Very little left to say, really. The spectacle is spectacular, the ambition towering, and the vision grand. Most importantly, the writing was better than I expected. Alas, the acting is lack luster, music dull and pace medieval.
First thing to know before you watch Bahubali is that this is made by the guy who created Makkhi (Eega in Telugu). A film about a house fly taking revenge. So any pretense to realism must be abandoned quickly. And expectations of entertainment are high.
This is the film all the “Rajkumar/Rajkumari type” films in 70’s & 80’s wanted to be. (remember Jitendra, Dara Singh, Dharmendra etc in fake sword fights?) This is fantasy: an exaggerated pseudo-historical fiction. Lots of sword, superhuman abilities and strengths, and a touch of politics. This is the film in the tradition of things like Vikings and 300. But I dare say I enjoyed this more, much more, than I did 300, which created a racist grotesquerie.
An ideal fantasy is a taut, snappy screenplay and a budget with ambition. This has the right scope and budget, and great execution, but writing falls short of spectacular. It is still pretty good, better than I expected, but not crackling.
So should Bollywood be afraid? Oh yes. This is a well made movie, and really successful. Even in the face of Bajrangi Bhaijan, the show I attended was packed. On a week day, weeks after the release. And the audience was loving it. There were some people who got up several seconds before the titles started to roll, showing themselves to be repeat viewers. Without any stars that Hindi audience knows, just on the strength of a good story told spectacularly, this movie is breaking records. I thought Avengers and Fast and Furious were warning shots, but this is even bigger. More people will identify with this than Avengers.
Wake up, Bollywood. Stars are a great source of cheap income today, but thats not sustainable. Come up with cinematic experiences that wow us. Not necessarily with big budgets, but with clever content (Tanu Weds Manu Returns is a great example). Stop spending fortunes on stars, they are fickle, and so is their stardom. Make the movie shine. People will flock to you. Or else…..
Bollywood still has a lot of time. This film carries over a legacy is “south remakes” that is as infuriating as it is annoying. Sexism. The heroine is introduced as a badass fighter, but not for long. In an imaginative but obnoxious sequence, the hero forcibly transforms her from a fighter to a “sexy” girl. And she seems to love the transformation, and him for it. After that point, she is just a heroine. He fights and rescues her, and then takes over the mission that was assigned to her. Ugh. Most modern Hindi films are better. (Not the star-driven ones, though) Another great failure was the music. Insipid, uninspiring. Translated lyrics are seldom any good anyways. And the way story broke for lip-synced songs seemed to be from another era.
All these can be fixed in subsequent movies, but one challenge will remain. Humour. This film utterly lacks it. Can’t remember a single joke. That may be intentional, given this project. Humour is notoriously hard to translate, let alone dub. This is a challenge South will find hard to overcome.
Ultimately, though, it will be upto the producers of Bollywood. The era of superstars guaranteeing a profit is near its end. I know it doesn’t seem that way, but bear with me. The only three stars that guarantee a big bang start. They are all legacies of 1980’s. Near the end of their careers. Neither Ranbir, nor Hritik, not even Akshay can guarantee an opening. Slowly, but surely, megastars with guaranteed success will be extinct.
And then the producers will have a choice. Who gets the money? The actors or the content creators? Do they want to stay safe and bank on stars, or do they want to plan for the future and cultivate writers/designers?
Do they want to bank on content, and hope that they can expand beyond the Hindi-speaking world? The era of spectacle and sharp writing is upon us. Grab it, Bollywood, before it’s too late.
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