Baahubali -- A Movie Which Makes Simple Things Work Brilliantly…
At the time of writing this article, we came across a news which synced perfectly well with what we had thought over the past few months. What exactly makes Baahubali India’s biggest blockbuster. The news, of course, was that the magnum opus was now being introduced as an elective study paper in IIM-Ahmedabad. And we weren’t surprised at all.
At a time of movie making, where a humungous amount of uncertainty hovers about the business, here comes a regional film which sends seismic waves across box offices across the world. And let us not forget that the film itself is a regional film, conceptualized, materialized and brought to life in a language spoken by just about 7% of the entire population of the country. Yes, the movie was dubbed and released in more than half a dozen languages, including Russian recently, but essentially the movie itself appeals and exudes the sensibility of regional story element.
This idea that “a regional story made worldwide history” has continued to baffle movie thinkers, trade pundits, and moviegoers alike. However, within this article, we’ll dissect that thought itself, and define a basic rule of storytelling, while analyzing the movie itself. After all, our thought or at least our understanding of the movie and its business is based on a thought that Bahubali is not a regional story itself. If nothing else, Baahubali is a world story, and it is only a definitive logic that it will work across the world.
The article in no way undermines or undercuts the phenomenal success of the film. Rather it tries to decode the essential elements of the movie, at a psychological and philosophical level, which make it a global phenomenon and tries to prove that, Baahubali was always bound to be what it turned out to be. A worldwide phenomenon.
Always Get The Basics Right -- The Essence Of Myth
Myth. What does the term even mean? Well, to put in the definition, one can say that Myth is a traditional story, which is concerned towards either one continuous or combination of historical events. Most storytelling techniques base on Myth for two primary reasons.
Firstly, because they are tried and tested formulae which have already worked and been appreciated over thousands of years, and have been refined over time, to become relevant to every age, reader and moment. The basic examples of these Myths are the Mythological stories of Ramayana, Illiad, Mahabharatha, Ten Commandments and such. Indian Myth, Greek And Roman Myth, Imperial Myth etc, always become a reference point to any storyteller in one form or the other. After all, it is said that there are only Seven Original Stories in the world, and all of them are based on the Mythology of the region they belong to. According to the age and culture, new revisions, amendments, characters are introduced within these Myths, to make them as relevant as possible to the current generation.
How does Myth, particularly Indian Myth infuse within Baahubali and our discussion? The minds behind Baahubali, Story writer Vijayendra Prasad, and Director SS Rajamouli distilled the essence of Indian Myth and made a straightforward story base, which every single person in the country, could automatically relate to.
And it is quite obvious that the Mythical core elements used in the story are important -- Sibling Rivalry, Loyalty and Betrayal, and Armed Rebellion being the concepts primarily seen in Mahabharatha. In a similar manner, Exile Of A Prince, A Mother’s Choice In Sons, A Queen’s Abduction and Capture, Accumulation Of Tribal Armies, And so on are integral story-telling tools in Ramayana. Of course, it is not to be said that the concepts were infused just for the sake of it. It is of course to the creative credit of the people involved in the making of Baahubali, that they weaved a structurally sound plotline infusing all the above-said elements.
And thus, it can be said, by adhering to not doing something extraordinary, and rather by telling a story everyone knew, albeit sewn up pieces from this Myth and the other, the makers found unparalleled acceptance for the movie.
Hence, by relying on Myths they established a rapport with the audience, even before the initial reactions came out of theatres. You see because Everyone Knew How To Understand This Movie, Everyone Spectacularly Did. Thus, the basic rule of blockbuster filmmaking as evidenced by Baahubali is,
Know Your Audience And Speak Their Language.
A Lesson In Shuffling -- Experiments With The Past and Present Ratio
Most would agree with me when I say the story of Baahubali, based on the Indian Mythology, is quite linear and predictable. One sentence to suffice it would be -- Good & Generous triumphs over Bad & Greedy. Now this, we all know. As I said, even the makers were counting on it. We know that Baahubali (Prabhas) will emerge victorious over Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati) right from the first frame.
The challenge for the storytellers was to tell this plain linear story in the most interesting format. Yes, there were visuals, extravagant art designs, mammoth fight sequences, and mesmerizing songs, but when a normal moviegoer walks out of the theatre, he doesn’t truly share these details with his/her friends. Yes, they do pop in, within deeper and further discussions, but we as humans like to share stories. And that’s what makes it essential for movies, TV shows, Plays and even Standup comedies to have a story or rather a sequence of occurring. Coming back to Baahubali, the challenge for the makers of the movie was to tell a simple story in an engaging manner.
Here is where, both Vijayendra Prasad and SS Rajamouli went for a nonlinear flashback styling, although taking care of not overdoing it. Hence, we have a movie which explores and explains the storylines of both Amarendra Baahubali and Mahendra Baahubali in equal proportions. Whilst within Baahubali -- The Beginning, The present to past ratio comes to roughly 50:50 and the within Baahubali -- The Conclusion, The past to present ratio comes to around 85:15.
To a keen observer, this is an important ratio. The wit and intelligence of the makers come from the fact that they catered to both the past and present in equal parts to the audience, to start off with. And depending on the response and reaction they understood from the first part, they tailored the second part to expand and further establish the “Past” portions greater than the “Present”.
