Pug Film Festival 2018: Baahubali the Beginning and Conclusion

Posted: November 15, 2018 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Movie Review
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Months ago, on the Fighting in the War Room podcast, one of the co-hosts (I am sure it was Da7e Gonzales) talked at length about the Indian cinematic epic Baahubali.

Several weekends ago I had some free time, so I decided to treat my dog Chi Chi and Willow to a movie. (Or rather, I comfortably watched Baahubali via Netflix with my dogs next to me on the couch, so I could prevent Willow from trying to crush Chi Chi with her affection.)

Because I’m so classy, when the dogs and I watch foreign films, I declare it to be the next in a series of Pug Film Festivals (because of Chi Chi the Pug. Look, you’re not here for why I do things, I understand.)

This started years ago when I showed Enter the Dragon to Chi Chi and Pippin (a friend’s dog whom we were dog sitting.) And then a year later, when I watched Ashes of Time and Eagle Shooting Heroes with Chi Chi and our beloved but late doggo Peanut.

Baahubali is several things:

  1. It’s nearly three hours long, so settle in.
  2. It’s Part One. Okay, technically I watched Baahubali the Beginning. But then I watched Baahubali the Conclusion a few days later. So if we consider these two movies one big movie (and maybe we should) that’s nearly six hours.
  3. It’s GREAT.

Either you’re here for a recommendation or you’ve seen the movie and want to hear my thoughts on it. I don’t know if I can talk much about the movie without being spoilery, so I’ll give a super brief vague overview and my recommendation. And then I’ll get into more details.

Vague Description

Baahubali (both parts one and two) is gorgeous. I’d call it a fantasy epic, but it’s kind of a heightened reality more than typical fantasy. Fantastic things do happen though, but not overtly magical things. (I consider the musical numbers where people’s outfits change and color coordinate, or feature flying swan ships more visual metaphors than literal happenings.)

It’s Indian cinema, but not technically Bollywood, since it came out of the Telugu Film Industry. (I saw that referenced as Tollywood, but I was somewhat scolded on Twitter for calling Baahubali a Tollywood movie, so I’m sticking with Telugu Film Industry as a safe descriptor from now on.) Because it’s Indian Cinema – there’s a lot of great music, although less musical involvement from the cast than I first expected.

It’s filled with action and beautiful scenery. Some set pieces are transportive and breath-taking.

The cast is so good. One of the interesting aspects of watching a subtitled movie: even though I have to commit to reading the subtitles, the performances of the actors really stand out. Because I need all of the information to take in what’s happening, and an actor’s performance: their tone, their expressions, their eye movements, contributes importantly.

Oh, I should really give some elevator pitch plot description: a young man finds his way to a mighty kingdom ruled by a tyrant, and discovers his connection to a hero of legend. Much ass-kicking occurs. Plus the occasional dancing.

Recommendation

OF COURSE I recommend this movie (both of them)! If the above section sounds like something you’d like to check out, then I guarantee the movie will thrill you. I’m not doing the movies justice in my description, so it’s better than I could possibly make it sound.

If you have a Netflix subscription, make some popcorn, invite over some friends (your cool friends, not that Alan guy) and make it a party. Then come back and leave a comment. (Or not. I’m not the boss of you.)

SPOILER WARNING

Okay, I’m now going to talk about the movie in more detail. If you’d rather not have any of the movie spoiled, I recommend you be on your way.

I’ll just include an image of Amarendra Baahubali and his bow-carrying elephant as spoiler space…

Okay, let’s talk movie details. I assume you’ve either seen the movie, or are willing to just go with my sterling prose.

What I Liked

Wow, that movie looked great. I don’t mean that as some kind of back-handed compliment, that the movie looked great, and therefore was some dumb spectacle. Or that the other elements of the movie weren’t great too. They all were. But I was just not expecting things to look as good as they did, or to go for such an epic scale. I liked the cast, I like the performances, I liked the staging and cinematography, I liked the action. There was just a lot to like.

Okay, rather than merely doing a lot of blathering about how much I liked things in general, I want to focus on one sequence.

As you know (or maybe you don’t) the two Baahubali movies are structured around an extended flashback sequence. Almost all of the characters are introduced in what I’ll call the contemporary period, following the outer story’s hero of Shivudu (eventually revealed to be Mahendra Baahubali.) Shivudu eventually discovers his true identity from the loyal warrior-slave Kattappa, and is told the story of Shivudu’s father, Amarendra Baahubali. The tale of Amarendra covers the back half of the first movie and just over half of the second movie, completely detailing Amarendra’s heroic rise and fall.

