Tag Archives: indian cinema

Baahubali 2: The Indian Epic Melodrama

Yesterday, we watched Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, and except for the uninspired title the film was stunning. Despite what the title says, it is S.S. Rajamouli’s strong arms that carry the film. Watching the film, I was thinking about the epic melodrama genre that the director has down to a pat. Here are some thoughts about the film…

1, Baahubali Opens the Door

Baahubali’s production shows that Indian cinema is ready to relook the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. The stunning visuals and rich detail of the practical effects and the mostly passable CGI blended tastefully into the landscape shows a maturity in technical and aesthetic sensibilities. Especially, I applaud the decision to not attempt to make the CGI life-like. The distinctly dreamlike quality adds to the visual palette without jarringly interrupting the experience of the film. I am sure that the next few multipart epic dramas will be oversaturated with CGI and hi-speed photography and not all of them will sustain the same quality as these two films – we can rest assured that when the right filmmaker decides to do it, the blueprint for an epic melodrama is ready.

2, The Dominant Queen Mother

Was I the only one who thought this part should have been more appropriately titled ‘Sivagami, the Queen Mother (also featuring Baahubali)’? The Queen Mother’s role is a strong and complex one, whose equal we have not seen in a while, and Ramya Krishnan is a strong performer who elevates the role to unforgettable. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Prabhas or Rana Daggubati, who are memorable as icons – but are just as stiff and unchanging throughout the film. The supporting cast channel their energy to build the value of the main characters. Anushka Shetty as Devasena and Satyaraj as Kattappa seem to have landed roles of their lifetime and they are both awe-inspiring and sympathetic in turns.

3, An Epic Production

I could not help but smile when watching the movie and noticing where the director has spent the money. While the first film has an epic battle on a massive scale, he manages to construct beautifully choreographed small skirmishes that manage to capture the former’s glory and hiding the smart cost efficiency. By shooting two of the three epic fights in the dark, the film also glosses over other instances of careful budgeting. And yet, it is clear that these moves are not aimed at cutting the overall production cost – but to spend it on VFX (both practical and CGI) for the fewer elements on the screen. This trade has paid off, as only three moments (an odd gold statue, an awkward human catapult and an ugly bridge) are poorly produced in a film that runs for nearly three hours.

4, The Length

There are many movies that stretch their narratives to make more money – The Hobbit trilogy being the worst offenders – but Baahubali felt like a film which would have benefitted from an extra film with a couple of hours to flesh out the two Baahubalis. The father and son become indistinguishable in their characterization quickly, and as mentioned earlier, Prabhas is not the kind of actor who could salvage the roles with subtle distinction. We end up admiring the father more than the son, and that is clearly the filmmakers’ intentions as well. However, it is a bit sad that the son ends up being an afterthought in the second film, despite the fact that the film is about him finally rises to the mantle of the epic warrior. But again, a third movie could have fatigued the audience and affected the quality of the film’s reception. Not to mention the toll that it could have taken on the cast and crew if they were to shoot another film. Then again, there are some rumors about another film set in the same universe with new characters and that could be an interesting development as well.

5, The Business of Baahubali

Lastly, a note about the film’s significance to the film business in India. Baahubali is a testament to the director’s capacity to produce a technically competent film at a fraction of its international counterparts’ costs, and its record-breaking business shows that the Indian market has not yet reached its peak. The two films are reported to cost a total of 430 crores INR, which is roughly $68 million USD. Their combined revenue is just over 1300 crores INR (about $203 USD); a figure that is still growing fast, as the second film has been at the cinema for just a week. Additionally, the TV rights of the two films have also reached unprecedented heights in the Indian market. Perhaps the most impressive point about the film’s business is that its opening weekend took home over a $10 million haul at the US box office, despite being shown in only 425 screens. Albeit, some of this staggering per screen averages are due to the inflated premium ticket pricing of the film aimed at cashing in on the phenomenon (I paid a little over twice the normal fare in Singapore). The hype machine was balanced with the actual attention to quality in the film, showing that the recent trend of big openings weekend culture cannot dampen a movie that genuinely earns its must-see tag. The two Baahubali movies stand as the only non-Bollywood movies on the list of all-time highest grossing Indian films. However, Baahubali 2 (Currently standing third) should easily end its theatrical run at the top of the list. The massive success of the film is a step towards dispelling the myth of treating Bollywood cinema as an Indian national cinema. The second biggest movie industry in India has delivered a film that has caught the nation’s imagination, and we can only hope that more are to follow.


