In brief, AMAZING. If it’s playing anywhere near you, run and see it immediately. (It only has about two more days left in the USA.) If not, see it on DVD when it comes out.

This is a difficult movie to review because I don’t want to give too much away. It not only has several surprising plot twists, but also a lot of gorgeous imagery that’s wonderful to see for the first time, when you don’t know it’s coming. So I won’t say much about the plot.

Baahubali is an original historical fantasy that plays out like it was based on an ancient myth. Though it doesn’t have the complexity of character or moral ambiguity or intellectual heft of The Mahabharata or Ramayana, those epics and other the ancient tales of India clearly inspired its epic scope, archetypal themes, and magical imagery.

Classic tropes from Indian legend – the boon, the rivalry between princes with disastrous consequences, the humble but loving mother who adopts a son with a destiny, the mountain in the clouds, the war formation the enemy doesn’t expect, the woman wronged who demands bloody revenge – all make appearances here, and are given their proper, larger-than-life weight. The hero reminded me of Bhima in personality and physique, but a number of incidents were clearly inspired by the life of Krishna. For instance, the baby held above the waters echoes Vasudeva crossing the flooded Yamuna to hide away the infant Krishna.

The song I linked in the last post is a version of a hymn to Shiva, the Shiva Tandava Stotram, which is attributed to Ravana. I’ll quote some of it because even in translation (by P. R. Ramachander), you can feel its power and beauty and sensuality. (Remember how magnificent it sounded in Telegu.) That is the sort of ancient writing, still living today, which inspired this movie.

The celestial river agitatedly moving through his matted hair,
Which makes his head shine with those soft waves,
And his forehead shining like a brilliant fire
And the crescent of moon which is an ornament to his head,
Makes my mind love him each and every second.

He, with the shining lustrous gem on the hood
Of the serpent entwining his matted locks,
He, who is with his bride whose face is decorated
By the melting of red saffron kumkum,
And He who wears on his shoulder the hide
Of the elephant which was blind with ferociousness,
Makes my mind happy and contented.

A lot of the movie walks the fine line between magnificence and camp, but even when it’s ridiculous, it’s gloriously ridiculous. This is what you get when you put together an extremely talented director steeped in Indian myth, a brilliant cinematographer determined to tell the story visually so even people who don’t understand the dialogue will love it, and a totally committed cast, and have them all go for broke. Sometimes this results in "Did somebody order a LARGE HAM?” hamminess. More often, it captures the larger than life spirit of myth.

When a woman reveals her secret plan for revenge, a strong warrior staggers backward from the force of it. A desperate prayer to Shiva is answered with a boon that allows a dying woman to walk underwater. A man whose destiny is to climb the unclimbable mountain falls a thousand feet, only to rise to climb again. A sleeping warrior on a riverbank, her arm dangling in the water, is seduced by a prankster lover who swims through schools of bright fishes to paint a tattoo on her hand. If you ask why he was in the river and where he got a set of underwater paints, you’re missing the point.

A lot of the power of myth is in its lack of naturalism. Events occur and choices are made not because of the realistic motivations of ordinary humans, but because archetypal stories are playing out. If Baahubali had been more realistic and less theatrical, it wouldn’t be half as magical.

It was the most expensive movie ever made in India, and while the CGI is occasionally a little shaky, it uses its budget to the max. When CGI first came upon the scene, I thought it would be used to create fantastical worlds and creatures – sense of wonder brought to sight. And sometimes it is, but more often it’s used to create big, pointless, repetitive explosions. Baahubali uses CGI to create beauty and wonder. Just look at the waterfall and the city in the trailer. The entire movie is like that.

(Plus blood-splattering battle sequences and bull-wrestling. I’m glad they put the disclaimer that no animals were harmed and all animal falls are CGI at the start of the film rather than the end, because otherwise I’d have been concerned.)

