Just putting it out there, I LOVE Devasena. As does the majority of the audience of the film, I think. However, I have at least two commentators who do not love her and see her as the villain of the film. That’s 2 out of let’s say 10 regular Bahubali commentators. So let’s say maybe 20% of the total audience is not into Devasena? And yet they still love and obsess of the movie to the point of commenting on this website. Which means that the film works equally well whether she is the hero or the villain, which is really interesting!
I think Devasena’s most important role in the film is catalyst. It’s not whether she herself is right or wrong, it’s whether the way people react to her is right or wrong. But Devasena only works as a catalyst if she herself never reacts, never changes.
(Okay, she gets older, but that’s it)
Which, for me, is what I love about her. After all these female characters who constantly follow the hero’s lead, who are always worried about the family honor, who dedicate their lives to making things easier for others, to have someone who’s just straight up “Nah, I don’t care what you think or feel, I am Me and I am confident within myself.”
Although I can also see why some viewers might find her irritating. It’s a fine line between “independent” and “selfish”. I have disliked plenty of female characters because they don’t listen to anyone else, but also don’t seem to care about anyone else. There’s no thought for the greater good. It’s a fine line, to make someone who is supremely self-directed without being selfish.
What makes it harder with a female character is that the filmmaker has to be extra “loud” to make sure we get the message. If we see a male hero like, say, Jai and Veeru in Sholay, we get right away that they don’t care what people think about them if they think they are in the right. But that they do care in some way about doing the right thing.
But with a female heroine like, say, Sonam in Khoobsurat, she has to explicitly tell us over and over that she will not change for anyone, she is independent and happy with herself and so on. And it’s not just in the dialogue, we see heroines proudly telling off waiters, or yelling at boys who follow them, all kinds of ways that the filmmakers try really hard to make sure we know what kind of woman/women this is. And by seeing it over and over and over in 5 different ways, the audience ends up with a vision of this woman spending her days going from place to place getting offended and hurting people’s feelings.
(I like her, but it would be easy to dislike her)
With Devasena, we do get a little of that. Her first dialogue is to shame Amarendra and Kattappa for not joining in the fight. Followed by a lowkey smile at the idea of Kumar Verma being able to teach them how to be warriors, making it look like she thinks she is better than all 3 men.
The hits keep coming, we see her almost ignore her sister-in-law in preference for trying to master a new arrow trick. Go along with her maidens when they try to trap poor Kumar Verma in his lies, and finally set up poor Amarendra on very flimsy evidence to risk death confronting a bull single-handed. And so on and so on. Straight through to the moment when she refuses the proposal in the most insulting way possible and no one dares try to stop her.
Like I said, I like Devasena. I am in the crowded “Devasena is AWESOME!” camp. But even over here in the “ra-ra Devasena!” fanclub, we can acknowledge that she causes most of the problems in the narrative. Or rather, conflicts in the narrative.
And I think, even over in the lonely brave “Devasena is TERRIBLE!” camp, they would need to acknowledge that the conflicts Devasena causes reveal weaknesses in other characters as well. To put it another way, the conflicts she causes were ultimately conflicts that needed to occur.
Mahishmati, Sivagami, Kattappa, Amarendra, they were all too settled in their ways, they had lost the ability to grow. Devasena was that kick in the butt that got them to start changing and growing. It could have been something else, anything else. A trade agreement, another attack, a surprising scientific discovery, a treasure map!
But none of those options would be very interesting. I mean really, that’s what the Star Wars prequels did! Instead of simple easy to understand human drama, they had this whole slow dissolution of the Senate and trade agreements and all kinds of silly things like that.
(Okay, picture if we had a whole bunch of these scenes instead of Devasena and Amarendra falling in love)
Rajamouli is too smart to fall into that trap. And so he makes the conflict that rearranges the loyalties of our central characters and puts them on a new path something that anyone can relate to, and that is exciting and dramatic and romantic-Amarendra falls in love with someone his mother hates.
One thing we’ve talked about a lot in the comments but I’m not sure if I ever put into a post is that Devasena causes a rift between Sivagami and Amarendra not because Amarendra is in love with her, but because of what she represents. His love for her just got him to sit up and take notice.
Devasena (as those brave rebels in the “Devesana is terrible” camp will point out) is foolishly rude, and runs the risk of attack on her kingdom because of her pride. And then she doubles down when in the thrown room in front of Sivagami. And again at the baby shower.
However, even if you disagree with her, that still doesn’t mean you have to agree with Sivagami. Sivagami is ready to punish her in a way that does not fit the crime. And that is what Amarendra objects to. Yes yes, it is very romantic that he does all this for the woman he loves. But I sincerely believe that if Kumar Verma had in a moment of over-confidence sent a similarly insulting message, Amarendra would have defended him as well. Not because he is in love with Kumar Verma (although I will bet you ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS that there is fanfic out there telling that version), but because he knows that no real harm was intended or possible from Kumar. And therefore Sivagami’s judgement would reflect that.
As soon as Amarendra left Mahishmati to travel alone, primed to start thinking of himself as a ruler and what would make just rule, something was inevitably going to come between him and Sivagami. The only question was what it would be.
And Devasena is the perfect catalyst for this! Going back to my “selfish/self-directed” idea, the point is that no matter the situation she finds herself in, she is always herself. The power of Mahishmati, the anger of Sivagami, even her love for Amarendra, it has no effect on what she is herself. She will not bend, she will not mix in, she will not homogenize with the rest of the people around her.
With her standing out as something different, the lines then become drawn around her. Are you for Devasena or against her? And what does being “for” Devasena mean?
I am a pre-Devasenaite, as I said. But all the reasons I like her (unafraid to speak her mind, strong sense of what is right in any situation, smart, etc.) have nothing to do with why I am for her side of things. Or why Amarendra is necessarily for her. Or why the people rally to her later.
Devasena represents all those gray areas between “Law” and “Justice”. Between “Justice” and “Dharma”. Her argument is for a simpler cleaner better Mahishmati based on a clear sense of what is right and wrong, not just what is in the law books, or on the complex power dynamics of the royal family. Amarendra is won over to her vision of things, slowly, by the situations she is constantly causing. Rather than his mother’s vision which has become limited as the years went by. Heck, I’ll make it simple, Devasena is for change.
Sivagami is against Devasena. She is for staying the same or going backwards. Probably not always. But after 25 years of ruling, she wants to keep it as good as it is now. Not risk any questions about how it might get better. Devasena drives Sivagami ever further back from the best self she has grown into in order to keep things the same. We can appreciate Sivagami’s feelings, why she is so hurt that her son would disagree with her, why she is so afraid of violent change or rebellion when she has worked so hard for stability. But we can also see how this is the wrong choice. The people who need to change most are also the ones most threatened by change.
And yes, this would include Devasena as well. I don’t even want to think how Devasena would react to the idea that she could improve. If you follow the “LOVE HER!” camp, we would argue that Devasena is so clear sighted, she would even see the flaws within herself and agree to change them. If you follow the “HATE HER!” camp, you would say that it is a good thing she happened to be on the right side during the films, and the first time someone tells her she is wrong, her reaction will be way worse than Sivagami’s.
But we don’t see that in this film because, like I said, she is the catalyst. She is not meant to change, to even be liked or disliked necessarily. She is just there to force the plot into motion in the most human way possible.