Friday, May 5, 2017
Is the Bahubali series "Hindu"?
For the record, while I enjoyed the Bahubali series , I am not really that captivated by it as the rest of the country and dont quite understand the fuss.
The performances were actually rather subdued ,perfectly pitched and on note , which is surprising keeping in mind the over the top operatic style of the series. To this end poor Prabhas has been underrated while Ramya Krishnan, Sathyraj and Daggubati Rana recieved the lions share of the praise.
The visual effects were a mixed bag , some good ,some bad, same goes for the action scenes. and music score
However one thing that stands out and was excellent through out was set design. Here the film makers, polish, orignality and talent truly stand out. The other aspects of the film were too beholden to Hollywood blockbusters like Lord of the Rings and 300( a particularly immature and vile film IMO),
Im happy to say though that Bahubali shares with LOTR the elevated ideas of honor,courage,kingly duty,friendship and justice.
Of course since it is set in a time period roughly corresponding to what historians refer to as mid medieval age of India before the dark ages of Islamic rule, one wouldn't expect too many Muslims running around.
This led quite a few "secular" commentators to be clown themselves by being aghast that there are no Muslims faces present. Firstly it is not true, in the first film there was an arms dealer and friend of Kattapa called Aslam Khan who is portrayed a noble warrior and Bahubali even infiltrates a Muslim camp where some item number is taking place.
Furthermore the father of the director Rajamouli wrote the script for Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Hopefully this would squash any charges of "communalism" against the director but no.
For some critics who are accustomed only to Bollywood and their worship of Ganga Yamuna tehzeeb exemplified not just by the Khans but other actors who are Hindu,that the very fact this movie was made is an example of the communal mind of the average Hindu!
A TV series called Razia Sultana based on the only female monarch of a thoroughly despotic and tyrannical Delhi Sultanate whose rapaciousness astounded even foreign Muslims was quite popular.
It is shocking that someone had the audacity to suggest that this nobody and mediocrity who was only well known because she allegedly fell in love with her slave should be celebrated in anyway.
Thankfully the movie version which came out in the 1980s with Dharmendra comically covered in black paint was a total flop. The producer/director went as far as to provide free laddoos with every movie ticket to entice viewers!
At the same time there is a movie on Rani Padmavati in the works and apparently that Alauddin Khilji wasnt such a bad guy after all . He is just unfairly tarnished by those "communal" characters who object to wanton rape, plunder ,slavery and destruction of temples. They are silly that way..
These type of movies are considered acceptable in mainstream Bollywood. Oh sure you have TV series like Ashoka which really are a blink and miss affair.
But how many movies are made to celebrate Prithviraj Chouhan, Rana Pratap, Rana Sanga, Rana Kumbha or even Shivaji?
Yes we had Bajirao Mastani which hailed Peshwa Baji Rao but the USP of the movie was his affair with some Muslim slave girl not his burning desire to rid India of Muslim political control.
In this arena, enters Bahubali- the Donald Trump of films- an outsider smashing expectations, assumptions predictions and records left and right. Not to belabor the analogy but also like Trump it is clear about stance on native culture and traditions.
In regional cinema and Telugu movies particularly , religion, rituals and culture play a very major role and no one bothers about accusations of communalism because Eidh ul Fitr or Milad un Nabi are not given equal importance or any importance at all. I remember on some Telugu channel more than 10 years ago during end of Ramadhan, some Muslim caller(Telugu speaking) called up the female host of some variety show and her greeting to him was "Ramadhan Subhakanshalu"! LOL Ramadhan was over, it was Eidh, she didnt even know how to say Eidh Mubarak but said Blessed Greetings for Ramadhan! And in order to please her Muslim guest, she showed some clips of a few Telugu films all featuring Muslims where Muslims were shown as comic relief or terrorists!
I remember another movie where a woman was looking for a bridegroom for her son. One young lady who was interested turned up and when the old woman enquired her name, came the reply "Shabana Begum". The woman was aghast that a "turushkurala ammayi" would dare enter her house and promptly beat her up.
It is just amazing how despite living together for centuries, Telugus are hardly bothered about Muslim culture except to enjoy Irani chai and biryani. Even today in East Godavari districts , older people dont even care about Muslim self identification and simply call them "turushkuralu" or "Turks"
Coming back to the actual religion of Telugu people, yet another Telugu comedy had an old cranky athiest living in a village who decided to round up some youths and create a "Naastikula Samajam" or "Atheists society" in the village. One of the young simpletons agreed but stated for this society to get off to an auspicious start that they should purchase some coconuts and break in front of the local temple at the time as chosen by the astrologer!
This is obviously played for laughs but you get an idea of how deeply entrenched Hindu culture is outside the Mumbai/Delhi nexus particularly in southern India who held on more sternly to their customs as opposed to say Hindus of Rajasthan ,Kashmir or Punjab whose very prayers carry Persian and Arabic words.