Though I’ve emphasized huge! Epic! Grand! In my review, there’s also lots of nice little touches. Many of the characters have marks on their foreheads, like bindi, which helpfully identify them when you’re trying to distinguish Magnificent Warrior Dude # 1 from Magnificent Warrior Dude # 2. (This isn’t usually difficult. They all look quite different, and also have different Magnificent Moustaches. But given my general terrible facial recognition skills, I appreciated it.) The hero has a coiled cobra, the mark of Shiva. A pair of princes are marked with a sun and moon. There’s a complete throwaway bit, lasting maybe five seconds, where a pair of bull-masked dancers butt heads, that is SO COOL. I also enjoyed the funny-on-purpose moments.

My only real criticisms are political rather than artistic. There’s a song/dance number where the hero melts the warrior heroine's icy heart via stylized fighting and pulling off her clothes. It’s clearly meant to be about him breaking her emotional barriers with his sincerity, sensuality, and passion. But, well. Not to mention the unfortunate implications of what was actually intended, where she embraces her femininity and warmth… and then totally forgets how to fight so he can rescue her. And then there’s the attack of the dark-skinned barbarians, with its own set of unfortunate implications.

In a more enjoyable use of traditional gender roles (traditional in India), there is not one! Not two! But THREE awesome middle-aged moms! One is a loving mother raising a son she doesn’t quite understand. One is a total badass who rules a kingdom with cool authority after taking on a regency with a baby in one hand and a bloody dagger in the other. The third initially seems passive, turns out to be anything but, and has one of the best scenes in the entire movie. (For the benefit of my one reader who’s actually seen Baahubali: a handful of twigs.)

Be warned: Baahubali ends on a very dramatic TO BE CONTINUED!!! Well, it is subtitled “The Beginning.” But I ate up all three hours and would have happily sat through three more. The first hour, especially, is pure magic. I haven’t felt so transported in a movie theatre since the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Rings.
lferion: Art of pink gillyflower on green background (Default)

From: [personal profile] lferion

This sounds amazing, but it does not appear to be playing in Arizona at all, not even Phoenix Metro (and I'm in Tucson). I shall have too look for it in DVD.
lnhammer: lo-fi photo of a tall, thin man - caption: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] lnhammer

It was in Tucson, at the Oracle Grand Cinemas, but is already gone alas.

nenya_kanadka: astronaut on starfield (@ astronaut)

From: [personal profile] nenya_kanadka

Ooh. :D This sounds really interesting. I suspect it's not in theatres here at the moment--but there is always DVD (though then again it sounds like big screen would be worth it for sure for this one!).

I like the underwater-hand-painting as an idea, even if it makes no sense. :D
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

Wow, this sounds neat!.....and I think it's playing in Federal Way, which is a long way even with a car. sigh.
ivy: Two strands of ivy against a red wall (Default)

From: [personal profile] ivy

Are you in the Seattle area? I went out to see it in Bellevue on Monday, and I think it's playing there today as well.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

Yes! Altho I don't have a car, and I'm really sensitive to heat, so the awful heatwave kind of made me housebound. But the weather's shaped up a lot....
ivy: Two strands of ivy against a red wall (Default)

From: [personal profile] ivy

I believe it was the Bellevue Lincoln Cinemark that had it. But it is much nicer out there now than it has been previously! I hope you get to see it; I really enjoyed it and hope to post my own review later today. :)

From: [personal profile] knavishspright

I went out and saw this film yesterday after reading your review, and I absolutely wasn't disappointed! I especially loved the mother figures; certain twig-related scenes gave me shivers. The ruler of the kingdom was probably my favorite character, as all of her quotes were the ones that stuck with me (statescraft, what makes a king, and my personal fave: her reaction to the opposing chief's threats). And the film's soundtrack was so good, too.

I think the comparison to LOTR was an apt one. I remember thinking the film played sort of like an Indian version of Beowulf? Which is a bad Anglo-centric thing for me to think, because India has its own collection of rich lore and ancient literature. I wish I was more well read in Indian legends, as I can imagine that knowledge adding a whole new layer of enjoyment to the film... at any rate, at least I know what's next on my reading list.

