Baahubali – On the Mathematics of Evoking Emotions

Have you ever wanted to precisely know why you love something? The first time one experiences Baahubali, it feels like a gigantic wave crashing on the shores of one’s mind. The end-result is an overwhelming feeling of being drenched in awe. But what if you had that little wish to feel every droplet touching your skin? So, I decided to stand with myself another time, with a pen and notebook, and watch as the wave hit me. Every single time I sensed something stirring in me, I scribbled it quickly in my notebook, much to the puzzlement of a ten-year-old girl sitting next to me. Then I saw those droplets and saw them stringing together to paint patterns within patterns. Here, I try to capture in words these images that flashed before my eyes…

Spoilers ahead…

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The Music in the Words

What if you could hear a piano playing or drums beating on just hearing a set of words? And no, it’s not because there’s a rousing score in the background. Just read these words aloud and listen to what you hear:

நீ கூறிய சொல்லால் கூரிய வாளால் உன் நா அறுபடும் என்று அறிவாயா?
nee kooRiya sollaal kooriya vaaLaal un naa aRubadum endRu aRivaayaa?
Don’t you know that your tongue shall be severed with a sharp sword for the word spoken?
வஞ்சகனின் நெஞ்சில் இருக்கும் நஞ்சு கெஞ்சிக் கேட்டால் வராது அரசே!
vanjaganin nenjil irukkum nanju kenji kaettaal varaadhu arasae!
You cannot make a vile man part with the venom in his heart by crooning to him, my lord!
அவள் வாயால் சொன்னதை நீ வாளால் நிரூபித்து விட்டாய்
avaL vaayaal sonnadhai nee vaaLaal niroobithu vittaay
You have echoed her words with your sword!
உங்கள் சாசனங்களை நெருப்பில் எரியுங்கள். 
உங்கள் சட்டங்களை கடலில் எறியுங்கள்.  
உங்கள் விதிமுறைகளை தூக்கில் ஏற்றுங்கள்.
மதிகெட்ட இந்த அரசுக்கு மகிழ்மதி என்று பெயர்!

ungaL saasanangaLai neruppil eriyungaL.
ungaL sattangaLai kadalil eRiyungaL.  
ungaL vidhimuRaigaLai thookkil aetRungaL.
madhigetta indha arasukku magizhmadhi endRu peyar

Throw your charters to the fire!
Throw your laws into the sea!
Hang your rules!
This foolish royalty dares to call itself ‘Makizhmathi’ (Land of Joy and Wisdom)!
பழிதாங்கி உளி வாங்கி
படைப்பானோ எதிர்காலம்?
உதிரத்தில் சினமோடும் 
துளி யாவும் சிவம்

pazhidhaangi uLi vaangi
padaippaanoa edhirkaalam?
udhirathil sinamoadum
thuLi yaavum sivam

Bearing the blame, 
holding a chisel,
will he carve a new future?
In the fury 
of every drop of blood,
all there is, is God.

In the alliterative play of the words above, in the rhythm that resounds, words seem to be singing a seamless tune of exquisiteness and performing a choreographed dance of grace.

The Words in the Music

In a case of reversal, the music could be heard speaking like a seasoned orator. At these moments, you hear a thousand-word description of the character or an in-depth analysis of a situation, in a few notes of music.

Take for instance… the score at the moment Baahubali’s eyes take in Devasena. If you listen with your heart, it will bring back every face you have ever fallen for. It fills you with the tingling sensation that races through all of what makes you and a euphoric joy that makes every pain you have ever experienced, a distant memory. It proclaims in an instant that this is a life-changing moment in not just the life of a man but also the life of a nation, laden with beauty and melancholy.

Contrast this with the score for the first time Balla casts his eyes on Devasena. It’s primeval. It evokes the lustful image of an animal procreating. Something violent, intense and immediate! You understand that this ‘love’ needs no lover to reciprocate it. A classic case to showcase the intensity of unrequited love!

Be it the menacing moment when Sivagami advances towards Devasena or the rousing one when she proclaims the newborn as the new king of the nation, the music speaks to you with an intensity that makes you roar with the crowd.

In the return of young Baahubali, as he soars to defeat his enemies, you hear almost a modern day score, as if the music is speaking in the accent of he who has lived abroad and is returning with the traces of that new nation in his tongue. The music here proclaims that the tide has turned and a new order is born.

Expression of the Outer Elements

Fire, Water, Air, Earth and Sky should be rightfully on the rolling credits! These emote and express the inexpressible. In the ‘Kannan song’, when Devasena, dreaming about Baahubali, showers the lord’s statue with incense water, there’s a dove sprinkling water on Baahubali in the courtyard and when she does the ‘arati’ to the lord, with burning camphor, Baahubali feels its warmth on his face from a firebrand hanging on his window. Here the elements are at their gentlest and romantic best.

