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The film Baahubali 2 The film panders to feudal worship

May 15, 2017 10:55 AM
Still from The film Baahubali 2

Merely showing spectacular visuals does not make a film...

By sundar Sarukkal

 Baahubali 2: Converting a story into a visual narrative is the essence of film-making. This translation is also arguably the most difficult part of making a film. In the case of science fiction (SF) or fantasy films, this process is both more difficult as well as easier. It is easier because many times films literally show what is said in a story. In the case of SF or fantasy, a filmmaker might think that showing visuals of odd-looking things or creatures, places or events would be enough.

Baahubali 2 is not just another film; it is a sign of the times. It is a movie of the Trump and Putin era. It is full of bluster, with little care for many cinematic virtues and seems to believe that visual and dramatic loudness is enough to do the job, any job. 

Merely showing spectacular visuals does not make a film. If we want to see such striking visuals then we may as well watch National Geographic or Travel TV channels. There is something else that good SF and fantasy can do. They bring the future into the present in a stark way. They underline the universality of human questions and actions across time. They are as much an exploration of the unknown world as of the unknown individual. When fantasy works, it does not have to look completely alien but more like something which can and perhaps does happen around us. This is the power of good science fiction or fantasy — to show how a new possibility could actually be happening right now or right around the corner.

Sign of the times

I was driven to these reflections after seeing Baahubali 2. It is a film that could have done what good films of fantasy or even historical films have done. Instead…

Baahubali 2 is not just another film; it is a sign of the times. It is a movie of the Trump and Putin era. It is full of bluster, with little care for many cinematic virtues and seems to believe that visual and dramatic loudness is enough to do the job, any job. I too was caught up in the flowing tide and walked into a theatre full of families posing for selfies, grabbing popcorn by the tubs and justifiably proud that this was a Telugu phenomenon. They were not watching a movie or standing up for the national anthem; they were doing it for the Telugu nation, a synthesis that went beyond the AP-Telangana split. Baahubali was not a mythical king with shimmering six packs but merely a man who could well be the CM of a unified Andhra in the future.

Baahubali 2 is perhaps the worst thing to have happened to Indian films. At a time when we were seeing a small but growing renaissance of cinema in many languages, along comes a film that has cynically played on the gullibility of spectators, myself included, proving once and for all that in India a film is nothing but an advertising campaign. Those who support such films in the name of the non-urban, or of the ‘local’, do a great disfavour to these constituencies. The film panders to feudal worship, a topic that continues to have a horrible history in Andhra. With fake expressions of equality between the king and his subjects, with a mediocre and clichéd story line of the queen mother or the deformed scheming uncle, the film only reinforces many terrible aspects of a cruel present that can draw sustenance from the success of this film. But this is good stuff for those who are not in the middle of this social world — like the NRIs who flocked to the movie on its release. Nostalgia for them translates into a disastrous future for Indian films but who really cares? Good fantasy and SF films make us ask deep questions. Solaris is about significant questions, as is Gravity, Interstellar or fantasy films like the LOTR series.

All of these raise fundamental questions of human existence. Baahubali 2 does not have the strength to sustain any of these possibilities. The film itself is in a fantasy land of its own with supporters using it to speak of the glory of Indian films that can match or outdo oversized Hollywood productions.

 

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