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 The tides of the box-office sometimes deliver bombshells from unexpected places. For filmmaker Rajamouli, whose Magadheera (2009) and Eega (2012) were two all-time blockbusters of Telugu and Tamil cinemas, the latest release Baahubali: The Beginning adds another box-office juggernaut to his name. Action-packed to the rafters, epic on more than one level and plain out and out simply an amazing movie experience, Baahubali: The Beginning re-writes the text on mega-budget, circus tent-sized movies. Wow them with jaw-dropping techie wizardry, toss in an engrossing story, avoid gimmicky trappings of 3-D at all costs, up the admission to a wallet-thinning $20 (seriously!) and leave them wanting—no, begging—for more.

The mythical kingdom of Mahishmati is in a state of agitation. An infant named Baahubali is rescued from near-certain drowning and adopted by Sanga (Rohini) and her forest-dwelling camp followers. The orphan grows up as Shivudu (Prabhas)—fearless, brawny and intent on conquering the tall mountains near the river where he was rescued. Overcoming Herculean odds, Shivudu scales the treacherous mountain and lands in Mahishmati and unknowingly intertwines his own fate with that of the empire even as a historic rivalry between warrior cousins begins to take shape.

In this first of two part definite franchise, with Part 2 scheduled for 2016 release, Baahubali emerges as the epitome of the craft of Indian filmmaking on an epic scale. Steadfastly against releasing it in 3-D, another trendy move on Rajamouli’s part, there is plenty of oomph in the 2-D version. The storyboard graphics come alive, the colors explode and rushing torrents of a storied mighty waterfall seem about to creep up from between stadium seats at the multiplex.

The amazing touches extend to the phenomenal cinema-hall sound that—reinforcing the notion that choosing the right seat in the theater is paramount to the optimal cinematic experience—engulfs the senses with crashing waves, breaking branches and the stupefying battle sequence artifacts of clanking armor, colliding swords, flying daggers, horse stampedes and elephant-mount charges. So far, only zombies have been unmoved by this as anything less than a bright-eyed-kid-in-a-candy-store spectacle.

Reportly made on a stratospheric budget of $40-$50 million, Baahubali’s $23 millionopening weekend smashed the record for the biggest opening weekend for an Indian movie, trumping the $17 million record previously held by Shahrukh Khan in Happy New Year (2014). With a $4.4 million opening weekend haul in the U.S., Baahubali also outdid the $3 million U.S. opening for PK.Baahubali may be well on the way to becoming the biggest Indian movie of all time.

Back at Mahishmati, Shivudu, now recognized as the long-long infant Baahubali, must navigate the political trappings of his noble birth. Rajamouli’s story keeps the narrative vital by way of Baahubali getting cozy with the warrior-hottie Avantika (Tammannah). While the battle cries loom large, the story has a surprising amount of female-dominated presence. Shivudu’s adopted mother Sanga, Sivagami (Krishan), the queen regent guarding Mahishmati’s throne while a successor is picked and also Devasena (Shetty), Baahubali’s mother imprisoned by Bhallala, are all strong leaders whose command can make their male subjects tremble.

Even though the inspiration for Baahubali can clearly be carbon-dated to great action classics such as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, James Cameron’s all-time global box office championAvatar and especially K. Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam, Baahubali stands tall on its own merit. It is that good.

Musical composer Keeravani uses a rousing orchestra, martial-beat crescendos and war cry trumpets to devise an expansive soundtrack with hooks. Check out Ramya Behara and Deepu’s “Dheevara” and Mohana Bhograju and Revanth’s playful “Manohari.” The music sounds great especially in its original Telugu lyrics.

As the feared godmother queen, Krishan’s eyes burn with restrained rage and political foresight as if she knows a calamity to befall the kingdom. While the chemistry between Prabhas’ Baahubali and Tammannah’s Avantika hits the required notes, the romance get short-shrifted as the action takes over. In dual roles as both father and son, Baahubali is shouldered significantly by Prabhas. His easy-going style, buffed and often-shirtless camera-friendly postures sometimes bring to mind the late Tamil megastar MGR. And while we’re still miffed at the $20 admission price, Baahubalideserves a standing ovation not as a Telugu-language move but an Indian movie that thrusts Indian cinema even higher onto the global stage. 

EQ: A

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