Liberals hate Baahubali! Their reasons range from obvious to ridiculous, but they are unanimous in their intense hatred for something so deeply and intensely loved by Indian masses.
Baahubali is yet another case in which India’s cultural elite dominated by the left-liberal intellectuals and protected by Congress-communist eco-system stands against the people of the country, against their wishes and preferences. For the masses are head-over-heels in love with Baahubali; they love everything about it. They are swooning over the special effects, the picture perfect sceneries, the admirable characterization, the script, the action sequences and the general ethos of the film which is full of righteous chivalry.
On the other hand, most left-liberals absolutely hate the film and are not hiding it. Some choose to keep quiet, some openly express their disgust. They are complaining about many issues, ranging from obvious to ridiculous. Shekhar Gupta is foaming at the mouth on the ‘portrayal of tribals’ in the movie. He accuses Baahubali of ‘shameful profiling’, pitting the city-dwellers against the tribals. On the other hand, the romance between Shiva and Avanthika has been described as nothing short of the ‘longest rape scene’ in India! (1) And these are the same people who virtually campaign for Sunny Leone!
One has to ask the question: why does the Left react so strongly to a movie, and always in negative terms?
The Baahubali is Unabashedly Hindu
To borrow a term from my friend and the editor of this platform, Nithin Sridhar, S S Rajamouli’s Baahubali is unabashedly, unapologetically Hindu. It is! Baahubali – The Beginning sports a scene in which Prabhas as Shiva, uplifts a Shiva Linga and places it under the waterfall for its permanent Abhishekam. In a style which is so reminiscent of the deeds of Hanuman and many other characters in various Puranas, this scene makes the ethos of the film decidedly Hindu. It shows great reverence for the worship of Shiva Linga. It shows the panic of the devotees when the Shiva Linga is lifted by Shiva. It shows how Shiva, the character’s greatness is stamped and legitimized by his being able to uproot and lift a Shiva Linga and placing it under the water.
One cannot help but remembering the scene from The Ramayana where Shri Rama lifts and breaks the bow of Shiva to everyone’s surprise. It angers Parashurama who then challenges Rama to string the bow of Vishnu. Rama does that too convincingly proving his greatness as the true avatar of Vishnu.
Shiva sports a Shiva Linga as an amulet, wearing it on his chest, much like many Indian sects like the Lingayats.
The politics of Mahishmati reminds one unmistakably of The Mahabharata. Bhallaladeva is the elder brother who is unjustly occupying the throne, having killed his dharmic younger brother with deceit. One is reminded of Dhritrashtra and his sons unjustly throwing the Pandavas, sons of Dhritrashtra’s younger brother into exile and dethroning them of their rights to the rule of Hastinapura.
While Bijjaladeva shows the characteristics of Shakuni, Bhallaladeva has qualities like Duryodhana. In The Mahabharata, Duryodhana was an evil character from the beginning but he was angered and vowed for revenge when he was insulted by Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas. It was part of the reason that he drove out the Pandavas from the palace and insulted Draupadi by Cheer Haran in front of everyone in the court. In Baahubali, Devasena insults Bhallaladeva and angers him. Bhallaladeva gets Baahubali killed and then imprisons Devasena and humiliates her in front of all Mahishmati for years on end. The similarities are striking!
Most strikingly, Baahubali’s Katappa is like Mahabharata’s Bheeshma. In The Mahabharata, Bheeshma vowed to side with the Kauravas as he considered his life forfeit to whoever occupies the throne. He was wise and long-sighted and rued the evil deeds of the Kauravas, but sided with them due to his vow. He had to choose between dharma and his vow. Unfortunately he chose his vow. In Baahubali, Katappa has to go as far as to kill Baahubali, whom he brought up like his son, because he considered himself a slave of the throne. But later on, Rajamouli gives a clever twist to the story in which Katappa both fulfils his vow and dharma.
The whole point of the Great War of the Mahabharata was upholding the dharma. The Pandava heroes sided with dharma against the Kauravas, who sided with adharma. Besides other things, Pandavas claim to the throne lay in the fact that they abided by dharma, carefully nurtured their subjects and were immensely popular among them. So is with Baahubali. Baahubali, the character is popular because he cares about his subjects like they are human beings and is not like Bhallaladeva, who is also very brave and a valorous fighter, but does not care about his subjects and considers them as insects.
The exile of Baahubali by the scheming of Bijjaladeva and Bhallaladeva is paralleled by the exile of Shri Rama. Shivagami the great queen who loved dharma, was valorous and abided by dharma. But she is instigated to get the son, she herself fed and brought up, killed. It is paralleled by the instigation of Kaikeyi by Manthara to ask for Vanvas for Rama.
