing” in Mahishmati. And I can’t help thinking that it was a lazy and borderline offensive ripoff of American history.

      -I like to think that Kattappa just never had physical urges. There’s our asexual character! Plus, it could actually be believable, the way sexuality can be tied to confidence and stuff. If he never felt like a “free man” in his head, maybe he never felt like a “free man” in his body either. But mostly I just don’t want to think about it at all.

      -Yes! To your Mahishmati vision. With the added feeling that the book is trying to sell this to us as a not-so-bad kingdom. That’s where I get into the whole subtle thematic thing of whether the author accurately conveys the message that this is not just “people being people”, but rather a horrible dark world. Because what he is describing, in his shock value way, are about the worst things imaginable. So to me, this is a kingdom that is irredeemable, and the idea the book seems to be relating (well, the prime minister is a decent guy! The king isn’t that bad) is that it is redeemable, just a few changes and it will all be find.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish I had more to say, but you covered it all. I agree with the to many characters and too much backstory part. It all got to be too much after a while and I plodded on just to see if there was some amazing plot twist or secret revealed or similar. There was none, really. The book is meticulous, sure. But I was completely unable to empathize with/be interested in any character. I will still buy Book 2 because this one leaves many loose ends. I see what the author was trying to do, he was perhaps trying to emulate the first movie, ending it in a cliffhanger. However, it was not nearly as effective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess it was effective enough if it got us willing to buy the next book, which was the point. I may not, for the next one I may just rely on someone else to summarize it for me.

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      • Yes, I quite agree. I will buy the next one if only to tie up those loose ends. But it won’t be with the “OOOOOOH I am literally DYING to know!” sentiment which followed the first movie. More like, “Huh. I am a bit pissed off with the author, the book didn’t really leave a pleasant taste, so to speak. He wins”

        Like

        • this is unrelated, but what I really HATE is when the authors do this cliffhanger ending, and then never come back to it either because they die or the book doesn’t sell enough or whatever. I feel like they are holding me hostage, if I don’t buy enough of the first book, there won’t be a second book, and I will never find out what happened.

          On Tue, Jul 11, 2017 at 12:34 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

          >

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  6. Pingback: Bahubali Theme Post: Devasena, The Catalyst | dontcallitbollywood

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