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Baahubali review: SS Rajamouli's film is sheer, jaw-dropping, VFX spectacle

Once upon a time, there lived a mother. Her hair was matted and grey. Her eyes were wild and bloodshot. Her chants were wild and hopeful. “Mera beta aayega…,” she kept saying, while shuffling around. Her feet were in thick chains for 25 years. It sounds a little bit like Karan Arjun, but this is SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali. And despite how clichéd some of its elements may be, this film is the work of South Indian cinema’s wildest imagination and it takes steps towards of mythic proportions in Indian fantasy.
Baahubali is about sheer, jaw-dropping, hypnotic spectacle. Released simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam, the film’s budget is a whopping Rs 200 crores, making it the most expensive film made in India. Going by the sheer grandeur, it is little wonder that Karan Johar snapped up the Hindi version.
The hero’s real name is Shiva (Prabhas Raju). He has the strength to carry a huge Shiva lingam and to pull up a 450-foot tall, gold statue. He can dislodge huge boulders and use one as a luge when there’s an avalanche chasing him and his lady love. No wonder then that the greatest warrior of the land does a Michael Jackson-esque slide on his knees and bows before Shiva with a worshipful cry of “Baahubali!”
A still from Bahubali.
A still from Bahubali.
But first, Shiva must show off his awesomeness. So he makes the perilous climb up to the kingdom of Mahismati to woo Avanthika (Tamannaah). She is a vision in white. No, she is not Raj Kapoor’s Mandakini, but a wuxia-inspired heroine, beautifully framed in captivating shots under waterfalls. When Shiva does find her, she attacks him with a sword. This leads to a dance-like duel, which begins with him disrobing her and ends with her falling in love. Naturally.
But Shiva has more ordained for him than simply getting the girl. He doesn’t know this, but the old woman waiting for her son is actually his mother, Devasena (Anushka Shetty).
Devasena is held captive by the well-oiled, evil king, Bhallala Dev(Rana Daggubati), whom she had once rejected and who just happens to be Shiva’s uncle. Bhallala delights in torturing Devasena. She collects wood for his pyre.
Initially, Baahubali works like a musical, setting Shiva and Avanthika’s romance in the most outlandish of lands and exotic sets. The real fun and action begins afterwards, when Shiva is told of his father, Amarendra Baahubali and the plot rewinds to a world of palace intrigue and war.
We see a majestic Sivagami refuse throne but rule like queen, while sitting on the regent’s seat with two babies suckling under her pallu. One is her own son, Bhallala. The other is Shiva’s father. Years roll on, the boys grow into well-matched, powerful princes. A ferocious tribal enemy attacks and a spectacular battle follows.
This is the point where you forget the story. It’s not weak, but it doesn’t really matter Watch Baahubali for the moves. The hero gets on a horse in the middle of a crowded battlefiend, the camera takes the shot up-close, and it’s VFX techno power at its most awesome. The soundtrack by M.M. Kreem, one of his finest, sets the mood and matches the soaring, balletic action movements.
Action, camera, VFX, sound – that’s Baahubali’s magic formula. Particularly during the war with the primitive and terrible Kalakeyas (for whom Rajamouli has concocted a new language. Take that Dothraki-fans), the technological sophistication is worth applause. The camera plays eagle to reveal an enormous aerial view of men on horses racing against men on feet. A stunning side angle shot of silver arrows in a line sets the ball rolling. The background score continues to add to the magical visual display.
And there are the haunting shots that Rajamouli weaves into his storytelling, like the sight of a headless body stumbling on a cliff, against a backdrop of apocalyptic thunderclouds.
But really, forget the story. In Baahubali, watch the moves.

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