BONUS: Now, it is SPOILER TIME: If you have not seen either of the movies, then definitely don’t read this last section. However, if you have seen the first and not yet the second, you will be surprised at how non-spoilery the epic reveal turned out to be. The biggest question at the end of the first film was the classic cliff-hanger, Why Kattappa Killed Baahubali (#WKKB)? However, what the filmmaker did not anticipate was the adoption of this phrase by the meme-culture on social media. This question became such a big deal, that people were overlooking the obvious clues in the first film that clearly explains why Kattappa, a man whose family has sworn to abide by the King’s word over many generations, killed Baahubali, a man who is definitely not the King’s favorite person. The second movie could have gone in many poor directions where the question takes over the narrative. We have seen many films where the audience’s expectations, and the producers attempts to subvert or satiate that expectation dominates the sequel – often rendering the film as an underwhelming outcome. Baahubali 2 brilliantly used the hastag only to the point of promoting the film. When you watch the film, there are no surprises as to the WKKB question. Instead, the film masterfully changes the question through its narrative. It strengthens the Kattappa-Baahubali relationship in many light-hearted moments, heightening the tragic significance of the final betrayal. Through the camaraderie built through characterization, the film switches the question from ‘Why’ to ‘What does it mean’ – we have always known why he killed Baahubali, but the film explains the stakes of that betrayal. That is a brilliant narrative strategy that does away with the marketing strategy and tells us a more honest story.

Overall, this is not the best Indian film or the most important. If you have never seen an Indian movie in your life, then there are far more subtle and brilliant films that you could watch. However, if you are a fan of the broadstrokes Indian epic melodrama, this movie is unparalleled. It fully embraces the technical affordances of the 21st century and shakes off the underwritten and overproduced history of the 1990s and heads towards a new kind of Indian entertainer.

Which are your favorite Indian melodramas? Share your comments and views with ScreenEthics.com through facebook or twitter.

SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.

Shots from a Life: 1983 (Malayalam, 2014)

Cricket is a game of nostalgia, of memories. As the game played in Summer, Winters are for sitting at the hearth and warmly recollecting that shot you played, that cracking sound of willow on leather, that catch you took running back, or that 5 wicket haul where batsmen fell like nine pins to your incisive spell. It is no different with Indian youth shown in the movie, 1983. The title is significant because 1983 is not only the year when India won its first world cup. But it is also a marker of many people’s memories. It was the year when many young hearts began to dream anew. Well, thirty years from that year, several dreams have come true- even that Dream of dreams called Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar- while million others had gone astray, shattered, and buried unnoticed. It was not just Tendulkar who was a ten-year old watching India lift the World Cup then, but so many other boys whose stories nobody knows. Abrid Shine’s 1983 is the story of one such boy, Rameshan.

1983 (LJ Films)
1983 (LJ Films)

What struck me most is the earthiness of the narrative. Yes, mainstream cinema can feel synthetic and plastic compared to live performances. It is often about the right lighting, tone, lens, background music and histrionics; sometimes even standing in for the heart of the narrative. Cricket and cricketers these days too are talked about more for their off-field antics involving money, girlfriends, endorsements or even corruption. Amidst all this din, the sound of willow hitting the leather is an altogether different experience, it is almost primal. No amount of commercialization or changes in rules or commentary styles can obliterate this sweet kernel of the fruit. The narrative tone of 1983 felt the same.

Rameshan (Nivin Pauly) is one of those million unnoticed talents. Like most in the 90s, his father wants him to become an engineer while he aspires to be a cricketer. The film takes a nostalgic look at an era when neighborhoods had empty spaces that were not encroached by real estate-developments, as Rameshan participates in as many local tournaments as he could. Expectedly, he does poorly in high school and does not make the cut for college. As an early romance crumbles, he starts working in his father’s motor shop. By the time a professional coach spots him, Rameshan is already forty, married to Susheela (Srinda Arhaan), and with a ten-year old son. Life has come a full circle as Rameshan now sets his mind to coach the young one; and herein lies the heart of the film—the undying hope that a Sachin Tendulkar knows being fathered/tutored by a Ramesh.

1983 is totally unsurprising. It is inevitable because Rameshan is everyone in cricket-mad India. Pick any cricket-loving forty-year old and you will see a variation of this story. A tale so native that the narrative does not betray any sense of being a cinema. There are several instances where exaggeration wouldn’t have been out of place. But the narration skillfully avoids clichés. The young boy is hit on the thigh by a speedster and he limps away from the nets. This moment could have been used to present the boy’s courage and elevate the stakes. Instead, the boy and the father go back to practicing hard with a self-made bowling machine. The modesty of the narration reflects the modesty one learns from the game of cricket. The Little Master, without a doubt, would have done the same. He would have ‘gone back to the drawing room’.

