Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bahubali: The Beginning - Review

Baahubali: The Beginning
India: Released in Telugu and Tamil (with English subtitles) and dubbed into Hindi, Malayalam and French
(2015 July 10)
Action, Adventure, History
2 hr. 39 min.

Rated: Not Rated | I would consider the film a PG-13 due to considerable bloody, violent, battle and fight scenes. One needn't be concerned about sexual content although there is romance it is tastefully presented without nudity. There are traditional Indian bare midriff costumes on the women. 
Grade: B+

Director: S.S. Rajamouli
Writers: Vijayendra Prasad (story), S.S. Rajamouli (screenplay), 4 more credits
Stars: Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Anushka Shetty | See full cast and crew

This epic dispute between brothers spans across two generations. Baahubali: The Beginning is part 1 of a 2 part period drama. Part 1 shows the brothers Baahubali and Bhallaladeva fight for the right to the thrown of the Mahishmathi Kingdom.

Baahubali: The Beginning is the most expensive production in the history of Indian cinema to date. The film was shot using Arri Alexa XT camera, marking Rajamouli's first film to use digital cameras; the principal photography began at Rock Gardens in Kurnool on 6 July 2013. Sabu Cyril was the production designer for the film, the soundtrack and background score for the film was composed by M. M. Keeravani, and V. Srinivas Mohan was the visual effects supervisor.

Baahubali is the most expensive Indian film ever made, reportedly around $40 million, By Hollywood standards this is mere pocket change, nobody throws money around like Hollywood, it's an exercise in contrasts, how the other half of the movie world lives. To Bollywood's credit the budget isn’t the whole story: the results begs the question as to why the American studios fail to get as much bang for their money. Director SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali – was filmed simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil and is being releasing in two parts Baahubali: The Conclusion will be released sometime next year in 2016. It may be hard to find a theater showing the film. It has a limited release in the US. The only place it is playing locally, at present, is the Cinemark 24 Jordan Landing and XD in metro Salt Lake City, UT. I saw the Tamil version.

Indian epics tales have been around and incubating in filmmaker's collective minds for a hundred years. Indian oral and written traditions hold a treasure trove of content just waiting for the right storyteller to create a visual rendition for the screen that will appeal to the masses. Baahubali gets a pretty good balance of visual grandeur and content.

Here's the story in a nutshell:

Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan), carrying a baby in her arms is being chased by soldiers with weapons. After escaping from them, with nowhere to go, she drowns herself in the water while holding the child above the surface. Local villagers spot the stranded child and save the infant while Sivagami dies with her finger pointing to the top of the waterfall. Sanga (Rohini) and her husband name the infant Shivu and raise him as their own.

Shivu (Prabhas) grows up aspiring to climb the waterfall which irks his mother as she does not want to lose her son. After many failed attempts, he finally makes it to the top looking for the owner of a mysterious mask which fell in his lap. He discovers that the mask belongs to Avantika (Tamannaah), a rebellious warrior fighting whose group has indulged in a guerrilla warfare against king Palvaalthevan/Bhallala Deva (Rana Daggubati) of Mahismathi. They intend to rescue queen Devasena (Anushka Shetty) who has been imprisoned by by the king for the past 25 years.
While Avantika initially doubts Shivu's intentions, later she falls in love with him. Shivu pledges to help her in her mission and sneaks into Mahishmathi to rescue Devasena. He is attacked by the king's royal guard led by Kattappa (Sathyaraj). Kattappa drops his weapons on realizing that Shivu is Mahendra Bahubaali, the son of late king Amarendra Bahubaali.

A flashback reveals the animosity between cousins Amarendra Baahubali and Palvaalthevan/Bhallala Deva, whose father Pingaladevan/Bijjala Deva (Nassar) is the elder brother of Baahubali's father and mother is Sivagami. Sivagami brings up both of them after Amarendra's parents die and later crowns Amarendra as the king while Palvaalthevan/Bhallala Deva is appointed as the commander-in-chief of the army. The film ends with Kattappa revealing the killer of Amarendra.
Baahubali has a little bit of everything in it. It's like a mesh-mash of things we've seen before but the Indian flavor retains some freshness. There's a little 300, Lord of the Rings, Troy, The Ten Commandments and a half dozen other epic films, there's a touch of the King Arthur legend, in an avalanche escape screen it even incorporates a taste of Disney's The Castaways. As in nearly all Indian movies, of course, there is some obligatory singing and dancing.

This alone is enough to turn off many Western movie goers, but with the increasing exposure to Bollywood style dancing in popular shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars, perhaps you can suspend your belief long enough to enjoy it for what it is...entertainment. I was first exposed to Indian, Chinese, Australian, South African and other ethnic films in the late 70s, while living in Manhattan and began watching and enjoying the diversity of styles and filmmaking techniques including those from Bollywood. I gained an appreciation for them, recognizing and making allowances for the stark differences in style and substance from western films. The Bollywood productions have come a long way in the past few decades as they have made and effort to become more palatable to a non-Indian world wide market.

Some will right away deride this film for being unbelievable when it comes to stunts, feats of strength, and the inability of heroes to be wounded in battles while dispatching scores of enemies, but how is that any different from any of Hollywood's comic book based 'Super Hero' blockbusters of recent years, or the likes of  'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' or the Bruce Lee, Stallone, Van Damm, Segal, Norris action films. Just give yourself over to the music, stunts and dancing and enjoy the film. I know Indian music is not to everyone's liking but I enjoyed not only the excellent soundtrack but the musical numbers as well. The costumes and sets are stunning, as is at times the cinematography.
The eponymous hero (“The One with Strong Arms” which is what the English translation calls the film) embodies multiple legends all for the price of one. Plucked from a river, the infant Baahubali could be Moses; shifting a stone shrine several hundred feet, his teenage self is as hefty as Hercules; swinging from vines so as to climb the waterfall his village sits under, he’s as romantic a figure as Tarzan.
Like its hero, 'The One With The Strong Arms', this film keeps flexing its muscles. Director Rajamouli seems to have asked “What can’t we do with $40 Million?” We can have a man wrestling a bull with his bare hands can't we? Sure! Can we have an avalanche destroy an army pursuing the hero and his lover with an injured leg? Check! Can we save those lovers by escaping on a rock like a toboggan? Why not? How about a hero swatting away 10,000 arrows with just his sword? You've got it! Rajamouli is like a kid with a wagon full of money in a candy store. 
The visuals are a constantly changing feast for the eyes: we see our hero climbing a tremendous waterfall, then lovers cavorting via song and dance in a forest of orchids, or we see them prowling the streets of a fortified city where hundreds of  extras are flogged by more extras who have the daunting task of erecting a towering golden statue. (Here's your Moses comparison again.) The final 45 minutes of this 2 hr. 39 min. film, boasts an extensive battlefield that, with its human shields and Boadicea-style murder chariots, equals if not surpasses anything at Helms Deep from Lord of the Rings. In every frame, the money spent is right there on screen, but how that money has been utilized that is most impressive – to enhance, rather than clutter up, the films narrative, unlike so many of Hollywood's blockbusters spending 5 to 8 times more. That discrepancy could be attributed to the 'ultimate out-sourcing' India. LOL.

Behind the scenes, the making of Baahubali


Team ‪Baahubali‬ is proud to share this image which shows the World Record poster that was unveiled in Kochi yesterday. Finally Baahubali Entered into the Guiness Book.

The Cast

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