NOTE: it really should be a given that this review of a sequel is going to contain spoilers for the previous movie. But, if you haven't watched the first Baahubali, maybe you should watch Dhoom instead.
So what was the most viewed movie trailer in 2017? If you said Baahubali 2, congratulations! You read the title. Also… you’re wrong. It was Avengers: Infinity War, a trailer that garnered over 600 comments on this very site. Baahubali 2, though, racked 82 million views, making it the second most viewed in 2017.
Incredibly, though, it wasn’t the fate of the main character that everyone wanted answers to. The cliffhanger all revolved around the father of the main character, whose tales were recounted in a flashback. I mean… who cares about what happens to Baahubali Jr., right? We need closure on this prequel! This is a strange thing to anticipate, considering we already kinda know who lives and who dies already.
Over two parts, Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion develop a uniquely cyclical approach to storytelling. Scenes from this movie are deliberately mirrored from the first one. For example, the original movie opens with a display of matriarchal loyalty: Baahubali Jr. uproots a totem to Shiva so that his mother doesn’t have to draw water from the river every day. Something similar happens at the beginning of the sequel: Baahubali Sr. tames a wild elephant so that his mother can complete a ceremony to burn a demon effigy. The parallels continue to the very end, where, in a stunning reversal, the son does something the father did. Baahubali Sr. fought a massive final battle involving a chariot with spinning blades. At the end of Baahubali 2, the son faces down the same death vehicle.
It’s like poetry; it rhymes.
And then there are the mirroring courtships. Shiva/Baahubali engages in some playful flirting in the first movie by clandestinely painting henna to warm the heart of a frigid archer woman.
His father practices a similar but more elaborate deception to be close to another master of archery, the princess Devasena (played by Anushka Shetty). Baahubali Sr. is in the middle of a tour of India prior to his crowning as king. Devasena steals his heart after he witnesses her holding her own against an army of thieves. He doesn’t want her love because he’s a crown prince, though, so Baahubali does the noble thing and goes undercover as a simpleton. From time to time he has to unwittingly display his weapons mastery, but he brushes it off on Devasena’s dim-witted but affable bodyguard, Kumara Varma (played by Subbaraju). The deception unravels when Devasena’s kingdom is invaded, and the two must fight side by side in a balletic scene where they fire multiple arrows. It is, without a doubt, the most elegant and sublime portrayal of superhero archery captured on film. (And in 2018, there’s surprisingly a lot of recent competition!) It’s played like a fairy tale romance, and there’s even an elaborate dance number on a flying ship that spreads its sails like the wings of a swan.
But even fairy tales romances can be star-crossed. Baahubali 2 only has room for one Queen Bee, and Queen Shivagami (played again with glowering menace by Ramya Krishnan) cannot abide a woman who is sassier than her. Shivagami feels a bit of guilt regarding her son, Bhallaladeva, and how she passed him over for the throne. While Baahubali is away, Bhallaladeva engages in some underhanded court intrigue. Bhallaladeva asks permission for a marriage with Devasena, and Shivagami happily agrees. After all, she has very big plans for who Baahubali should marry, and Devasena is some scrub from a minor kingdom.
Shivagami and Devasena refuse to let the other get the upper hand over what they feel is Baahubali’s destiny. (In comparison, Baahubali Sr. seems pretty chill. When threatened by the loss of power, he seems quite fine with not being the king.) Shivagami threatens to give the throne to Bhallaladeva more to spite Devasena than for any love lost for Baahubali. Is this, at its core, a story of how mothers can so easily turn into monsters when they don’t approve of the woman that their son marries? Man…. I hear ya, Baahubali. (Alas, Avanthika, who seemed to be set up as such an important character in the first movie, seems to have gotten lost in this epic power struggle.)
Characters tend to intersect in strange ways too as we see many of these as younger characters in the past and older and greeting in the present. Strangely though, Baahubali (singular) remains the constant. Prahbas plays father and son slightly differently, and it’s to his credit that you have no problem believing that the younger Baahubali is meeting his uncle for the first time. And yet… Prahbas is the only unaltered face in this time hopping tale of political intrigue, betrayal, and redemption, right?
When all his allies gather around the younger Baahubali, they don’t really rally for any of his own heroic deeds… though admittedly saving a bunch of people from getting crushed under a golden statue is pretty substantial. His standing as a savior is wholly due to everything his father did when the people of Mahishmati recognized him as the People’s Champion. They have strong confidence that Baahubali Jr.’s genetics carry over things like inherent goodness and political influence. But, hey… you allow for these things in modern myth making. There’s probably some implication regarding reincarnation… but I know so little about the mechanics behind that to even speculate intelligently.
The climactic battle, then, packs far more emotional resonance than the competition to kill the enemy chief in the first movie. Baahubali Jr. now fights for justice… to right the wrongs that had been committed decades ago. He fights for his father, who was betrayed. He fights for his mother, who was chained and abused for 25 years. And he fights for his people, who were enslaved by his cruel uncle.
The climactic battle takes on mystical proportions. It’s not enough that Baahubali Jr. and Bhallaladeva battle each other. They must do so with vicious haymakers delivered amongst falling statues and massive harpoons. Soldiers fly in the sky and fires erupt all over the city. By the end of the battle, things get cosmic.
I said in my previous review that I had no problem believing that Baahubali originated from comic books. This movie manages to create a fight that feels like a more faithful adaptation from a Marvel or DC comic that most anything from either cinematic universe. Seriously, Bhallaladeva’s signature weapon looks like something that Jack Kirby once drew. And at one point, a shirtless Baahubali throws a Superman punch while images flash in a lightning-filled sky. The only thing missing is some enthusiastic captions provided by Stan Lee.
In the end, the two Baahubali movies are definitely a must-see. The first is slightly more titled toward adventure; the second a little more somber. It also leaves you wanting more. Baahubali 2 is subtitled “The Conclusion”, and director S.S. Rajamouli has stated that there will be no sequels. That doesn’t feel right. It seems Baahubali’s story was only just beginning.
Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is currently available on Netflix.
NEXT: We’re going to go a bit old school next time to look at the most notorious movie to come out of North Korea: Pulgasari.