Our final Bahubali character post, so sad! And almost our final Bahubali post altogether (There’s one final one coming in a few days. And of course the fanfic, I will be keeping that up, if only as a personal challenge to see if I can write a whole novel with a tiny cheering section of dedicated readers to help). You can see all the Bahubali posts listed in one place in the index here.
Way back, before Bahubali 2 came out, when I was writing my posts on Bahubali 1, I said that the problem with the Amarendra character is that he didn’t seem to change. He was perfect then, he would be perfect in future. The Bhalla character was more interesting to me, because there was something more going on with him, we would get to witness the events that turned him from a promising youth, to a nutty old man.
All of that was correct. Amarendra wasn’t very interesting in Bahubali 1 because he had no seeming character growth. But what I didn’t know at that time was how Bahubali 2 would show that the “perfect man” we thought we knew could be even more perfect. Wanted to be even more perfect.
That’s the wonderful thing about Amarendra. He never stops growing. His view of the world, his abilities, his sympathy for others, his understanding of others, even just his pure love, is always growing.
Way back when I was a kid, my mother was reading a book on the founding fathers (or maybe just George Washington? I’m not sure). Anyway, one of the points of the author which my mother passed on to us was that Washington changed, in his attitudes and opinions, over his life time. While Jefferson never did. Specifically, in terms of slavery.
Most of the founding fathers of America were slave owners. They had high visions of freedom and independence, but a massive blindspot in their personal lives. No, “blindspot” isn’t quite right. A massive mortal sin which will forever doom them to Hell, if such a place exists, no matter what other good they may have done in the world.
(Also doomed our country in some ways, since the slaveholders forced a compromise on how voting power was distributed in order to give slave holders more power which has allowed for stolen elections in recent years)
Jefferson, the smartest founding father (architect, poet, statesman, brilliant) never fully expanded his views. Yes, he suggested various laws to cut down on the slave trade. And he more or less freed his own children. And his daughter by his first wife later freed her stepmother. But he did not free his slaves in his will, or during his life time.
But Washington, who was much less likely to write a brilliant document or charm foreign diplomats or any of those other “smart” things, did come to realize that his whole life was built on a massive guilt he would never be able to fully expunge. He grew and changed slowly over the years, until finally, in his will, he freed all his slaves, 317 people.
(Okay, technically he left his slaves to his wife Martha to be freed upon her death. But it’s still way better than what Jefferson did! And not that unusual, people are always capable of personal growth, a fair number of slave owners through out American history did come to realize they were wrong and freed their slaves voluntarily)
I think that’s why we love Amarendra. Not because he is the smartest or the bravest or the strongest. We love him because he is always growing, always believes that he could be a better person, that he should try to be a better person.
Not a better person like “I will study super hard and do the best on the med school application test!” But a better person like “am I contributing all I can to the world? Am I following the ideals I believe in as perfectly as possible? Am I showing my love to my loved ones, am I showing my gratitude to those who love me? Am I being properly humble, honest, courageous, fair?”
What makes it more poignant for us, the viewers, is that Amarendra is already so good. He easily could sit back and say “I am already wise, brave, strong, good, loving, fair, I will just maintain what I have.” But instead his actions say “Everyone and anyone can be better. I am trying just like anyone else.”
What we see in the films is his change from a good person to a great person. Not because of his specific deeds, but because of how he just keeps going, no matter what. His willingness to admit a mistake, to look for a better way, to always contribute the best he can to any situation, that is what makes him Great. It doesn’t matter where he started, or where he ended, the point is that he kept moving along on his journey.
(Notice in this song, he does all those “kingly” things, but a little bit more than he absolutely has to. Picks flowers for children, continues his sword practice, etc.)
We see this all along in his small actions. He looks at what is in front of him and says “How can I do this better?” Even in his childhood, notice that before we see him seek out Kattappa to eat with him, we see him respectfully taking instruction from Kattappa. He could have done just that, been respectful of him during their interactions, that alone would have been the “good” thing. But he was not content with that, he wanted to be better, so he sought him out and went further.