In layman terms, People loved the Flashback sequence, and hence SS Rajamouli delivered more of that and reduced the present. Hence, the storytelling became more interactive without anyone’s knowledge. This becomes a lesson for any filmmaker who wants to do a sequel to his first initial project. The lesson is simple -- Show all your cards to the audience, keenly observe their reactions, and depending on them tweak the story to include elements or sequences they actually loved in the first part.
Therefore, the sequel should not just continue the story but also feed on the best elements of the first part. That’s how you better a movie second time around.
The Magnitude Of Excellence -- Emperor’s Rooted Grandeur
The one thing we admire and celebrate about Baahubali is its grand action set pieces. Whilst reminiscing the success of Baahubali, many people on multiple occasions have spoken about SS Rajamouli’s grand vision for the story. Never fail/fear to dream big is something every storyteller is told at some point in time. Having such a grand vision for things will allow you to work towards achieving them, and help you materialize it to the closest possible denominator. This is a logic almost everyone knows and most of us in the creative business abide by. Scale Of Vision is a great quality to have. But when everyone is doing it, everyone should be able to hit it big, isn’t it? If just scale was the criteria, or if just having a grand vision was the criteria, every second Hollywood movie would rake in Billions of Dollars. Something like The Hobbit Trilogy, Batman V Superman, Justice League, Mummy and so on, should do all the business in the world if just the Scale Of Vision was a criterion. And to add to my point from the above, all these movies are based on Myths, and also have enough time to learn from their prequels to tweak the sequels, but have faltered at creating any decent impact. So then, for a curious mind, a thought arises. There have to be factors beyond the above. That’s where the term “Rooted Grandeur” comes forth.
What do I mean by “Rooted Grandeur”? Allow me to explain it clearly. When we go through the entire story arch of Baahubali, one thing is clear. The core element of the storyline is the fight between two brothers. Simple as that. Now unlike storylines which taper off into World Saving, Community Saving, Or Myth Altering, Baahubali does something very simple. It sticks to its basic rule of Sibling Rivalry. The makers whilst infusing crores of rupees into the franchise have always ensured that all the grandeur and scale goes into escalating only these two brothers, in comparison and in contrast, over a period.
All factors of set design, production design, costumes, background music, dialogues, screenplay twist elements, are driven by the centripetal force of the brother rivalry. There is no indecision there. And so thus the term of “Rooted Grandeur” comes to cause. You see, the movies mystical architecture and budget are not just to build kingdoms, imposing statues, stunning waterfalls and monuments, but with each of these elements, SS Rajamouli is furthering and defining the strength, honour, valour, intellect, and choices of essentially the two brothers.
Be it the carrying of Linga, or the Bison fight, or the Catapulting of Shielded warriors, or the Glory monument scenes, are all either establishing the roles or glorifying them until the two characters come face to face. Interestingly their face-offs aren’t exactly a visual effects extravaganza. They are composed to reflect raw brawl effects between two equally powerful men. This is a contrary movie technique, where we realize that for two men to fight towards an end, both have to be devoid of all the glory and godly stature that ha been built up over the runtime until that point.
The lesson to be learned here for filmmakers is two-fold. Define your core idea. And put all your resources into establishing them unilaterally without any other deviance in focus. And if you are going for a humongous budget, always have a “Rooted Grandeur” in place. The next course if your core idea is ‘human’ related, always come back to that for movie plot resolution.
Baahubali -- The Women And The Proper Representation Of Ages
What makes a story really organic? What does a great writer do when he wants the readers or the audience to grow and relate to the story? And how does one establish that “relatable” factor within such a magnum opus, which almost entirely focuses on two brothers trying to outdo each other? Here is where the brilliance of writer Vijayendra Prasad comes to the fore.
He, as a writer, plays around with the emotional connect, the people need to have towards characters. The protagonist and the antagonist are deeply coloured with positivity and negativity. There is no ambiguity in them. There is no moral bias in them either. So as a viewer you know one thing for sure. You need to root for the protagonist and you need to hate the antagonist. The weakness of Protagonist thereby worries you, and the valour of antagonist makes you worry even more. Now that’s the emotional connect here being established. However, it is not enough just to establish that emotionally connect with the main leads. We need to see the supplementary and supporting roles pick sides. A good writer will always tell you that the most interesting roles are those, who never pick a side. Those are the characters which drive the story forward.
Morally torn and decisively ambiguous. And who better to entertain these thoughts than the lead women in the duo-logy. Be it Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan) or DevaSena (Anushka) or Avanthika (Tammannah), all these women are thrown into situations which ask them to go beyond their moral conviction of right and wrong and choose something purely out of their practicality. These emotional upheavals and character turmoils are brilliantly showcased across both the movies.
The makers of the duo-logy pull out an ace when all the “storyline-choices” are given to the women. This again generously nods to the Myth culture where even within Mahabharata and Ramayana, all the fate-altering decisions are done by women. Thus, women of Bahubali franchise complete the perfect construction of Mythological storytelling tones which SS Rajamouli set out to do from the first frame.
Additionally, what makes these women highly relatable is that they reflect the imagination which went into composing characters like Kausalya, Draupadi, Sita and more. Instantly relatable. And emotionally connecting, not just within the Telugu speaking states, but across the world. Afterall, Ramayana and Mahabharata are not just a national wide epic. They are world defining epics within their storylines and characters.
Thus, Bahubali by telling us a story we already know went on to become a success story we will keep talking about for ages to come.