Armed with this information, Amarendra’s son Shivudu, now identified as the true ruler of the empire of Mahishmati, Mahendra Baahubali, leads an assault on the capital, defeating his uncle Bhallaladeva and ushering in a new, just rule.

Within both stories, Mahendra’s broken-up outer story and Amarendra’s inner story, there’s one sequence that simply excels: Bhallaladeva’s statue sequence.

King Bhallaladeva has it going on. He’s been undisputed king for years. He’s physically powerful. He’s been humiliating his enemy Baahubali’s wife Devasena for years and years, and he’s about to have a one-hundred foot tall golden statue raised in his honor.

Before the ceremony, he finds time to torment Devasena a bit, because there’s always time for that. Bhallaladeva remarks on how nobody’s said Baahubali’s name in forever. As if he never existed.

Dancers are dancing, musicians are playing, and the colossal statue is in the process of being raised, when it almost falls, threatening to crush a group of workers. But Shivudu/Mahendra, having infiltrated the city, aids the workers on rope-pulling detail, giving them the chance to recover the statue’s progress. Shivudu looks EXACTLY like his father, and an older worker mistakes him for Amarendra. And the name Baahubali is uttered, is picked up by the workers and spreads to all around.

Baahubali. BAAHUBALI!

Shivudu: Who’s Baahubali?

The musicians really get into the music. The dancers kick ass with renewed vigor. Everyone is chanting BAAHUBALI as the statue goes up. Bhallaladeva locks eyes with Devasena, and this haggard, abused woman’s eyes are shining in triumph. The king is angry at this turn of events, but the overall emotion is shame. He’s ashamed and belittled. All of his bluster was from insecurity and it’s all in his face.

As his statue rises up, in Bhallaladeva’s mind’s eye it is dwarfed by an even larger statue of Amarendra.

The Sequence Kicks So Much Ass.

I found this segment of the movie even more gripping and cinematic than the battle against the Kalakeyas at the end of the first movie. It had so much going on. Bhallaladeva setting himself up for failure by asserting to Devasena that everyone had forgotten Baahubali was perfect, and Mahendra saving the day because he’s a good dude and inadvertently bringing Bhallaladeva shame was delightful.

“Who is Baahubali?” Great question, Shivudu!

What I Didn’t Like

Now, ease up, y’all. It wouldn’t be right not to point out things that I feel are flaws, or at least didn’t sit well with me. I mean, I loved this movie. Just bear with me.

There’s a secondary character in the movie of some importance: Avanthika. She’s the beautiful rebel supporting Amarendra’s brother-in-law, the exiled king of Kundala, who is trying to rescue Devasena from Bhallaladeva’s open-air prison. Avanthika kicks off Shivudu’s all-out successful ascent of the waterfall from his village to the upland plateau where the great city of Mathishmati reigns over the surrounding region.

Shivudu falls for her hard. This is all good. But then it gets weird. He tattoos her hand while she’s dozing, and then later the back of her arm while she’s distracted by a viper. (Okay, maybe it was just a regular non-poisonous snake, but she took it so seriously she didn’t notice her arm getting ink.) The design on her hand nearly gets her expelled from the commando company. And in neither case has she given consent to have designs applied to her body.

C’mon Shivudu. This isn’t cool.

It’s so bad, she’s hoping to kill him. Fortunately for our hero, he manages to avoid death in order to charm Avanthika with a dance-like seduction, leading up to an extended musical number where Avanthika negs herself a bit during the costume changes.

Avanthika. Have some self-respect. You’re beautiful, deadly, and awesome.

Regardless of its regressive undertones, Shivudu’s romantic technique works. Maybe not the most enlightened message.

Unfortunately, Avanthika is injured when some of the Mathishmati soldiers unluckily come across Shivudu and Avathika. Shivudu takes on the responsibility for saving Devasena. But it’s kind of awkwardly expressed. (I’ll paraphrase.)

Shivudu: You belong to me now. That means everything you have is mine. Your mission is mine too, so if you want Devasena saved, I’ll save her.
Avanthika: Wait. Everything I have is now yours? Did I sign something to that effect? What?

Okay, maybe Avanthika didn’t say that, but I was certainly thinking it.

Okay, I get the meaning of what was trying to be expressed. Shivudu is very invested in Avanthika’s success, because they’re now a couple. It just didn’t quite come out that way, with the initial You belong to me now.

Dude.

And unfortunately, Avanthika more or less vanishes from the story, one hour into the six hour combined movie. Okay, we still see her, but really that’s the last of her contribution, until she shows up at the very end with the implicit understanding that she’s to be Mahendra’s queen. I’m pretty sure she was in the final battle sequence, the siege on Mathishmati, but I don’t think she had any memorable stuff to be a capstone on her arc, like Devasena does with immolating Bhalladeva, or Kappatta in confronting the villainous and weasely Bijjiladeva.

