This is just the happiest movie. And it sounds stupid when you try to describe it. Stupid, and kind of sad.
This movie was just so cheerful! And happy! I don’t know why I was expecting some kind of dark tear jerker, I’d seen other Rajamouli movies, and more importantly, I knew this movie had done very well with families and small children. And generally speaking, little kids don’t enjoy dark meditations on the futility of life.
A big part of the reason it was so happy was Sudeep. Oh, Sudeep! I love you! One of my favorite parts of Bahubaali is his totally ridiculous performance as world’s most dedicated sword salesman. In this, he takes over-acting and joyful scenery chewing to a whole new level.
(He’s supposed to have a bigger role in the second half, so excited to see it!)
We know from the moment he shows up onscreen, which is also the first scene of the movie, that this won’t be “scary” evil, it will be funny evil. Although, the actually opening of the film, the blank screen with voiceover, kind of gave a clue to that too.
I did not know until I looked it up that this film was actually written by Rajamouli’s father. Even more interesting, he also wrote Bajrangi Bhaijaan! Bajrangi Bhaijaan seemingly has nothing in common with Eega or Bahubaali or Magadheera (also written by K.V. Vijayendra Prasad). But they are all movies that feel written for the innocence of children. There’s a simplicity to their interactions, if someone loves somebody, they just do, and there are no second thoughts or deeper considerations. If a bad guy is bad, he is just bad. If someone is good, they are just good. There are no shades of gray.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan doesn’t have any magical powers or mythic histories. But it does have a hero with the simplicity of a child, a simplicity that let’s him be just plain good, with no confusion or questions about what is the right thing to do. Eega has that as well, in its villain, who is just plain bad because he is bad. A single good thought never enters his head. It makes hating him kind of fun. No, make that really fun!
Oh right, back to the voiceover. So, it was written by the director’s father, and the voiceover is a father telling a story to his son. He starts out talking about a Princess, and the son stops him and says he has heard that story before (joke about Magadheera?). Then there is the sound of a fly buzzing and the father cursing at it, and then saying “Okay, I will tell you a new story! Once there was a fly….”
So, we know this story will be happy and everything will work out because it is a father telling it to his son at bedtime. The tone is set right from the beginning. And we also know that we need a childlike sense of wonder and belief to follow everything that is about to happen.
(See also: The Princess Bride)
And, looked at through a child’s eyes, this is a really happy story! Our hero goes from a boring grown up to an awesome fly with superpowers! Better yet, now that he is a fly, he can just hang out and play hide and seek with his girlfriend, no need for any icky kissing or anything like that. And, he can play all kinds of fun jokes on his enemy.
The romance was the part where I had to remind myself the most that this was a children’s story. Both for how it was developed at the beginning and the “happy ending”. Well, that it was a children’s story and that the ultimate goal was turning him into a fly.
On paper, our “hero” is much much worse as a romantic prospect than our “villain” in terms of romance. While Sudeep actually talks to our heroine, learns about her interests, spends time with her doing the things she enjoys, and eventually asks her out on a date, our “hero” Nani (ha! Sounds like “Naan Ee” which was the Tamil name of the movie!) spies on her through her bedroom window, follows her, sends her text messages, and forces her to interact with him at her work. Creeper!!!
Not only that, even though she is constantly telling him she is not interested, Nani chooses to interpret all her signals the opposite. If she closes her shades, it’s because she is worried about him staying up too late watching her. If she refuses to give him Prasad, it’s because she wants to show that he is different than all the others to whom she gave Prasad. It’s classic stalker reasoning.
And meanwhile, she is agreeing to go to lunch with Sudeep, giving him gifts, and being delighted to see him whenever he shows up. Clearly Sudeep is the one she likes and Nani is the one she doesn’t. Well, except that Sudeep is so clearly eeeeeeeeeeeeevil. And that Nani is actually interpreting all her signals correctly!
The film hints at that all along, with her overhearing Nani explain what her actions “really” meant to his friend, and the camera catching her smiling as though she is pleased he got the message. If this were just a normal romance movie, I would be kind of angry about this, that it is teaching boys to keep chasing girls, even when they say “no”, because no clearly means yes. But it isn’t a normal romance movie, so there is a reason it is like this.
Do I really have to put spoilers at this point? I mean, it’s right there on the posters and in the title! But, okay, I guess I will do SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER just because I’m giving some details you may not be able to figure out from the promos.
Sudeep is in lust with Samantha Ruth Prabhu, after meeting her when she comes to his office to ask for a donation for the charity she works with. Meanwhile, Nani is in love with her after 2 years of watching her from his apartment across from her bedroom, and randomly running into her around the city (how big is Hyderabad? A lot of people seem to be running into each other by accident all the time. Or is it not Hyderabad, but some smaller, more small town feeling setting?). Sudeep finally takes Samantha out for lunch, but just as he is giving a yucky speech about how the dish he ordered was invented for Antony and Cleopatra, and they should feed it to each other, Samantha spots Nani who is coincidently setting up a fireworks display on the other side of the restaurant (seriously, how small is this town?) and is clearly more interested in watching him than in listening to Sudeep.
Sudeep responds with eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil, and of course kills Nani. Right after Samantha has finally confessed her feelings following a really lovely song sequence.
What I love about the song sequence is that it Nani manages to create fantasy moments out of everyday things. And, of course, so does the director who crafted it. It’s just a walk home together through their neighborhood, but it turns into magic because they are together.
It is also the culmination of their romance, not in a kiss or even a conversation, but in what he does for her, wordless communication. Which is key, because that’s the only kind of communication they will get to have pretty soon!
