Once upon a time, there lived a lad.
Looking up at the mountain of water towards the misty horizon, he felt inside an indomitable mysterious force, calling him upwards and over. So he enrolled in Physics and Maths coaching classes in Class eight, to get an early start, then Ramaiyya classes at five in the morning to get an even earlier start and correspondence courses to get problem-sets he could crack while on the loo. He would try, one problem after another in Irodov, and then the sequence of solved problems would be broken and he would come tumbling down back to Exercise one. It would have broken lesser men, that fall, but he merely smiled, dusted away his failure, and went back to Newton’s Laws.
His mother (or the one he knew to be his) asked the Gods what they were doing wrong, because the neighbor hood kids were doing just fine. It had become an obsession, this wanting to scale the wall of water, and his muscles grew, till he was moving smoothly through Khanna and Khanna, but still the mountain stood, untamed and proud, and our boy toiled away.
Till one day, in his hand, fell a torn picture.
It had fluttered in from somewhere up the mountain of the water, washed away and grainy, but distinguishable only as a female face. Our lad would keep the face on a piece of paper, and then lovingly, with his protractor and compass draw boobs around it, of different diameters, for he know not the dimensions of this lovely lass. There was no female in his life, and together with the need to scale the wall of water, attaining the girl in the picture became the focus of his life.
Till one day, while scaling the wall of water, he saw her.
Water-droplets cascading down her perfect spine, there she was, looking at him with come-hither eyes, in a bikini that revealed beauties grander than he could have imagined. In the throes of great passion, he danced up the wall of water, swallowing semesters in epic gravity-defying leaps, while she flitted ahead, through his books, and exam papers, and his programming assignments, turning her head ever so a little, as blue butterflies flew around, or neelachalachitram as he called them, till one day he did it, he scaled the wall.
And found himself in the United States of America. But where was that bikini-clad goddess of beauty who had inspired him? She was not there.
So our lad goes searched for her, and lo and behold there she was. A confident team leader who commanded the respect of her engineers, whose only problem in our lad’s eyes was the perennial frown on her face, and her frumpy “old maid” get-up, the stitches on her dress resembling more the seams of a Kookaburra ball then the bikini he had seen in his fantasies of her wearing. To express his love, he hid away in the shadows, lurking through her facebook pictures, sending her anonymous messages of passion, one which almost leads her to lose her job. Enraged, she came out to hunt this stalker, and boom, they met. When their meeting was finished, he had revealed her inner beauty, literally, by forcibly taking off her clothes, revealing the bikini-clad beauty he had seen in his dreams. Our lad then told our heroine, “This is what you really are, why hide it”, and immediately she realized the truth, that the hollow feeling in her heart was because she hasnt been objectified so far, despite having that killer bod, of the kind that makes men vault up the Viagra Falls. So she fluttered her eyelids, ran into the manly chest of our lad (He does “Body for Life” program, and secretly Zumba), quit her job immediately, gave it to our hero, and is now found making puliyodharai and going to Patel Brothers at 3 on Sundays, again in that frumpy old-maid look of old, her inner beauty now hidden from the eyes of the zaalim world for a different reason.
Bring out the pitchforks dear readers, and the catapults for good measure, because I did not like everyone’s favorite, the record-breaking, 400-crore-and-counting, epic Baahubali. And trust me, I wanted to, in the same way Aamir Khan wanted to like Bajrangi Bhaijaan when he methodically carried a towel to the screening, because I wanted a non-Hindi pan-India blockbuster to break the moronic monopoly of 100-crore collage of Khan or Roshan scenes, if only to disrupt the sequence of engineered hits, that have taken so much of the fun out of the Bollywood I had grown up loving.
And yet S.S. Rajamouli’s world left me cold, a world of 80s-type machismo and chauvinism and traditional gender-roles, which would make Kanti Shah look like Gloria Steinheim, of black-face painted Uruk-Hai-like “Jhingalila Jhing” bad-men with terrible dental hygiene, “Mere bete Karan Arjun Aayenge” Rakhi-clones, a lot of bull (literally), plenty of rock-hard pecs, and even more navels, a world of mega-uber-superheroes and mega-uber-supervilliains, whose every green drop of snot becomes a Hulk, who heal faster than Wolverine, who pick their teeth with adamantium, for whom Superman is what Laxmi Ratan Sukla is to AB De Villiers. Its a world I would have loved to get my teeth into, to get caught up in, but then there was nothing fresh, not even an innovative riff on an old trope, or a twist, or a character that showed some dimension, that I could really point to and say “Yes that was awesome”.
What about the CGI you ask? What about it, I ask in return? First of all, pixel tricks in itself cannot be the be-all and end-all of any film, if it was then the Transformers series would be classics (they made a shitload of money internationally, so it’s not that they are not successful). And here is where I think I will make my most controversial assertion—I did not find the CGI jaw-dropping in the least. But you say, “This is much better than we see in Hindi films”. I agree. If you take as a baseline, the CGI parrot Raja Tota of “Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon”, yes it’s all very impressive, but our comparison-point, in today’s world, should be the best. And in comparison to an Avengers or even the Game of Thrones, a TV show, Bahubali suffers, particularly in the sweeping external shots of the imperial city and the blue butterflies and the green snake, where the CGI looks CGI, breaking the immersion, unlike Khaleesi’s dragons in Game of Thrones (done by an Indian firm) which, for the most part, appear “real”. The CGI works better during the battle scenes, and that’s more because of the thumping music and the battlescene choreography, but even there when a sequence from 300 is being lifted, it pales in front of the visual palette rendered in the original. And given that I saw “Mad Max Fury Road” a few months ago, my standards of “knock your socks off” in terms of a visual spectacle have also risen, and I am not willing to accommodate the clause ‘for an Indian film’ in my lexicon, because there is nothing more patronizing than the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Which brings me back to the original point. My inability to engage with the story, the characters, and the conflict, in short, the good old things that made films epic, rather than monster VFX budgets.
Overall verdict: underwhelmed.