All those who have watched ‘Baahubali 2’ are mesmerized by the epic historical fiction produced by SS Rajamouli. The love ‘Baahubali 2’ receives at theaters from Indians and people of Indian origin abroad springs from its magnificent reflection of ancient Indian culture and drama.
The Kingdom of Mahishmati is depicted in all its grandeur, set in majestic palaces displaying ancient Indian architecture, splendid scenes of royal family life, family bonds, love and enmity, intrigues, betrayal and fighting, loyalty and royal duties. The wonders of computer techniques to create 2000 elephants and 300 buffaloes running wild in war scenes is mind-blowing; splendid forest scenes, gigantic floods drowning the enemy, hundreds of arrows travelling incredible distances in the air, thousands of village folks defending their Prince, sprawling natural landscapes of hills, rivers, mountains and forests. Pure magic.
Hindu aesthetics, ethics, philosophy and mythology run throughout the film, reaching a peak point in the splendid military speech delivered in Sanskrit by the newly-appointed General of the Army. Lovers of Sanskrit are thrilled by the penetrating purity and sound of the language of the Gods.
The Indian Super Hero
The absorbing narrative and visually shining spectacle of ‘Baahubali 2’ is splendidly performed by the main characters, and above all, by actor Prabhas who puts up an outstanding performance, embodying a sense of duty as a prince and soldier, and displaying supernatural strength. One of the scenes which shows Prabhas teaching the Princess, played by Anouska Shetty, how to skillfully use the bow and arrow in the fight against dacoits in the forest has all the refinement of a royal painting in the costumes, colours and artistic posture.
The Rs 1000 crore movie remains an undisputed Indian blockbuster and is set to become a worldwide box office hit surpassing ‘Dangal’, a less interesting movie which is currently garnering more success only in China. The film continues as an animated series and a novel trilogy, which is an excellent idea. Indeed, there is a most promising future for the Indian super hero inaugurated by Prabhas, which is likely to boost the film and culture industry and guarantee staggering success through exports to Asia, the West, the Middle-East and Africa, and contribute billions to Indian economy.
Animated series is a most welcome idea to delight children, youngsters and adults with the never-ending saga of folks from the kingdom of Mahishmati. SS Rajamouli extends the film’s grandeur to its marketing campaign. We hope that such ambition is kept up with the production of similar lavish epics and creation of super heroes, and exported across the world. It would be a change from Hollywood super heroes which become global blockbusters and keep youths worldwide glued to the screen in wonder of heroic fiction in the American tradition.
India has much more to offer in animated series which can fire the imagination of youths worldwide. Epic characters delivering grandstanding discourses and engaged in thrilling heroic action can be not only visually entertaining but culturally informative and instructive when Indian aesthetics, ethics and philosophy are weaved throughout the epic narratives.
The point is the entertainment industry is a lucrative industry and India should aim to take a much greater share in the world market by diversifying its offers. Ancient Indian culture in different regions can inspire the creation of absorbing narratives in different Indian languages, and doubled to satisfy a wide audience locally and at international level.
And what about modern history which can be inspirational to bring back to life such heroic figures as Maharana Pratap Singh from Rajasthan, and Marathi king Shivaji among others. Why not too, a super Indian heroine, the brave and fearless Maharani of Jhansi in the tradition of women warriors.
The Indian Film Industry
There have been high quality films produced in Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam and so on. ‘Baahubali’ is a Telugu film doubled in other Indian languages including Hindi. Unfortunately, Hindi-speaking audiences get to see only films produced in Hindi. It is most desirable to promote films in the other languages and double them in Hindi so that audiences have access to a wider variety of Indian films.
On the other hand, it is most refreshing to see an almost unknown actor make it to the top in a masterly role of prince and warrior, and discover the endearing personality Prabhas seems to have, showing much humility in interviews, especially in his encounter with Prime Minister Modi. Quite a change from the Khan clan and the other muscle-flexing 1 metre 65 cm males swaggering absurdly in Hindi films! When you see some of them, you can’t help recalling the most handsome, elegant and tall, sexy actors such as classy Raaj Kumar, romantic Raj and Shammi Kapoors and great drama actor father Prithiviraj, distinguished Dilip Kumar, evergreen hero Dev Anand, charismatic Dharmendra, Manoj, Rajesh Khanna, Pran, versatile Om Puri and so many others. Unfortunately, they were not always given great roles which would have brought out their talents even more forcefully. Recently, Rishi Kapoor was outraged by the attitude of the present batch of stars, some of them in their 50s, who went partying instead of attending Vinod Khanna’s funeral.
