While I'm writing this, S.S. Rajamouli's BAAHUBALI: THE BEGINNING is the 4th top-grossing Indian film of all-time. (It's written by Vijayendra Prasad, the director's father)
The first film in a two-part epic, and reportedly the most expensive Indian film ever made, I didn't know about it until the few days leading up to its worldwide release, and was surprised to find out that the film was showing in Malaysia too!
After I saw the film last Friday, I couldn't stop raving about it! And I'm proud to say that I managed to convince some other friends to catch it too :D
This was what I wrote on my Facebook post the day after I saw it:
Last night, I went to see BAAHUBALI: THE BEGINNING.
It was this TwitchFilm review that first piqued my curiosity. And then, days later, when my newsfeed was flooded by articles of it breaking box-office records around the world etc. I immediately decided that I had to catch the film!!!!!!
To my utmost surprise, the film's actually showing in Malaysia now (didn't know until I read this article)
As I stepped into the screening hall, I attracted a couple of glances, being the only non-Indian audience member around.
When I sat down, two elderly aunties next to me were grinning. I smiled back.
"This is unexpected." One of them said.
"I've been hearing too many great things about the film." I replied.
"Me too! Even US audiences are watching this!" The other auntie said. I sensed some pride in her tone. (Despite having a limited release in US last weekend, it made it into the top 10 list!)
When the film started... I was absolutely blown away by its sheer epic scope and manly badassness. (I can't even describe it) There's everything, action, romance, comedy, great music and songs, although the trailer made it look a Hollywood epic in the vein of 300 or Lord of the Rings... it's different. There's something unique about it, and it's not a pale imitation of a Hollywood epic. The rhythm is different, so is the pulsating emotion, or the larger-than-life heroism, or the swooning romance, or the lyricism.
That's the beauty of cinema, sometimes they give you a glimpse of something that's deeply and uniquely rooted in their culture, yet possessing this sort of emotional universality that transcend things like language or cultural barriers.
Whatever cynicism I had at first pretty much wore off a few minutes into the film. The hall was dark, so no one could see that my expression throughout the film was one of blissful joy.
The structure of the film was surprising too. Especially when you start to realize that the entire thing is a multi-generational family saga.
When the film ended at a cliffhanger, and the promise of BAAHUBALI: THE CONCLUSION coming out next year (it's a 2-part epic), I thought the film ended too soon... even though it was nearly three-hour long!
The lights came back during the end credits.
"What do you think of the film?" The auntie next to me asked.
"I loved it." I said happily.
I have seen numerous Bollywood films, but BAAHUBALI is actually a product of Telugu cinema (Tollywood). Which is centered in south India. The version shown in Malaysia is dubbed in Tamil.
Unlike the glossy sheen of Bollywood, the films from the South are more rooted to tradition and culture, the characters more flamboyant, the mixture of emotions more extreme. BAAHUBALI is just so dizzyingly entertaining, it blew my mind.
Since then, I've been having trouble trying to find words to describe why I enjoyed the film so much, or what's so great about it.
The epic scope? The larger-than-life character? The filmmaking that's so filled with exuberance and joy? When I tried to describe the film as being 300 + Lord of the Rings + Avatar + wuxia films + costume political intrigue etc. I knew I was doing a film a great disservice. Even though it shared some of the elements that I mentioned above, it's ultimately different, and unique in its own peculiar way.
Did I need to watch the film with irony?
I don't think so, towards the end, I'm so emotionally invested in the fantastical world conjured by the filmmakers that I could easily accept whatever that was transpiring on screen. Man wrestling a bison? Sure. Man escaping avalanche on a log? Sure. Man thwarting thousands and thousands of arrows with a sword? All right! Man painting a woman's hand while he's underwater? Okay!
There's just something mythical in the film, a lot have to with the director's influence by great Indian epics like Mahabharata (this fine Twitchfilm interview with Rajamouli is worth reading), I'm sure. The beauty of cinema is that it often offers a window to a world that you are seldom exposed to in everyday life. Even if the world depicted onscreen is supposed to be fantastical, the approach in its storytelling, the filmmaking style, the artistic sensibilities etc, are often worth looking at, and contemplate about.
When you deny yourself these pleasures of exploring the unfamiliar, ("I can't watch Indian films because it's all singing and dancing." "I don't watch foreign films because they are filled with subtitles." "I don't watch Japanese films because what they did generations ago anger me." "I don't watch animated stuff cos' they are cartoons, man." "I don't watch Southeast Asian films because the countries are too close to me."), I cannot help but wonder where's the joy in living such a colourless life.