Since the last four weeks, the most read stories on this newspaper’s website have been the myriad ones on the kind of money Baahubali 2 has been minting at the box office. At a time when the country is in the grip of mob lynchings and a new tax system where renewables (18 per cent) are taxed more than coal (5 per cent) and sanitary napkins are taxed at 12 per cent while sindoor is tax free, it’s fascinating that people are obsessed with following the box office conquests of a frankly unspectacular movie.
As someone who hails from coastal Andhra, my heart swells that finally Telugu cinema is being recognised in the Hindi-speaking parts of the country without being subsumed under that hideous rubric called “Madrasi cinema”. But I wish the industry was recognised for something more compelling than a lethargic movie that rightly is — to quote a website’s headline —”three hours of Prabhas porn”. But Baahubali is not exactly Telugu cinema. The characters could have come from anywhere in Indian mythology. Comparisons with quintessential Telugu gems like Maya Bazaar, Daana Veera Soora Karna are uncalled for.
Director S S Rajamouli is a one-trick pony but that trick might just rock your 180-minute existence at the cinema, if you are in an easy-to-please mood, that is. Right from his debut 16 years ago, Student No.1, Rajamouli has been the master of interval bangs. Each movie of his moves along sedately in the first half, until things hit a deafening crescendo in the pre-interval sequence only to put its eager audience back into a lull. I still get gooseflesh when my inadvertent nocturnal YouTubing activity involves me gaping at the intermission parts of Simhadri, Vikramarkudu, Magadheera or Chhatrapati. The Baahubali movies don’t even stand up to Rajamouli’s underwhelming standards. However, the franchise ought to be a case study at Ivy League B-schools. In 1960s, a clever person posted an ad in The New York Times asking for a dollar from the public for a secret that he would reveal days later. He got truckloads of dollars only to reveal that there was no secret in the first place and to prove public can be conned
when marketing strategy is spot on. Rajamouli did something similar with his “Why Kattappa killed Baahubali?” question. It was the biggest moment in the sclerotic Indian pop culture history after Shah Rukh Khan’s “lungi dance”. Alas, the answer to that all-important question had coitus interruptus written all over it. Not a single person I know was blown away by the revelation but then, you pay for your ticket upfront.