Baahubali 2 unparalleled: Thunderous applause, awe for Rajamouli's film unlikely to subside soon
I just returned from the first-day-first-show of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion. It is difficult to think straight and write about the experience.
Thunderous applause, whistles and sporadic cries of 'Jai Mahishmati' still ring in my ears, making it difficult to believe that the epic drama got over some time back and what I am feeling is just a hangover of a rare high.
For the first few minutes, I tried to keep a count claps and seetis. The opening credits begin to roll and the jam-packed theatre gets drowned in the war cry of the imaginary kingdom of Mahishmati. Amarendra Baahubali kicks open a wooden gate and cheers and catcalls make the auditorium shake.
Baahubali leaps from the ground to the trunk of an elephant, perches on its head and the crowd unleashes a violent storm of whistles.
Almost everything induces a frenzy, as if the audience is on an emotional high and needs a release every few minutes.
Baahubali swings his sword, aims his arrows, does a Produnova, lands on the chest of his enemies and the theatre erupts. And soon it comes to pass that the mere sight of Baahubali striding in, in slow motion, a playful smirk lighting up the screen, makes everyone delirious. That is when I stopped counting.
This then is the power of Baahubali. It gives the audience three hours of unabashed joy, making them behave like children on a fantasy ride that takes them to places they had never imagined.
The true test of an artist's imagination is his ability to sell the wildest fantasy to his audience and make all of it look not just plausible but become a part of this fascinating flight of fancy. SS Rajamouli does just that. Some of the set-pieces in his film are so incredulous that they defy Newton's every law of motion and gravity, Einstein's every theory and stretch disbelief to its farthest point.
Yet, people watch in awe, not willing to blink the eyes, perhaps telling themselves silently, like Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, that the mere act of thinking would disturb the mesmerising action on the screen.
Baahubali borrows from every story you may have heard. It is part Mahabharata — sibling rivalry, tussle for power, a spurned queen's Draupadi-esque vow for revenge — and part Ramayana, though here Dashrath is the plotter who wants the deserving claimant to the throne exiled while Kaikeyi (step mother) wants to stand up for his rights. It is Ben Hur meets Lord of the Rings, Fast and the Furious — in terms of the audacity of the action sequences — meets Aviator (cinematography) and Alice being not just in Wonderland but in some La La Land imagined by the director.
Yet, Rajamouli tells the story in a gripping, racy style that overturns many cinematic cliches on the head.
When Baahubali fights enemies with Devasana by his side, he might as well have been dancing to a romantic rhythm in the middle of flying arrows and rattling sabres. Just this one scene is so beautifully choreographed that you want to first watch it to your heart's satisfaction before moving on with the story. And when he fights his arch rival Bhallaldeva, it seems an earthquake is round the corner and you better find a safe spot.
Baahubali is an epic film not just because Rajamouli gives us memorable characters, jaw-dropping VFX and a film whose every scene could have been designed by Van Gaugh and every move a symphony imagined by Mozart.
It is awe-inspiring because he makes even the mundane look beautiful, the ordinary look surreal and magnifies every moment to such an extent that it seems you have miraculously escaped to his imaginary kingdom where you can feel every tear and wince in pain at every blow.
And then, he excels in creating tension and high drama after every few minutes, treating his story like a sea that is lashed by high waves every few minutes, making the viewer hold on tight, not willing to relax for fear of getting swept away. And then, every time the drama reaches a crescendo, he comes up with a mini climax that gets cheered lustily by a grateful audience.
Several years ago, when Amitabh Bachchan's Khuda Gawah was released, his fans at the first show went berserk in the climactic moments he gallops in on a steed as a wind whistles and Sridevi proclaims, Woh Aayega, Mera Badshah Khan Aayega.
For 25 years, the loud cheers, claps, whistles and the sound of clattering of coins the audiences threw from the balcony at the lower stalls kept ringing in my head.
Unless there is another Baahubali — and woe betide the Indian cinephile if there isn't — the sound of an ecstatic audience giving a standing ovation to a great epic both at the intermission and at the end is unlikely to fade away for the next few decades.