For two years the nation has been wanting to know, the hysteria increasing with every passing day: why did Kattappa kill Baahubali? Smart viewers would probably have glommed the answer, but given that Baahubali 2 was made expressly for that purpose, we duly give it our time and attention.
We get the answer, but only after long, infernally silly romantic interludes: romance is not really S S Rajamouli’s strength. And everything after the big reveal, which really isn’t half as big as was promised, seems like anti-climactic excess. At the end of nearly three hours, I can tell you that the second part is not half as satisfying or fun as the original.
And the reason is clear: sequelitis. Together with the singular lack of a plot interesting enough to hang a query on, Baahubali 2 comes off as too much sound and fury signifying little.
The first time around the animated hi-jinks that Rajamouli created, a sort of ‘desi tadka’ version of Peter Jackson and James Cameron crossed with Amar Chitra Katha, were astonishing, both in terms of scale and setting and story telling. I was blown away by the sheer confidence and the conviction of the film-making, ignoring the risible bits and pieces.
And it finished on a great hook, with THAT question which we got to take home, and which got us swarming into theaters brimming with excitement: when was the last time a Telugu movie, dubbed in multiple languages including Hindi, power into multiplexes around the world, shoving aside all competition? Never.
But what took our breath away in 2014 is same old, been here, seen most of it, in 2017. Yes, it is bigger, but it is not better. And it feels much louder. The background music is relentless, and the pitch at which the declamatory dialogues are delivered is deafening: there were times I felt like closing my ears.
The clash between warring princes Baahubali (Prabhas) and Bhallala (Rana Dagubatti) is the fulcrum around which the film revolves. As we know from the first part, Baahubali is the good guy, the rightful heir to the throne, and will save his kingdom from the evil Bhallala, come what may.
The regal queen Sivagami (Ramya) is as commanding as ever, presiding over the fate of the two men, and the fiery princess Devasena (Anushka Shetty) gets a lot of play. Nassar’s wily old king is craftier, and Kattapa (Sathyaraj), that faithful retainer who is forced into the terrible murder, is as loyal as ever.
As in the first part, there are a few startlingly gauche parts in the man-woman skirmishes: you don’t really want a woman to call herself a ‘charnon ki daasi’ even if it’s a film set in the distant, mythical past, especially if she is a warrior princess with a strong will.
But we’ve seen it all. Only in some places where the battle scenes and the hand-to-hand combat is choreographed beautifully (there’s one spectacular balletic set-piece between Prabhas and Shetty in which they take on an attacking swarm) and with great energy do you sit up and watch with interest. A couple of times you laugh out loud in appreciation at the sheer spectacle: thousands upon thousands of soliders, a vista that fills the eye and more, and a hero cleaving through, his eye on the win.
And that brings me to Prabhas, the only one who doesn’t drown in familiarity in a story which doesn’t know when to stop. He plays Baahubali, he of great strength, with as much verve and vigour as in the first part. Striding across the screen, his `dhoti’ and vest and armour all in the right place, he comes across as the perfect action hero, complete eye candy, and the biggest strength of the film.
Enjoyed the first part enormously. The second one comes to life only intermittently. Leaving the theatre, you can’t help wishing that Kattapa had killed the fellow earlier, for us to get a tighter, more economical and perhaps sharper conclusion.