Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): A fairly competent first half

Indian film “Baahubali: The Beginning” is amusingly grandiose and exaggerated to say the least. While its story and characters are quite serious, the movie willingly goes for anything to entertain or amuse us, and its many broad moments ranging from obligatory musical sequences to pulpy action scenes are somehow acceptable even though we often chuckle at their glaring artificial qualities.

Right from its very first scene, you will instantly know that you cannot be that serious about its story and characters. A lady is desperately running away from several soldiers chasing after her, and it is apparent that she is quite determined to protect a little male baby in her arms by any means necessary. When she and the baby are later swept along a big river, it is apparent that she and the baby will be drowned sooner or later, so, what do you know, she simply lifts the baby above the water only with one of her arms, and she somehow maintains that posture even after she eventually gets drowned. What a fascinating case of rigor mortis it is!

Anyway, the baby is eventually discovered in some shabby downriver village, and the wife of the village chief immediately decides to raise the baby as her son, though it subsequently turns out that raising her adopted son is much more demanding than expected. Even when he is just a little boy, he is somehow very curious about whatever is beyond a huge waterfall in the upriver area, and, despite his foster mother’s sincere efforts, his curiosity has only kept growing during next several years.

When he grows up to become a handsome young man played by Prabhas, our hero still keeps trying to climb up along those rocky walls of that waterfall despite many failures, and his foster parents is reminded again that nothing can possibly stop him, especially when he demonstrates how powerful and determined he really is. Not long after his latest failed attempt, he discovers a wooden mask, and that leads to the first musical sequence in the film as he is driven further by his romantic curiosity ignited by that wooden mask. To be frank with you, I have no idea on how the hell he can so easily conjure up his dream lady from that simple mask, but you may put aside that question at least for a while as amused by how he executes a series of risky actions before finally reaching to the top of the waterfall. All these actions are surely drenched in rather obvious CGI, but they are presented on the screen with considerable spirit and humor at least, so we can gladly go along with that.

Not long after he reaches to the top of the waterfall, our hero soon gets involved in an ongoing political conflict between a certain big and powerful kingdom and a bunch of rebels fighting against its mean and cruel ruler. When he comes across a young female rebel fighter played by Tamannaah, he instantly falls in love with her, and we are soon served with several humorous scenes where he conveys to her his love and existence in a certain indirect way, which I will let you see for yourself.

By the way, I must point out that the most interesting thing in the story is happening among that vicious ruler of the kingdom and several figures around them. When he is not occupied with brandishing his physical prowess and political power over others, this mean dude, played by Rana Daggubati with scenery-chewing intensity, enjoys tormenting a certain slave soldier bound by his loyalty oath to the kingdom or a certain noble woman who has been his most notorious prisoner for more than 20 years. Despite being imprisoned for so many years, this lady, played magnificently by Anushka Shetty, is still boiling with pain, resentment, and determination, and her big moment of righteous anger toward to our chief villain takes me back to that famous line furiously uttered by Katharine Hepburn’s banished queen character in “The Lion in Winter” (1968): “I could peel you like a pear, and God himself would call it justice!”

Around the point where our hero comes to realize that he is actually the son of a powerful and respectable prince who was loved and admired by many people of the kingdom before his death, the screenplay by director S.S. Rajamouli, which is developed from the story by V. Vijayendra Prasa, goes back to many years ago for showing us the life story of our hero’s father, who is incidentally also played by Prabhas. Although he became an orphan due to his widow mother’s death right after his birth, the prince grew up under the benevolent care of his aunt who had overseen the kingdom on the behalf of him and her son, and he soon finds himself competing with her son over the throne as both of them grow up to become the two best warriors in the kingdom.

When their kingdom later comes to confront a great big danger represented by millions of savages who somehow remind me of those orc soldiers in Peter Jackson’s the Lord of the Rings trilogy, his aunt decides to use this situation as the ultimate test for both the prince and her son, and we accordingly get lots of thrillingly overblown action scenes as expected. Many of them look and feel quite preposterous in my humble opinion, but Rajamouli and his crew members gleefully push the movie to the full-throttle stage while his two leading actors keep playing straight amid all those deliberately supercharged actions.

On the whole, “Baahubali: The Beginning” is basically a teaser which simply sets the ground for whatever will come next in the following film “The Baahubali: The Conclusion” (2017), but it is still a fairly competent first half which will probably make you have some expectation in the end, and I admired its uninhibited sense of fun and excitement even though I rolled my eyes during some of its broadest moments during my viewing. Although it is shamelessly pulpy indeed, it is made with enough skill and enthusiasm nonetheless, and it is certainly worthwhile to check it out before watching the next film.

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