All bets on Baahubali
This is a week quite unlike any other, cinematically speaking. These are times when it often takes more than 10 fingers to count the number of releases on a Friday. This week, it seems, we need just one. The sight of the booking page of theatres — Devi Cinema, for instance — which has all of two films listed for the next week, is one to behold. The two films in question, of course, are Baahubali 2 (Tamil) and Baahubali 2 (Telugu). I cannot think of another film that dominated theatres so. Also, perhaps for the first ever time, I’m more drawn to the Telugu version of a bilingual.
The Tamil version for many of us isn’t quite the same, as far as Baahubali is concerned. There’s a reason why the lead actors, Prabhas and Rana Daggubati, are both from Telugu cinema. The composer, Keeravani, is from there too. Or how about the fact that the protagonist is not named Shiva, a name many of our filmmakers have a great fascination for, but Shivu, its Telugu variation. As those of us who have watched both the Tamil and Telugu versions of the first film will attest, the latter’s dialogues explode with a certain rawness of energy that is rather mellowed in the former.
The week is also rather unusual for how the entire country seems besotted over a South Indian film, and mind you (or perhaps I should say, ‘Mind it’, as they think the Superstar does), for once, it’s a film that doesn’t star Rajinikanth nor is it one directed by Shankar/Mani Ratnam. The Baahubali films seem to have also secured much admiration, unlike say a Sivaji which was being spoken about across the country around the same time as the Rajini-Chuck Norris jokes went viral. Baahubali, a film that is marketed across all of India, is also conspicuous by the absence of pan-Indian actors. The head of Mahishmathi’s army isn’t played by Amitabh Bachchan; it’s played by Sathyaraj. The conniving father of the usurper isn’t played by Naseeruddin Shah; it’s played by Nasser.
Also, it’s not every week that your heart thumps in anticipation of a film. The Baahubali films bring back wide-eyed excitement back into the theatres—it’s entertainment as was originally promised. In an era of transience, Baahubali signifies permanence — well, as much as a film can be associated with permanence anyway. You just know that these are days you can talk about years from now. “Oh, those days, we were only worried about why Kattappa killed Baahubali.”
While everybody’s on about the film’s magnitude and its scale, it’s curious to note that this week is also generous to the small players. This is when the smaller theatres — ones that likely haven’t been full too many times — get their due. Even Sathyam Cinemas, with all its screens, can only accommodate so many people after all. Chennai will suddenly wake up to the existence of theatres like Bharath in Old Washermanpet, of C3 Laurel Mall in Chengalpet, of iDreams in Royapuram and Ganesh Cinemas in Anakaputhur, which have among the earliest shows in the city at 8 am. Memories will be created at theatres that will likely never be visited again. Friendships will be formed. And some friendships will be destroyed, especially those on social media, for, there is always that one person who wants to be the first to announce why Kattappa indeed killed Baahubali. It’s unusual when a film becomes a phenomenon. It’s great not just for the cinema business, but for life itself.