Where we left off two years ago, a virtual century in box-office parlance–Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) had muscled out all but one or two of the biggest Hindi language movies to clinch a top spot on the Indian cinema box office food chain. In a breezy two years later, along comes Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, the would-be crown jewel to what was only the crown. Even with its opulence, flashy costumes, epic story-telling and gimmicky showiness, while Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is better filmmaking, it falls a little short of what Baahubali: The Beginning spoiled us to expect.
Continuing the adventures of Amarendar Baahubali (Prabhas) in the mythical kingdom of Mahishmati, Queen Mother Sivagami (Krishnan) is soon to declare the new regent for the crown.
Baahubali, ever the outsider, has heroics and dashing good looks going for him while Bhallaladeva (Daggubati), the wily scion of Prime Minister Bijjaladeva (Nasser), stands to lose more if he does not play palace shenanigans. Enter the gorgeous Princess Devasena (Shetty), she who is romantically betrothed to Baahubali and who may be victimized by Bhallaladeva’s mischief making. No story this dramatic can end without a good fight. And sure enough, this vast chess game can only end in a winner-take-all cosmic battle.
Director Rajamouli and team bring to play often show-stopping and cutting edge theatrics and action sequences. Like with Hollywood’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and Greek-era action entry 300—movies that Baahubali 2 brings to mind more than once, for the most part there is seamless interaction between mortal fighters and the fauna they encounter—be it horses, elephants, wild boars, gaurs or even bow and arrow. The action-sequences flow and are physically plausible. The palace riches shine with royal elegance and nifty waterfalls still flow.
So why the skittishness on my part, you ask? Well, Part 1 was fluid in just about every aspect—from the natural looks of the ethereal waterfalls to neon bright colors that looked ready to peel off the large screen to lead Prabhas’ studly muscle-flexing–alright, there was swooning in Part 1 when Prabhas’s Baahubali single-handedly and effortlessly hoisted up the massive stone Shiva lingam. In Part 2, those same elements—dressed up even spiffier appear a little flat and the animals just don’t move like they should. Also M. M Keeravani’s Part 2 score is good but not great. While T. Sreenidhi and V. Srisoumya’s “Kannaa Nidurinchara” and Daler Mehndi and Mounima’s “Saahore” are catchy, Part 2 has no signature hook that stands up to the rousing orchestra of the “Dhivara” number from Part 1. We want to be wowed and we end up settling for oh-that’s-very-nice instead.
From it’s infancy, Indian cinema culturally gravitated towards popular mythological stories that the masses could relate to. Early standout proto-Indian movies Raja Harishchandra (1913), Lanka Dahan (1917) and Sairandhri (1919) all borrowed elements of Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. For Bombay-based filmmaking, the love affair with Indian cultural standard-bearers lasted well into the last century and eventually transferred almost entirely to television. For film houses in southern India, however, the mythological well never quite dried up and the incredible success of the Baahubali franchise is testament to the vitality of that genre.
And how phenomenally it has paid off! Rolling out with a 9,000 screen global debut–by far the biggest ever for an Indian movie–Baahubali 2 has outdone even Baahubali 1. At press time, this cash cow has garnered approximately US $300 million (about 2 billion Indian Rupees) in four Indian languages—it was filmed in both Telugu and Tamil during the same filming and dubbed into Hindi and Malayalam versions. This massive box office take exceeds even the combined lifetime collections of the next three box office top ranking Indian movies, including Aamir Khan’s Dangal, which is now at No. 2.
The fit-for-a-thesis perfect alignment of incredible word of mouth, industry buzz, incessant promos and free publicity surrounding the ginormous loot that traded hands for pre-selling of satellite-TV rights transformed Baahubali 2 into that perfect craze–face it, it is a craze–where otherwise frugal cinema goes skipped, strolled or raced to line up to pay up to $40 in the US and a jaw-dropping $60 per ticket in some Indian multiplexes. Baahubali 2 has singlehandedly turned the economics of movie making in India topsy-turvy. This movie has changed Indian cinema!
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.