There have been very good Hindi films over the last years, dealing with interesting and powerful themes. A change from hero chasing heroine and singing behind trees, the stupid puerile eve-teasing habits which negatively influence young men in their strategy of wooing women. Eve-teasing equates to harassment in modern language. A probable distortion of Krishna-Radha courting scenes. Some Indian men and others of Indian origin have even displayed the ridiculous behaviour towards women in Western countries, making a fool of themselves and giving a bad name to their country. Such behaviour seems to be toning down for some time now, at least in foreign lands. Much has to be improved in male behaviour in India itself. The glamour in films associated with hero getting the heroine come whatever may despite her reluctance must surely influence male attitudes.
Equally ridiculous is the way heroines are depicted in courting scenes – capricious, sulking, childlike, spoilt and immature. Where have male producers picked their ideas of female identity and psychology from is a secret known only to themselves. Interestingly, female directors show actresses in a different light, devoid of male fantasy and more realistic. We have always been baffled by the unnecessary abusive use of English in Hindi films, with ‘mummy’ (now American ‘mom’!), ‘daddy’, ‘darling’, ‘thank you’ giving a superficial touch to already poor dialogues. Do the British and the Americans use Indian languages in their films?
Hinglish seems to be a fantasy of the Mumbai middle-class, and the screen rendering of a well-off lifestyle full of fair-skinned ‘Fair and Lovely’ actors and actresses is something large swathes of Indian population may not relate to. Dark skin actors are non-existent in Hindi films by Indian producers. You get to see them only in films produced by Westerners (English, American and Australian), as in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and recently, ‘Lion’. Dalits and other low castes should probably venture into making their own films to show other realities in diverse India!
Amitabh Bachchan never uses the word ‘Bollywood’ but refers to the ‘Indian Film industry’, and rightly so. Why use a foreign word to define local production? It’s a matter of self-respect and dignity. Quite grotesque to resort to ‘Kollywood’, ‘Bollywood’. Whether they are Tamil, Telugu or Hindi, it is the Indian Film Industry. Full stop.
Imitation and vulgarity
It’s not a secret that a combination of Eastern and Western vulgarity have crept into Hindi films for decades. There’s a fascination for Western style gun violence, gory scenes with rival gangs, random killings, blood galore, rape and so on. The muscle-flexing 1 metre 65 cm males wearing the fierce tough guy look on their face, which makes them look even more out of place and ridiculous. To top it all, actresses dressed like sluts in Western-style dancing is a waste of talent besides being a pale copy of their Western counterparts. Film directors should be aware of the sensitivity of large audiences not only in India but also in Africa, Middle-East and Asia who watch Indian films at home with their families, and the embarrassment caused by vulgar dresses and scenes.
In his book ‘The Indian Renaissance’, Sri Aurobindo warned about the trend of crude imitation of the West in artistic creation, which already started around Independence. He mainly referred to Art and urged artists to find their own Indian creative spirit. But we can also apply it to cinema art. Since the opening of Indian media to foreign production in the 2000s, there has been quite a lot of shameless imitation of Western films. One of them was a television Hindi film version, a 100% imitation of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘M for Murder’ translated into ‘Le Crime était presque parfait’ in French.
More recently, Aamir Khan’s ‘Taare Zameen Par’ featuring a friendly teacher with unorthodox methods is an Indian version of ‘Dead Poets Society’. Another Aamir Khan’s film (‘Talaash’) with Kareena Kapoor as a ghost woman, Aamir Khan as a cop who lost his son in a boat accident is a paler copy of Francis Ford Coppola’s film ‘Twist’ in 2013. It contains autobiographical elements of the producer who lost his son Carlo in a boat accident and a writer haunted by a dead girl ghost, etc. Some horror films are also copied on the Western model. There must be loads of similar examples.
Well, since then we have had excellent original films ‘Udta Punjab’, ‘PK’, ‘Pink’, ‘Raees’, ‘Dangal’, Indian-French production of ‘The Lunchbox’, ‘Parched’ and so on.
Indian Spirit of Creativity
The point is that there is a pool of artistic creativity among a wide diverse Indian population in the villages and towns. Presenting only Hindi films on the world stage does not depict a holistic image of India. There is a plethora of themes and topics in Indian culture, mythology, history both ancient and modern, which can be of valuable inspiration, and does not need imitation of other countries’ production. There are great opportunities in other Indian languages, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi and so on to make outstanding films and hit world market. ‘Baahubali 2’ is just one story of epic dimension which has delighted us lately. To start with such stories should be promoted. Sanskrit should be used more often for its exceptional elevating poetic quality and profound meanings.
We believe that while India today is taking a key turning point in its development, the cinema industry should be gaining more self-confidence and look inward and bring out the best in its artistic creativity. And one way to go about it is to invite Indians in India and abroad to suggest stories and themes!