The highly anticipated Baahubali 2-The Conclusion has finally released. Shows at 6 am and 7 am at a theatre in Sion are fast selling out in a Baahubali craze normally reserved only for hysterical Rajinikanth fans. Director SS Rajamouli imbues this film with grandeur and vision, as there was in Baahubali-The Beginning, and an extraordinary imagination that soars so high, you feel this is just what the movies were made for. And even if he acknowledges other films or moments, his vision remains original and overwhelmingly Indian.
The story is of Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas) and Bhallala Deva (Rana Daggubati), who are cousins raised by Queen Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan), and rivals to the throne of Mahishmati. Although Bhallala Deva is her own son, Amarendra has been orphaned, and the Queen wants to crown him king, because he would be a far worthier and more just ruler, and so is popular with the people. Conflicting promises set up palace intrigue, and a jealous Bhallala Deva and his father (Nasser) seek revenge. The epic battle between the good guy Amarendra and the evil Bhallala was already established in the first part; here the battle runs into the next generation, between Bhallala and Amarendra's son Mahendra. I did a double take: one moment Baahubali is killed; soon after, his infant son becomes a grown-up lookalike, Mahendra (Prabhas in a double role).
The script holds few surprises. The answer to the big question, on which the sequel hinged, as to why Kattappa killed Baahubali, is hardly surprising, and addressed mid-way through the film, rather than at the climax. Once the suspense is gone, the story loses some steam. But it makes up with remarkable visual chutzpah. There's a staggeringly beautiful moment with a peacock-style ship with sails, that suddenly takes off into the heavens, with clouds that morph into white horses — a pure celebration of the imagination. There are also many bravura scenes and action, such as when Prabhas mounts two furiously racing bisons, and superb battle scenes, including one in which a shower of arrows rains down on Prabhas. There is inventiveness, as Mahendra's ragtag bunch fights an unequal battle against the Mahishmati army: they even use 'tadgola (a palm tree) engineering', bending tall palms backwards to hurl warriors over the high palace walls. Very Indian jugaad.
There are feminist battles too. An unjust Queen Mum bosses over the princes, but the feisty Devasena (Anushka Shetty), who marries Baahubali, speaks up for justice, wields a mean sword, and delivers a cool roundhouse kick, in a pink sari at that. Prabhas is the dependable good guy, who sacrifices the throne to stand by his wife. He always holds your attention, with his action scenes, gallantry and gentleness. The cinematography is stunning, but the film's editing could have been tauter, as the film is rather long at 2 hours 47 minutes.
And, I couldn't help noticing the powerful religiosity of the film. In the first part, Prabhas uproots a Shiv ling (Shaivite) to take it to his mum. Here, Amarendra wears a Shiv ling tikka, but there are also Vaishnavite references as Devasena romances Amarendra during a Krishna puja; unbelievably, in the midst of palace intrigue and epic battles, hunky Amarendra churns buttermilk like our makhan chor! He prays to a Shiv ling and smears his chest with vibhuti when going into battle; Sivagami and Devasena walk the streets with fire-pots on their heads in a superstitious ritual — all in a film for today's audience, made largely with hi-fi science and technology and VFX. We were so stunned by Rajamouli's staggering panache in Baahubali-The Beginning now (and Magadheera and Eega earlier), we're getting a bit spoilt and picky. No Bollywood film has come remotely close to this Telugu film, in over a century of filmmaking. So, all in all, definitely a movie worth watching.