There are many other similarities between many Hindu epics and mythical stories on the one hand and Baahubali on the other hand. S S Rajamouli himself accepts the inspiration from the world of Hindu mythology:
“I was about 7 years old when I started reading comics called ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ that are published in India. They’re not about a superhero, but they encompass all the stories of India, the folklore, the mythology, everything. But most of these stories are about Indian historical figures. I was fascinated by the forts, the battles, the kings, I not only used to read those stories but I kept telling those stories to my friends in my own way.” (2)
What is most significant, is that Baahubali wears ‘Hinduness’ on the sleeve. And it does not succumb to the peculiar anti-Hindu secularism from which Bollywood suffers. In the first instalment there was one case when a Muslim foreign merchant is enthralled to see the valour of Katappa and was expected to make a comeback in the second instalment, but the second movie does not feature him, eliminating one typically ‘secular’ trick that Indian movies are fond to play.
Unlike Bollywood, where directors like Sanjay Leela Bhansali will ruin some of the greatest scenes of their movies with cheesy secular one liners, S S Rajamouli is not apologetic about the Hindu ethos and inspiration of his movie. That something like this can only come from a south Indian director where Hinduism is more of a living reality than the invasions ravaged north, is also a factor in this.
Baahubali defies the feminist narrative
Baahubali features one of the strongest portrayals of hero and hero worship, keeping in tradition with south Indian movies, with great characters like Baahubali and Shiva displaying heights of old-fashioned valour and chivalry. But very surprisingly it also features strong female characters who are so strong in character that the movie revolves around them. The characterization of Shivagami, Devasena and even Avanthika defies the feminist narrative of Indian women where they are portrayed as victims, downtrodden by men and playing second fiddle to them.
Devasena is both a great warrior and a compassionate woman. Avanthika has the traits of excelling in a battlefield but also realizes her female beauty when she meets someone like Shiva. But even then she does not abandon her earlier avatar and continues to fight for what she believes in.
Perhaps the strongest characterization is that of Shivagami who rules with dharma, is ruthless with the execution and dispensation of justice, but at the same time is also a great mother. Scheming men like Bijjaladeva cower in front of her and she is single-handedly capable of defying court intrigues with a handful of her supporters.
The most iconic image of Shivagami is where she cradles infant Baahubali in one hand, feeding him and slays the conspirators with a dagger with the other hand, displaying that being a mother and a great warrior is possible at the same time.
Even the mother who adopted Shiva as her son is also a very strong character. She is also the leader of her tribe and it is her husband who plays second fiddle to her.
The feminists are baffled at this. Either they accept a narrative of a ‘free society’ where the women are strong, not at all motherly or feminine in character, and have an inveterate hatred of men; or they accept a narrative of a ‘patriarchal and male-chauvinistic society’ in which men are absolute rulers and women are just for entertainment, where they are abused and discriminated against. And in India they are fond of imposing the latter narrative on Hindu society, culture and civilization, considering it inherently ‘regressive’.
But here is a movie which is proudly Hindu and yet shows women in ways which defies categorization according to the feminist handbook. For they are both independent and motherly; brave and beautiful; valorous and feminine at the same time. In the feminist narrative these qualities form two distinct and mutually opposite categories, and cannot be reconciled. However, Baahubali defies this categorization, much to the anguish of the feminists.
Baahubali extols Righteous Chivalry
Before we look into Baahubali, one look at the respective film industries of America and Europe would be useful in drawing a parallel. One of the most important markers to differentiate the American film industry from its European counterpart is the genre of superhero movies. American film industry regularly makes movies on superheroes, which are reminiscent of mythological and folk heroes of other cultures.
The American superheroes are a substitute of the hero and hero worship which is prevalent in traditional societies but which was missing from a society which was a melting-pot of immigrants. In the 20th century it was the Hollywood which helped create this ‘American mythology’ with heroes taken from everyday life and given supernatural and superhuman powers to give them larger-than-life avatars.
These superheroes fight for good, and battle against evil, saving the innocent public from ruthless villains. There is no gray shade in this fight against evil and the superhero is always good, and is very confident of his mission. He displays qualities which almost everyone has somewhere hidden inside but which seldom manifest due to inner fears which have shadowed these qualities.
This identification with the common man is complete with the part where they have their daily life common avatars of a simple man working in a nine-to-five job. What makes the superhero different is his overcoming of his inner fears and his taking up the mantle of a superhero which is symbolically reflected in his superhero suit. This suit symbolizes the archetypes of valour, courage, fearlessness and most of all righteousness. It completes the hero, making him into a superhero.
Despite the critics scoffing at these ‘un-artistic movies’ with no imagination, the superhero movies continue to rule the minds of the American audiences raking in more profits than other ‘mainstream movies’.
In short, Americans seem to love superhero movies which portray and glorify what we would call in India as ‘Kshatra dharma’, or the ‘fight for righteousness’. It is a society which still values Kshatra dharma, for reasons which are beyond the scope of this article.
European directors on other hand scoff at the superhero culture of American film industry and there are obvious reasons for it. There is no visible superhero culture dominant in Europe and even stories and epics which were written in Europe like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series, is taken up by directors and producers based in America and are more appreciated in America than Europe. The recent decade has seen some superhero movies coming out of the former Communist bloc, but what is considered as Western Europe is not very fond of the genre.