I think as a character, she deserved better.

Now, Shivudu probably meant no harm with his rogue-ish ways. And he comes by it naturally. His father Amarendra, although a big damn hero, was also kind of a cad to Mahendra’s mom Devasena.

In the second movie, in Kappatta’s story of Amarendra, the young hero and Kappatta were traveling in disguise in the nearby kingdom of Kundala. Pretending to be a doofus, Amarendra hangs out with the ridiculous nobleman Kumara Varma. The martially-accomplished Devasena goes hunting with Varma, but when she tries to shoot boars, Amarendra manages to sabotage her arrow shots and fake successful shots from the hapless and unskilled Kumara Varma.

Amarendra is literally making an accomplished woman fail so a mediocre man can succeed.

Devasena: There’s a glass ceiling over the kingdom of Mathishmati, I guess.
Sivagami: Glass ceiling? That didn’t stop me from becoming the infallible queen mother.
Devasena: Well, it must be nice.

Again, there’s a whimsical nature to this, and Amarendra does inspire Kumara Varma to kick ass when the Pindaris attack the harem he’s hiding in. But, it’s just a tad regressive how the movie treats the protagonists’ lady loves.

Although it certainly picks up progressively at Devasena’s trial when Amarendra beheads a reprobate for groping women. Hashtag Time’s Up in Mathishmati.

Let me restate that I’m very fond of this movie, and I don’t necessarily want to debate sexual politics. It’s okay if I consider the ladies in Baahubali underserved. I mean, the movie is Baahubali, not Avanthika and Devasena. (But I would totally watch that movie.)

Maybe, my only other major complaint for the entirety of Baahubali the Beginning and Baahubali the Conclusion: I felt that Part 1 ended a bit stronger than Part 2. The big finale felt a bit anticlimactic, particularly with the very strong Amarendra storyline leading up to what was promised at the end of Part 1: Kappatta’s complicity in the death of Amarendra. Because that happened in the middle of the second movie, the triumph of Mahendra never really hit the narrative fever pitch found in Amarendra’s tragedy. Some landings are hard to stick, and I although I found the ending of Baahubali the Conclusion to be a bit flat, it’s part of an amazing package.

Again, I recommend strongly.

Obligatory Game of Thrones Section

Hey, I don’t make a living writing blogs, but I do enjoy blogging. Especially about HBO’s Game of Thrones (and the unfinished source material A Song of Ice and Fire.) After seeing Baahubali the Beginning, I immediately tweeted to my Game of Thrones friends that if they were impatiently waiting for either the next book in the series or for Game of Thrones to return in April, they should pass the time by checking out Baahubali on Netflix.

I say this, not because one property is derivative of the other, or any kind of measuring one as better or worse than the other, but both are big, epic stories with interesting multi-generational conflicts and feature secret-royal tropes, things that honestly are very enjoyable. I love stories with virtuous characters put into bad situations, with healthy doses of tragic misunderstandings and base betrayals.

I LOVE Bhallaladeva. The actor nails the performance and I enjoy the character. He’s ambitious and accomplished, but is lacking the heroic qualities that Baahubali possesses.

With some tweaking of the story of Baahubali, Bhallaladeva, and Devasena, we’d almost have correspondences to Rhaegar Targaryen, Robert Baratheon, and Lyanna Stark. We’d don’t have that exactly, and I’m not trying to make a hard and fast comparison. But Bhallaladeva has so much in common with Robert Baratheon.

They even both favor warhammers. (Okay, Bhalla’s is more of a crazy mace-flail super-weapon. I don’t want to argue too much.)

Kattappa’s betrayal of Amarendra, brought on by his strict adherence of honor, really has me hoping that when George RR Martin finally gives us more details about Robert’s Rebellion – that we discover for some reason kingsguard Ser Barristan Selmy betrayed Rhaegar Targaryen at the Battle of the Ruby Ford. (We’re not getting that, but Kappatta’s confession at the end of Baahubali the Beginning was so shocking, getting something similar to that from Barristan in The Winds of Winter would be AMAZING.)

Okay, I’ll stop talking about Game of Thrones.

And, I’ll stop talking about Baahubali, because this post has gone on long enough.

Really, really pleased I saw these six hours of quality, epic entertainment. I believe that there’s a prequel series I’ll need to check out.

BAAHUBALI!


All images from either Baahubali the Beginning or Baahubali the Conclusion. I make zero claims on the images, but some claims on the text here.

So there.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2018 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. The dogs would probably enjoy the animated film Sword of the Stranger. I mean, mine did.

    Liked by 1 person

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