So, right, Nani is reborn as a fly. Because a bunch of fly eggs (maggots? Where do flies come from, anyway?) floats by just as his CGI soul leaves his body. Little confused here by the science of reincarnation movies. This one and Om Shanti Om seem to be implying that your soul goes into whatever receptacle is closest at the moment of death. But Karan-Arjun and Hamesha have souls going into identical bodies, but bodies that are very far away from the dying characters and not necessarily born at the moment of death. It’s almost like directors/scriptwriters just follow whatever theory of reincarnation best supports their current script! But that can’t be true, right?
The fly part is amazing! Starting with his first few scenes, where we immediately build an audience connection to Nani-fly because he is having a hard time getting his wings to work, while all his brother and sister flies (do flies have genders?) take off right away. Having identified with him as our little underdog fly (underfly?), we then get an amazing action sequence that combined fear with wonder at his new life. He has to escape from feet coming to crush him, balls being thrown, even being sucked into a little girl’s mouth. But at the same time, there is the joy of flight, the wonder of floating through a field of bubbles, the sunshine and beauty of the world into which he is reborn. Being a fly isn’t half-bad! At least, as shown in this film. Again, I know nothing about real non-reincarnated flies.
Since, as we have established, this is the smallest city in the world, of course one of the first people he bumps into in his new fly existance, is the very man who killed him when he was a man! Which immediately inspires him to wild fly-vengeance. I do like the initial attempt, just flying really really hard at his face and bouncing off. This is a crazy thing to say, but I really liked the character growth shown by our little CGI fly! He starts out just crazed with revenge, and then slowly comes to accept his new existence and work through ways to achieve his goals using his new abilities. Not to mention the growth shown in immediately giving up revenge and rushing to the side of the woman he loves as soon as he is reminded of her.
Of course, Samantha doesn’t realize that her boyfriend has been reborn as a fly, and ignores all his little fly attempts to get her attention. Which doesn’t stop him from following her around and trying to protect her from the eeeeeeeeeeeevil attentions of Sudeep. Who now not only has to act incredibly eeeeeevil all the time, he also has to act as though he is being driven crazy by a fly. Seriously, the fact that he didn’t get a National Award for this performance is a CRIME! (and I am only half joking, it’s much harder to act out “evil and tormented by a fly” than the standard National Award “an average man fighting against the heartless cruelty of society” kind of performance)
I really like that our fly is only interested in vengeance in that it will help protect Samantha from danger. It’s kind of the opposite of the standard action movie trope where our hero refuses to rescue the heroine right away because her safety is less important than his honor in defeating the villain the “right” way (R….Rajkumar, I am looking at you!). On the other hand, there is still the usual trope that the heroine isn’t able to protect herself, she has to rely on “her man” to do it. Or in this case, her fly. Seriously, when you have been turned into a fly, I think it is okay to teach your girlfriend some self-defense moves and make her do something for herself!
(I’m not saying I don’t like R…Rajkumar, just that maybe Shahid could have just taken Sonakshi off and married her like an hour earlier than he did, and made their lives a lot easier)
Of course, I’m not sure if that’s actually the message here, that she needs someone to take care of her, even if that someone is a fly. It could also just be that the director really liked coming up with cool ways for a fly to try to kill a man. At least Samantha got to be highly involved in the plotting, building him little weapons and helping him come up with plans. Ridiculous hilarious plans. Seriously, flying little baskets of gunpowder across town to load a little tiny cannon that will shoot a little tiny bullet at just the right angle? There has got to be a better way!
Although, besides this somewhat silly particular plan, everything else done by both our hero and our villain is kind of clever! Just as you think “well, why doesn’t he do such-and-such?”, the character will do it! It’s not one of those movies where the plot only continues because the characters are too stupid to figure out a better way (what Roger Ebert called an “idiot plot”). The villain starts sealing up every entry and exit, hires bodyguards with flyswatters, even figures out who the fly was and, in the end, kidnaps his girlfriend!
Really, the only reason Mani wins in the end is that love is stronger than hate and he is actually willing to die for what he wants. Oh, and that he and Samantha still have this strange strange strange ability to communicate! That’s where the stalker-y beginning of their relationship pays off! Just like when he was a human and she refused to talk to him but he was able to somehow understand all her odd signals, now they can communicate through hand (flyhand? flyfeet? Something) gestures. I did start to wonder why she just didn’t give him ink and let him write out what he wanted, but I guess that’s not as cinematic.
I also noticed that I could kind of understand Mani-fly by the end too! Which is when I realized that a lot of his body language was less based on flies, and more based on dogs. The little head cocks, the wriggling the body before action, all of that, very cute and familiar. An excellent choice on the part of the CGI artists, dogs are very easy to interpret and most people sort of know how to understand them.
The whole thing is filled with excellent choices, really, right down to the ridiculous all-fly item number over the end credits. It’s just got this very light silly tone, without ever feeling like it isn’t taking this story seriously. That’s the key, you have to feel at every second like Samantha truly believes she is talking to the man she loved reborn as a fly, and that Sudeep enjoys taunting and torturing his enemy, the fly. If there is even the slightest hint of self-awareness or embarrassment or, worst of all, hipster detachment, the whole thing would fall apart.
The biggest kudos, of course, have to go to the director. He took this silly silly story, and he made it fun and smart and wonderful. And I really really hope he gets to do a sequel (rumored to be his next project after Bahubaali: The Conclusion), because I want to see where he goes with it next!