Baahubali opens with the camera caressing a map that has a vast landscape with kingdoms, open spaces, snow-clad hills, lakes, more lands all of them nicely named and conveniently circled and your Mr. Seen-it-All viewer sits smugly with his tub of popcorn and does the cinematic equivalent of calling out a conjuror's trick by shouting 'he has it under his sleeve'; he dryly says, 'oh, this is taken from Lord of the Rings'. Even as the Seen-it-Alls make themselves comfortable in their seats, the camera neatly and seamlessly navigates towards a waterfall and... boom - it's a real waterfall and not a picture on the map. In these opening moments of the movie, SS Rajamouli outwits each one of us viewers who want to show-off our knowledge of the 300s, Troys, Gladiators and a plethora of epics and with that display of jaw-dropping creativity tells us "you are in the presence of a master storyteller - fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."
After that opening sequence, the audience is further assaulted with a barrage of jaw-dropping and spectacular visuals. The silhouette of a headless body ambling towards its inevitable end, great cannon balls flagged off in pairs followed by fire, an almost impregnable fortress of rectangular shields, a gigantic statue of Baahubali towering over a huge statue of Bhallala Deva, a majestic waterfall standing witness to the life of the hero, a battle that is probably the most clearly articulated battle ever on screen - which are just a few of the visual wonders in the movie - are all not just visual tropes to inspire awe but are aids to tell a story; nay, help create a mythology. I often found myself roaring, flinging my arms with clenched fists and jumping out of my seat with thrill and excitement.
With Baahubali, SS Rajamouli not only has created a visual spectacle but also invented an entire new mythology. The audience is going to meet the loyalty and bravery of Kattappa, the ugly monstrosity of Kalakeya, the wicked sarcasm of Bijjala Deva, the rhinoceros like strength of Ballala Deva, the ferocity in the eyes of Devasena for revenge, the phlegmatic sense of fairness and justice of Sivagami and above all else the imagination of SS Rajamouli.
With characters and visuals mounted on this scale, searching for parallels from the movies and mythology is no more a vulgar spot-the-reference exercise; it becomes the search for the hero with a thousand faces. Into the mythological references like the vulnerability of Achilles heel compared to vulnerability of Dhuryodhana's thigh and the Moses parting the sea compared to Vasudeva parting the sea to escape with his son Krishna would be added the themes and actions of the heroes and villains of Baahubali.
Speaking of which - what a heroic character Kattappa is and what incredible performance Sathyaraj delivered! It is by far the most fascinating and complicated character in the Baahubali Mythology. Kattappa's helpless loyalty to the Mahishmati throne is nothing less than Bheeshma's loyalty to the Hastinapura throne. And in a story that has very little scope for comedy, I found Nassar's Bijjala Deva the funniest. His body language, his poison tongue, his debauchery - Nassar totally played it to the gallery. These two will remain the stand-out performances in a film where all the actors delivered good performances.
SS Rajamouli spent about Rs. 250 crores, a great deal of his talent and imagination and 3 years of his life to make us sit in wonderment for about 2 hours and 40 minutes for a price of a movie ticket. Legend has it that when ANR discussed the idea of putting a newspaper advertisement on the 100th day thanking people for making 'Shiva' a success, Ram Gopal Varma is supposed to have surprisedly asked 'but why should I say thank you to the audience. If anything they should be the ones thanking me'. All I can do in the form of writing a movie review of Baahubali is say 'Thank you, SS Rajamouli'.
Go, drink the SS Rajamouli Kool-Aid! There is more to come in 2016.
4 out of 5 Stars