Once you realize all of this , then it is absurd to consider Bahubali a communal film as it is simply continuing the tropes of a typical Telugu film which usually is geared towards the hinterland rather than the cities.
This is what many north Indian Hindus dont realize about Telugu films and assume such a blatant and apologetic celebration of Hindu culture carries a political agenda and hence try to thrust their own political views on it be it secular or Hindutva.
More so than the ritualistic observations of carrying the Shiva linga ,fire walk towards Devi temple or even cultural aspects of formation orders to the military in Sanskrit is the strict and unsentimental adherence to Dharma.
Sivagamis sense of dharma mandates that in order that her son the elder Bahubali be demoted from crown price to general to exile and finally death. And Kattapa who was like Bahubalis surrogate father carries out the order because that is his dharma
Compare this to the feel good nonsense of Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Eklavya where (spoiler aler..oh who cares) Eklavya desists from carrying out his dharma in killing his son because.... well ..feelings!!
Some of this is due to culture perhaps, a good chunk of north Indian are Type B personalities who are sentimental and extroverted while south Indian culture since the late medieval era at least has Type A personalities who are driven and focussed. Yes I know- stereotypes but there is some truth to it on a super level but breaks down when you examine sub cultures I suppose.
Bollywood is full of these puny people. And another aspect I wanted to mention is that there is something about South Indian actors even if they are out of shape(clearly they are not in this films)that they are able to pull off a historical character is a very dignified and regal manner than their Bollywood counterpart. I dont knoowwhy that is but it seems to be the case. The only actor who exhibited any regal presence in the incredibly silly Ashoka was not SRK but Tamil actor Ajith. There was something about the way he stood ,spoke and held his upavastra that the immature and boyish SRK couldnt master in a million years.
While on SRK, I keep hearing about how Bahubali would smash the D Company underworld films. There are a couple of things wrong with this assumption. Firstly it assumes that D company or the Islamic mafia and film industry nexus is still an actual thing. While there is certainly mafia involvement in Bollywood , it seems to have died with Dawoods increased irrelevance. it is not neccesary to have Muslim gangsters to have a disproportionate celebration of Islamic culture in your industry. Keep in mind most of Bollywood is controlled by a few families Khans , Kapoors and their fellow travellers Chopras, Johars etc all of whom hail from what is today Pakistan and Afghanistan. To this end , the Hindu Kapoors suffering from Stockholm syndrome are intent on praising those who evicted them from their homelands. While the Khans will do what they will do! Interestingly it is not neccesary to be anti Hindu to hang out with degenerate people like Dawood Ibrahim and celebrate Turko Afghan tehzeeb like Feroz Khan used to. Feroze Khan was a devotee of Sathya(not the Islamic Shirdi!) Sai baba while his brother Sanjay Khan who did make a TV series on Tipu Sultan also made one on Hanuman and spearheaded efforts to clean up Varanasi and the Ganga. Ahmad Shah Abdali and Ghazni must have been rolling in their graves!My point is that everything is not so cut and dry.
Secondly I have to ask a question to those who are familar with the dark ages of Islamic Bollywood nexu because honestly I dont know. Yes Muslim gangsters want to popularize their culture by glorifying their emperors and heck pretend to be empeors themselves. A point encapsulated in Philip Lutgendorf's review of Maqbool(based on MacBeth) where the Muslim don assumes the manners of potentate complete with its attendant rituals, palatial backdrop ,clothing and a durbar to hear complaints. This was based of course on the Pathan gangster Karim Lala(ironically Pathans were never emperors but hired goons who later carved out fiefdoms) and the Tamil lord of Mumbai Varadarajan Mudaliar.
Now what is the supremacy clause of Islamic gangsters- is it to promote Islamic culture or make money? I understand they want to do both. But wouldnt it be therefore prudent of them to finance films like Bahubali where they can obviously earn lots (Bahubali 2 looks like it will easily cross 1000 crore mark). I cant believe gangsters are that short sighted and ignorant, perhaps they are when it comes to assessing markets but if Muslims are well represented as sculptors of Hindu idols in U.P, Bihar and Bengal and perform in temples in Varanasi, Kashi and Rameshwaram, surely they dont mind getting money celebrating "kafir" culture. Again I dont know Im just asking questions.
All in all Bahubali wasnt a hit just due to the rugged , fit and talented Prabhas and Rana, the noble looking Sathyraj or the lovely Ramya Krishnan, Anushka Shetty and Tamanna Bhatia or even the special effects ,battle secenes , costumes or set design. For a film to be this successful it must have heart and have an emotional resonance with the audience and Bahubali , corny as it often is, delivers that in spades. For that alone it deserves all this success and more.