June 15, 2017

bahubali ethics

Without a universal moral code one cannot have a civilization, says film critic MK Raghavendra who views the blockbuster Baahubali 2 through the filter of a society in flux.

SS Rajamouli’s blockbuster Baahubali 2 has now become the highest grossing Indian film ever and it has excited imaginations in a way that no Indian film has. But what interests me are its deeper cultural implications.

The film is marketed as a fantasy but it tries to create a picture of ancient India in tune with the new nationalism in the air and if there are any doubts about this, Rajamouli being enlisted on the panel to design the new Andhra Pradesh capital Amaravati by chief minister Chandrababu Naidu should put them at rest.

Baahubali (Prabhas) & Devasena (Anushka Shetty)

The film has an aesthetic derived from the Amar Chitra Katha versions of the epics and it draws from theMahabharata in more than one way. Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas) and Katappa (Sathiaraj) journeying incognito to Kuntala before the former is crowned king and encountering a boastful coward, for instance, is from the Virataparva section of theMahabharataBaahubali 2 is spectacularly mounted but what I find worrying is that while it lavishes attention on the ‘armament technology’ of ancient times (inspired by the descriptions of war in the epics) it does not attend to ethical notions, especially that of dharma.

Dharma and political correctness are not identical and by having a potential molester beheaded by the hero, the film is playing up gender issues while being indifferent to the notion of proportionate punishment for a misdemeanour; the notion of dharma is also being pushed aside in favour of half-digested contemporary mores. Also, dharma is a complex notion and everyone in the Mahabharata – even Duryodhana – tries to interpret it and follow its codes. People make mistakes but they respect the code.

Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati)

In Baahubali 2, Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati) the villain behaves not like an epic character but a hoodlum when he addresses the loyal general Katappa as ‘Mera Kuttha’ (dog). Can anyone imagine Duryodhana calling DronacharyaKuttha? In the dharmic code, everyone in the hierarchy respects everyone else because each one performs his role, which is respect-worthy. This leads me to wonder whether the moral codes Indians once lived by are not in a tattered condition, throwing doubt upon the possibility of another glorious epoch that many dream about. Without a universal moral code one cannot have a civilization.

MK Raghavendra
MK Raghavendra

MK Raghavendra is a film/literary scholar, theorist, critic and writer. He contributes to numerous newspapers and periodicals in India and abroad, and has authored six books on Indian Cinema. He received the Swarna Kamal, the National Award for Best Film Critic in 1997.