Europe styles itself as more ‘liberal’, ‘modern’ and ‘sophisticated’ than America and American society, which it considers as ‘boorish’, ‘uncultured’. It accuses American film industry of ‘lacking nuance’, holding it in utter contempt.
The reasons for this are rooted in their ‘post-modern’ intellectual ethos, which was ushered in by their experience of the greatest wars that humanity has ever witnessed. The world wars ravaged Europe so completely that the survivors hated it in absolute terms. They had too much of valour and chivalry, too much of wrongly inspired Kshatra dharma. In the next half century they worked to build a society which shuns violence at any cost. Fed up with violence, they went into an overdrive of peace.
As a result, it shuns every identity which may lead to violence, and for this purpose feelings like nationalism, patriotism and general qualities like valour, chivalry and courage are also frowned upon as ‘divisive qualities’ as they may all lead to differences and violence. On the other hand, love and sex are considered as universal unifiers, which ‘transcend all differences rising out of feelings like nationalism and patriotism’.
Since good and bad are also categories, and categories lead to discrimination and judgment, they also needed to be erased in a post-world war era. Since there is no longer any such thing as good or bad, there is also no question of fighting for it. Same goes with nationalism or patriotism. The very concept of nation or country is ridiculed as another ‘artificial creation’ of man.
It is only natural that superheroes, who embody many of the qualities which the ultra-liberal elite of Europe hates, are viewed with derision and their admirers are considered uncultured boors. Art replaces valour and chivalry and since all other categories except the basic human instincts of sex and food are believed to lead to violence, art in post-modern Europe seems to revolve around sex and food.
This is reflected in the European film industry. Their obsession with what they consider art; their denial of categories such as good and bad; and a tendency to consider strange as beautiful has resulted in a film industry which displays even the darkest of human tendencies such as BDSM, necrophilia or paedophilia as art and is appreciated by the audience.
The results are for everyone to see. The Kshatra dharma has completely disappeared from Western Europe and as a result, its society lies defenceless against the refugees from the Middle East for whom violence is a fact of life.
What Europe now needs is a dose of old-fashioned valour and chivalry. The West has a tendency to swing between opposite extremes. From the era of extreme violence they swung to the other extreme of unconditional and unilateral peace. They fail to understand the traditional wisdom of ancient societies like India and China that what is sustainable is a dynamic balance between peace and violence, good and bad. Neither of the two can completely disappear from society. Values like valour and chivalry are as important and worthy of upholding as peace and non-violence.
India after independence and under the shadow of Gandhi went into the peace overdrive, though with little results. The official narrative for the Hindu majority was to settle for peace under any circumstance, irrespective of what the other side offered. Honour and self-respect were no longer values worth upholding. Peace was the mantra. The fact that peace was seldom achieved by this unilateral declaration was lost upon the ears of the Nehruvian elite which was high on a daydream of Gandhian utopia.
For too long India and the Hindu society has been forcibly fed a narrative of unconditional and unilateral peace and non-violence. Though Indian movies do not lack in violence but generally movies with social message and involving majority or minority community regularly play the great Indian secular drama over and over again.
Baahubali freshly delivers Indian society from this unnatural narrative and rightly gives it the dose of valour and chivalry that it needs. Its characters are loving and caring but at the same time have great self-respect and ready to defend it. They recognize the path of righteousness and proudly walk it. On one hand they are ready to lay their lives for the common man, but on the other hand, they are not afraid of rolling heads when it comes to upholding dharma.
Bollywood, which has become a footnote to the ribaldry of the Khans punctuated with cheesy secularism of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, has much to learn from Baahubali and much to fear too. For the north Indians too are increasingly loving a story which has a dynamic balance of peace and violence, love and war, and if the Bollywood fails to deliver itself from its current pathetic state, then very soon the north Indian audiences will be taken over by south Indian movies and directors, who are not afraid of portraying even violence for the sake of showing righteous valour, and deck it beautifully in a complete story like Baahubali.
This is something which is unpalatable to the left-liberal elite of India, which is already experiencing hard times in Modi’s India. Indians are no longer ashamed of upholding the greatness of their country, the valour of their heroes and are finally embracing their Hindu heritage. For the left-liberal, who grew up on lullabies telling horror stories about regressive Hinduism, this is nothing short of going back to the Middle Ages. As if this was not enough, now even the entertainment industry seems to be overtaken by the likes of S S Rajamouli, who has defied every convention of Indian film industry and taking his inspiration from Hindu mythology delivers a movie which is the greatest commercial success till date.
The worst left-liberal nightmare is about to come true, as other directors, following the commercial success of Rajamouli are almost sure to follow in his footsteps, fundamentally changing the face of Indian film industry. An industry which was so far dominated by pseudo-secularist clichés verging on anti-Hinduism, is about to take a U-turn in which movies parading Hindu credentials will become a norm, raking in great commercial benefits. What was a pariah of Indian film industry until yesterday, i.e. the Hindu culture, will become its poster boy. But there is hardly anything which the left-liberals can do. For the times, they are a changin!
- An Interview With ‘Baahubali’ Director SS Rajamouli: The Beginning. Forbes.com.