I also totally agree re: political criticisms. The blackface was especially yikes-y. And that conversation about ownership and ambitions between the protagonist and the heroine was also eyebrow-raising. On the upside (if there can even be an upside), discussing why the film was problematic with my little brother took a fraction of the time it normally does when we see a movie together. I remember we spent at least twenty minutes after Jurassic World debating about whether or not it was sexist (it was, painfully), but not this time! lol. I'd almost rather see something that's blatant and out in the open with its -isms than something insidious that parades around under the guise of feminism. The messages these films deliver with regards to gender/racial politics are horrific, but at least Baahubali is honest about it. Nobody is going to point to this film as a feminist icon, whereas I've seen several people hold up movies like Jurassic World as holy grails of feminism.

I think I may have rambled a bit? Anyway, the main point of this comment: thank you for the amazing movie rec. I can hardly wait for the sequel!
hederahelix: Mature General Organa and "A woman's place is leading the resistance." (Default)

From: [personal profile] hederahelix

I just got back from seeing this (the film is still playing in at least one theater in southern California until at least Wednesday), and it was pretty much everything you said above.

But mostly I was dropping in to leave a comment because my theater's screening had an intermission.

I'm pretty sure that the last time a movie I went to had an intermission was a screening of either Gone with the Wind (obviously a re-release) or Ghandi when it first hit theaters in 1982. It was awesome.
hederahelix: Mature General Organa and "A woman's place is leading the resistance." (Default)

From: [personal profile] hederahelix

I did enjoy it. A lot. Enough that I'd kind of like to see it again in the highly unlikely event that it's still playing when I get back to town.

Sorry your theater didn't do the intermission. I do wish mine had been more explicit about how long it was going to be. The individual theater wasn't very crowded, and the theater complex wasn't either, but I *just* had long enough to figure out that they were doing an intermission, get to the bathroom, and get back before the film started up again.

Still, a rushed intermission is better than none.

From: [identity profile]

I just loved the waterfall. And I, too, was happy to see the no-animals-harmed disclaimer at the beginning of the movie. And I loved the three mothers, and the baby's savior as well.

I actually find it hard to sit in a theatre for that long, so I was getting physically restless while also riveted by the screen.

I could wish a few aspects of the movie were thought through more fully; instead I was made uneasy and it pulled me out of the movie at times. But I adored this epic being steeped in Indian history and mythology and trappings and everything. Really worth watching! I'm hoping this creates North American interest for more movies coming out of India, because there are a lot. (I have seen so very, very few.)

Can't wait to watch The Conclusion. The big question the cliffhanger asks of why did X [spoiler]; he was perhaps my favorite, he had such a presence. Though I did find the main actor charismatic and engaging.

From: [identity profile]

Thank you again for recommending it! I hadn't even heard of it before that.

My theatre didn't do a break at the intermission! Did yours? I was really irritated.

From: [identity profile]

No! My sister was like, yes, ready for a break! Because it is long to sit there, but it moved directly into the next part. I guess they don't break, here anyway, because then it's too long to get in X number of showings.

Have you seen Lagaan? Very different. It's an older but not old-old movie, though you probably know about it.

From: [identity profile]

On the why did X [spoiler] question---there was a reference to adultery earlier in the movie, and I suspect that's the key to why X did that. I suspect! I will not know till 2016!

From: [identity profile]

I missed that. I think I missed quite a lot given the observations people have been making! But I'm glad you enjoyed it. And it sounds like you got an intermission!

From: [identity profile]

It's supposedly showing in the Boston area for longer than 2 days, assuming that I trust Moviefone. Not sure if I will have time to see it, though.

From: [identity profile]

*love* your review. Thanks so much. I'm really, really looking forward to seeing this when eventually I can get it on DVD.

From: [identity profile]

Ah, I really want to see this, but won't have time until Monday. I'm crossing my fingers that it manages to hold out in theaters here until then (so far it's running at least until Saturday, but theaters don't seem to have schedules past then).

From: [identity profile]

I wonder whether "matted" in the translation should be "braided" or "plaited"?

This is playing about an hour from me, I may be able to see the early show tomorrow morning...

From: [identity profile]

Matted is correct. They're dreadlocks.

