“Filmmaking isn’t just about visuals, it’s about storytelling and the emotions that need to be conveyed, said Senthil Kumar, DOP, Bahubali in a recent interview with Rajeev Masand.
One of the easiest ways to assess the visual power of Bahubali and Bahubali 2 is to watch it without dialogues. Director Rajamouli weaves a familiar tale of sibling rivalry with a graphic language of its own that puts Indian cinema in the big leagues. Unlike Bollywood’s vainglorious big-budget films, Rajamouli focused on compelling storytelling than mere extravaganza. A very fine line to tread but makes all the difference.
It’s a pity that Bahubali’s box-office records get far more attention than the technical expertise behind it. DOP Senthil Kumar, production designer Sabu Cyril, VFX designer V. Srinivas Mohan and costume designers Rama Rajamouli and Prashanthi Tipirneni worked with Rajamouli for 5 years straight and closed in on the big technology gap between western and Indian cinema.
Although the visuals are often tad too much in your face, there’s no denying that the scenes play on a subconscious level of the audience. Some of the best instances of it are as follows:
1. Shivu carrying the shiv lingam
Bahubali is no ordinary man. But how do you convey it to the audience in a way that feels grand and unbelievable at the same time?
While most South Indian and Bollywood films rely on the tried and tested formula of the protagonist beating a hundred odd men at the same time, Rajamouli chose a different route.
The context and the way in which Shivu carries the shiv ling underline his great qualities. Your mind instantly believes in the goodness, strength and wit of Bahubali when you see this visual. No words or action sequence could match up to how Rajamouli establishes his protagonist’s superhuman prowess. Both in terms of physicality and the emotional arc.
2. Katappa killing Bahubali
This one moment will be etched as one of the most shocking and overwhelming in Indian film history. There are small details in the sequence that underline the poignancy in the moment. Katappa’s bowed head, his slight reluctance, the sword crushing through Bahubali melt you instantly.
In the first part, the moment is one of astonishing betrayal. In the second, it’s more melancholic in nature since we’re already aware of the deception. It was a key point in the film. And Rajamouli expertly crafted the emotions of the characters without resorting to contrivances.
3. Bhallaladeva taming the bison
In complete contrast to Bahubali’s shiv ling moment, Bhallaladeva’s assault on the bison demonstrates sheer ruthlessness and brutality of his character. There isn’t a moment of hesitation, which confirms how much Bhallaladeva believes in his own destiny and strength to achieve what he wants.
Rana Daggubatti’s heavy build against the big bison is the stuff of folk tales. And Rajamouli uses visuals to intimidate the audience with his antagonist.
4. Bahubali and Bhallaladeva fight
In this 300-esque action sequence, Bahubali and Bhallaladeva are no holds barred against each other. In a stunning visual spectacle, Rajamouli delivers the ultimate cheering moment when Bahubali destroys Bhallaladeva’s chariot. And a slow motion shot of the protagonist and antagonist armed with spears ready to kill the other.
The detailing in the shot is amazing, with Bahubali on the right and Bhallaladeva on the left, instantly signalling our brain who to root for. It’s indeed an old-fashioned technique of reaffirming audience’s mind which perceives characters on the right as positive compared to those on the left.
Rajamouli orchestrates a jaw-dropping finale with this moment as the highlight of the fight which does complete justice to the saga.
5. Queen Sivagami and baby Bahubali’s coronation
This is perhaps the most powerful visual imagery in the entire film. Queen Sivagami’s powerful personality towers in this moment where she declares Mahendra Bahubali as the rightful king of Mahishmati.
The moment is reminiscent of Lion King (when Rafiki the monkey holds high baby Simba). But Rajamouli turns it several shades darker as Queen Sivagami makes amends to the injustice she did to Amarendra Bahubali in her ignorance.
Ramya Krishnan’s intensity is palpable as Rajamouli brings out all the big guns with lightning and fire in a display that evokes the loudest cheers in a packed theater. This is Indian cinema at its manipulative best. But hey, that’s the way we Indians love it!
6. Sivagami’s sacrifice for Bahubali
The image that started this epic saga binds a multitude of themes — fate, sacrifice, loss of innocence and poetic justice. Queen Sivagami is one of the most poignant female characters in modern Indian cinema. Her determination couldn’t have been better conveyed by Rajamouli.
As an audience, we obviously know Bahubali is going to survive and return. But such visuals pull the average script to a whole new level. Borrowing liberally from mythology (remember Vasudeva carrying baby Krishna across river Yamuna?), Rajamouli blends modern technology with ancient history and creates a strong connect with the audience right at the outset.
It was a solid start to the epic saga and the veteran director only raised the bar hereon.
By Shridhar Kulkarni