In a poetic sequence, when Baahubali and Kattappa enter the Kunthala kingdom, there they see cowherds chasing their oxen with water splashing beneath the hooves. In a stunning reversal a few scenes later, the water under the hooves climbs on as the fire on the horns of the oxen. Baahubali is the master as well as the alchemist of elements.

In a dream sequence of the ‘orey oru ooril’ song, the leading lady starts a storm amidst the waves and this master coolly takes off in air. Like a bird soaring, their love takes a flight of imagination in the breeze.

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In the fight against the Kalakeyas, the earth element comes to the fore. As Kattappa stands on those unforgiving rocks, with tears pouring down his eyes, the fire rages behind him, painting the pain and passion of the moment in the confluence of the elements.

As Balla pours oil to kindle a fire, as Sivagami proclaims ‘நாடே பற்றி எரியும் (The nation will be up in flames)’ and many more moments, one can sense the trope of fire running all through the movie. Perhaps that’s why we don’t feel time passing by at all. Like wildfire, it spreads throughout the movie keeping up the pace and never slacking for a moment.

In the final moment of defeat, as Balla is about to burn on the pyre, the image of an elderly Baahubali as he might have looked had he been alive, bursts out amidst the thundering clouds in the sky and Balla’s earthly journey ends with fire lighting up the sky and earth. Or so you would think. The image of his ego and arrogance, the statue of his head still has to hurtle down a mighty waterfall to signify the final end of hubris at the hands of the elements.

Impression of the Inner Elements

How can you etch the minutiae of love, lust, guilt, disappointment, loyalty, and treachery living in those hidden corners of the heart on so grand a canvas? Is it even possible to marry nuance and grandeur? In style, this happens. In the eyes of the performers, you glimpse it all the time. The guilty thorn that irks the throat of Sivagami even though she knows she has done the right thing is the single foundation for the downfall of that empire. The guilt of having favoured the right one against her own!

Devasena, my favourite character in this mythical fantasy, has so much to inspire a woman in modern reality. Even as you are just getting to know her, you see that she wants to be better than her best. There she is trying unsuccessfully to release two arrows from a bow much to the amusement of her family and royal council, who remark that she is already the most skilled archer in the kingdom. She does not care that Baahubali is an heir to an empire. She walks on his shoulders. She cares not for wealth but only for truth and love. The most intricate exposition of the beauty of her character is when she does not want Baahubali by her side, even in her pain, but wants him to do what is right for the nation. She stands alone and as an equal to Baahubali, in every possible way.

Above all, what stretches like infinity in my mind is the singular image of Baahubali’s arrows whizzing past the dangling earrings of Devasena. Here is power and beauty in an ecstatic symphony!

Snakes and Dogs

In the character of Pingalar, be it in the double-dagger-like moustache or be it the hissing sound of his voice or in the way his fingers creep on Kattappa’s shoulder when he is trying to confuse him about who he owes loyalty to, a snake is what you see and hear. A snake that dances to the mellifluous tune of the snake charmer, Balla.

In Kattappa, an image of a loyal dog keeps popping up again and again.

உன் தாயின் நாய் வருகிறது!
Here comes your mother’s dog!

‘நான் நாய் அல்லவா, மோப்பம் பிடித்தேன்’
Am I not a dog? I sniffed it out!

You see the tail-wagging, loving, protecting friend that you wish you had. He enriches the movie with his playful woofs and fierce attacks.

Triangles and Circles

At the very core, there is symmetry in this saga. I see the plot resting on two triangles. Both between one woman and two men! First, a woman and her two sons; Finally, a woman and her two suitors! Ironically, balance and harmony in the blueprint builds this visual structure of contradiction and conflict.

Then again, the story completes in precise concentric circles. When Devasena walks with a fire-pot on her head bringing to you memories of her mother-in-law taking the same walk, one circle closes; When Balla burns on the fire reminding you of the demon’s statue in the beginning, another circle clicks to a close; In that moment when young Baahubali lets his blood flow on the Sivalinga, in his fight to ease the burden of his mother walking there with a pot of fire on her head, the circle leaps to the first part, to the moment when he lifts and places another Sivalinga under a flowing river to ease his other mother’s burden of wanting to shower the lord with pots of water. And finally, when that statue-head of Balla falls down the waterfall, it brings back memories of another head climbing up the same waterfall against all odds and beginning this story of Baahubali. With the aid of elements and emotions, the movie portrays with mathematic precision that evil has nowhere to go but down when good decides to climb up. In you, in me and in our world! And, that is why I love Baahubali.