Let me know what you think if you get a chance to see it!
larryhammer: a woman wearing a chain mail hoodie, label: "chain mail is sexy" (warrior babe)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer

I am disappoint that, despite the number of tropes referenced or alluded to, there is no TV Tropes article for this movie.

sovay: (Cho Hakkai: intelligence)

From: [personal profile] sovay

A sleeping warrior on a riverbank, her arm dangling in the water, is seduced by a prankster lover who swims through schools of bright fishes to paint a tattoo on her hand.


That makes me want to see a film.

From: [identity profile]

We saw this last night, on your recommendation. I agree with the caveats: the song-and-dance number that looked kind of like sexual assault, Avanthika (Avantika? The subtitles were not consistent) losing 98% of her interest value after that (although I was very glad she at least braided her hair again and put her usual clothes back on; frankly, I think she looks far more attractive in that getup than she did in her "pretty" clothes), and the ~African blackface barbarian army. On the other hand, BADASS MOTHERS. Sivagami in particular -- I loved that her relevance continued, that it wasn't just "she takes the throne as regent and thereafter her male advisors run the show." She continued to make decisions, issue commands, be listened to. And I can hope that Avanthika recovers a degree of relevance in the conclusion.

I think the biggest non-political flaw of the film for me was that I didn't care all that much for the guy playing Shivudu. Moustaches really don't do it for me, he isn't my preferred body type, and he came across as just a hair too smarmy -- though a lot of that was his interactions with Avanthika, rather than appearance alone. Everybody around him was pretty cool, though, and yes, some awesome visuals! I'm glad we saw it, and I'm looking forward to the second half.

From: [identity profile]

I'm glad you generally enjoyed it!

I didn't think Shivudu was super-hot, but I am so used to ancient India heroes having impressive mustaches that I'm not sure he would have felt right without one. But he was so sweet in the lingam scene, I couldn't take the sexual assault dance seriously.

From: [identity profile]

The scenes with the parents and the swami were delightful character bits. (Speaking of moustaches.)

Ooooh, also, are we going to see the sword merchant again? So many questions!

From: [identity profile]

I went to see this today; it's the last day, and so I drove about an hour each way for it. Vaut le voyage.

It's long enough that there was an intermission; all the audience except me and another person in the way-back left. The second half is rather tedious with all the battle stuff---directors love it so, but it's essentially the plot coming to a halt and killing the story momentum dead. I loved the scene after scene of priests and dancers and chanting and musicians and bull-dancers and whatever else they threw in there. More is more, and in this case it made the city seem so big and real!

You're right that the first hour or hour and a half is top notch. This deserves to be seen more widely. It's beautiful, and not just the CGI stuff (the print I saw is tagged CGI in a corner during distressing-to-animals CGI scenes!)

There are so many good small things. In the golden statue scene (is there an item on the evil mastermind list about not comparing yourself to a god or putting up solid gold statues to yourself bigger than the god's statue?), the musicians side-eye one another with a "Oh man. We know this story and it does not end happily" look, and I'm not even sure it's intentional---it must be? Very funny.

The clothes-pulling scene could have been usefully augmented by some dialogue in which they introduce themselves. In particular, this would have been a good place for an "Earn my favors by doing N task(s) for me" quest-charge from her, instead of him taking everything from her, including her obligation to save her princess.

There's a mail-shirted woman on the dais with the clever queen-regent. I always want to know who someone like that is. No lines. Since the Evil King we see later is the queen-regent's husband, I'm a little worried about her (that's not her we see at the beginning, is it).

I look forward to seeing the next one!

Trailers included one for a comedy about suicide bombers and one for a manic pixie dreamgirl movie.

From: [identity profile]

I hope it was worth the drive!

I thought it was the regent who rescues the baby at the beginning, but I'm not sure.

My trailers were the suicide bomber comedy, a gangster comedy, and a historical with a warrior woman lead. The latter looked promising, but I forgot to write down the name.

ETA: Figured it out! It's Bajirao Mastani, based on the actual historical characters Peshwa Baji Rao I and his second wife Mastani, who was supposed to be an excellent swordfighter. Check out the preview!

I was very excited to see the urumi, the south Indian flexible sword.
Edited Date: 2015-08-01 06:07 am (UTC)

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