When he is supposed to give a sacrifice, he chooses instead to take the pain on himself. When he could either mow down innocents to reach the enemy, or give up and turn away, he finds another path in battle. Those are small moments, and they didn’t come together in the first movie. Because they didn’t show big changes, big things that would hurt him. That came in the second movie.
He could have wooed Devasena as himself. But that would have been “less right” than struggling to make her love him for his own person, not just all the strength and power around him. He could have simply taken her prisoner and freed her later, but that would have been “less right” than promising to give her the respect she is due for all time.
Every time he makes the hard choice, and pushes himself to do the right thing. Even when it means going against his mother. That is what I meant by “courage”. Not courage in battle, anyone can have that, your adrenaline gets going and you can get outside of yourself. But speaking truth to power, to hold firm in your position no matter what mental pressure is put on you, that is real courage.
(See his face here? He is not angry or proud, he is steeling himself for something he does not want to do but believes must be done)
And true humility is trying to serve others where ever you go. When he was the crown prince, he was the best crown prince he could be. When he was the chief of the armies, he was the best chief he could be (notice the way he has his troops perfectly trained for the coronation). And when he is merely the headman of a village, he does his best there too. If he had been downgraded further and made into, I don’t know, a sweeper in charge of feces, I am sure he would have done the best work he could there, happy to serve people in this vital function.
As Amarendra slowly fell in worldly power, he gained more and more power within himself. Adversity served as a chisel, sculpting him into a better shape. Revealing the specific definition of his greatness, not just the broad strokes of it.
But most of all, it is that he tries. He tries so hard all the time, and always for others, never for himself.
That is what changes as time goes on, he becomes ever more detached from wanting things for himself instead of others. When we first meet him, he is the cocky young prince, enjoying seeing the world and dancing with bar girls. Still a good person, wants to serve his kingdom, but also happy to do what he likes when it doesn’t seem to be harming anyone else.
He starts to change a bit in Kuntala. Not through his love story, not directly. But through living as a “common man”. He happily works in the kitchens, takes orders, and later encourages Kumar Verma to be a better person and teaches Devasena an arrow trick and protects them from the Pindari attack, not because of the Glory of Mahishmati, but just because it is a good thing to do.
(Here, this. I don’t know if it would have occurred to him to do this earlier, before he had learned more fully the joy of using his strength to serve others)
And I think what he find out is that he likes that. It feeds him in a certain way, to do what is right just because his own mind tells him it is right, without worrying about status or laws or the big picture. That was the start of the change, and he just keeps changing. He starts as a future king of a kingdom. He ends as a man who is a King Among Men, no matter where he goes.
Amarendra is the heart and soul of the films, the one we love in a way that is rare among fictional characters. To be loved so much, and so universally. Children, young men, young women, old women, old men, we all love him. More than any of the other characters I have already talked about, even his own son, or his wife, who are still “good” characters. But they aren’t as loved somehow.
I think it is because he is the one that we feel is changing the most. And changing FOR US. For the women and the children and the common people. Both the ones in the film and the ones watching the film. He wants to be better so he can serve us better.
Sivagami is brave and wonderful and a good ruler. But when she has the chance to force herself to be better, she turns away, prefers to remain where she is than go through painful change. Bhalla and Bijjalla choose to change towards the bad, which makes us enjoy watching them but hate them. Shivu starts to change for the better, but is not there by the end of the film, perhaps will never reach the same heights his father achieved in personal growth. Devasena, as I mentioned in her post, never changes. That is what she is, always herself, that is her role in the films as the steady rock around which everything else shifts. Avantika is a mystery because we never really see her face the right kind of adversity, never fully see her change, it feels like we missed the start and end of her journey somehow and only got the middle. Kattappa is perhaps the next most memorable character to Amarendra, and the one who is next most changeable. Going from a proudly loyal soldier, to a joking loving uncle, to a broken man, to a man who has his strength renewed, in the course of just a few hours of screen time and 40 years of narrative time.
But really, it’s Amarendra. He is the one we love. Because he never stops trying.
(Right to the end, he just wants to take care of his mother, reassure his uncle, and honor his kingdom. Nothing for himself)