The film uses humor to present how divisive something like cricket is; and the little tensions that occur between those who consider it sacred and those who do not care for it. On his wedding night, Rameshan’s wife points to a famous picture of Sachin Tendulkar and asks who it is. I simply cannot explain the shock he feels, except in cricketing parlance- that he is ‘clean-bowled’. More than the question, it is the innocence, or rather the casual ignorance with which she puts that question- that makes him implode with anguish. In a cricketing Dionysia, this would have been a tragedy. And yet, to many reading this post, that name would not mean anything.

Nivin Pauly offers an understated performance. The moment where he literally runs to the shop, tying his lungi up, to buy his son his first bat and ball, demonstrates the intimate yet overwhelming ritual significance that the moment has for a father. Any cricket-loving person would shed a few tears in that moment. In contrast to Pauly’s economy is the firepower of Srinda Arhaan. If he is like a bowler who can bowl a maiden over, then this maiden bowls us over with a flurry of boundaries.

Perhaps the most significant achievement of this film is its overturning of the very grammar of a sports movie, often nonchalantly if unconsciously. Films like Lagaan (2001) or Chake De India (2007) begin with a disintegrated village or team which slowly builds itself into a close unit finally culminating in a major victory. Team-spirit, unity, dedication, selflessness and other virtues would be hailed among the players as the reason behind the victory. 1983 does none of that. Or to put it clearly, it does all these things in reverse. These virtues of a sporting personality are already part of the characters’ lives. Their camaraderie precedes cricket as they play cricket together because they are closely knit, and not vice-versa.

To those born in India in the 80s and lived watching and playing cricket through the 90,  many of the years are recollected only through the memory of cricketing achievements. 1989 reminds a cricketing fan of, not so much the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the storming entry of Sachin Tendulkar into international cricket. Many remember 1996 for India’s crushing victory over Pakistan in the World Cup Quarterfinals in Bangalore, and then the eventual loss to Sri Lanka in the World Cup seminfinals in Calcutta, rather than that era’s political circumstances. It was the year when Tendulkar was made captain, when Saurav and Rahul debuted in tests, and India lifted the Titan cup beating South Africa in the finals. Instead of saying Sharjah, Tendulkar, and Shane Warne, it would be easier to say 1998. The rest is history.

Like these years, 1983 too bears a significance to many young Indian cricket lovers, of both recognition and hope.

To most Indian parents in the 90s, however, cricket was a nightmare that interfered with their children’s academic results. I too suffered some academic setbacks for which cricket was often held responsible. While I could effortlessly multiply any two digit numbers (up to 50) with 6, due the 6-ball over, I put little effort in other areas of math. It didn’t matter. Angry parents, threats from teachers, embarrassment in front of friends, or insulting relatives – nothing mattered. All that one wanted to do was either be on the ground wielding the bat or in front of TV watching India win games. I had a notebook in which I stuck pictures of cricketers that I cut out from newspapers. It was more precious to me than my school books. Whenever I failed in tests, I feared for that book’s well-being. My mother often threatened to throw my bat in the fire of the earthern stove in our house. In the movie, when Rameshan fails his pre-degree exam, his father breaks his cricket bat in anger and threatens him with dire consequences if he ever attempted to touch that bat again. But as soon as the father turns to go, Rameshan quietly slips to the ground to play, hardly flustered by his father’s warnings. Parental reprimand held little significance to us, who cared for the game more than anything else. This film evokes all these memories. So it becomes quite difficult to make critical comments about it. Because an important part of a life is shown, the part that is shared by many in an almost identical fashion; dare I say, including my own.

1983, unlike other sports movies, starts with the exuberance of a World Cup win. And that too, not a fictional one. But its ending is not all over the top. A simple shot of the father-son duo walking towards a mountain shows that a long way lies ahead for the young lad to become an India player and wear that blue jersey. While this journey would be fraught with many more defeats and troubles, they could be overcome because there is a supporting father, a loving family, friends, coaches and a pleasant neighborhood that support him. All these, and not just the cricket, make 1983 a fine film. Cricket is simply a part of this narrative, which in turns makes cricket look good too.

What is your favorite sport memory? Share your views and comments on popular fandom with ScreenEthics.com on facebook or twitter.

David CricketThe Contributing Writer DAVID WESLEY  teaches English at Madras Christian College. His PhD thesis was a performance research exploring various productions of Sophocles’ Antigone titled Burying Textual-Performance Binaries. He is a theater enthusiast, loves reading cricket literature, and the erstwhile captain of the team.