Sunday, August 23, 2015

Buckminster to Baahubali

Two plays stand apart in all the plays we went to, around 97-02.  Even after more than a decade. They were not even real plays, they were monologues. One was Heidi’s Chronicles and the other was Buckminster Fuller.

The other plays I remember are for a trick or a treat in them, not for the content.

Baahubali the movie is opposite to the monologue plays. The monologues were plain-speak - one person at a mike. That’s it. So it is strange that the movie, a commercial enterprise, and the plays had something in common! Something that is rare in the art and craft of story-telling.

is this a movie?

I asked in my family Whatsapp, where Baahubali was being talked about. My niece forwarded the trailer.

I went to a show. It was in a small, worn theater in downtown San Jose. I was late, the movie had already started. It was my first Telugu theater movie in 20+ years. I was little apprehensive – submitting to a screen projection completely for 2+ hours seemed daunting (I see few movies in the theater). (Not really completely, but with 3 of our sensory channels)
Also I was missing my son, M, (12).  It is not often that I choose to do something without him. He wasn’t feeling theater-able after we arrived. But the Amar Chitra Katha, Chandamama and Vittalacharya stories from yore lured me in.

such ride, many mind, aww

The pauranic narrative of the movie held right away. However the premise required some time to settle into. There was a serious tone and there was a lyrical tone. How to mesh? How to stop asking questions and settle for the ride? Some movies somehow set the calibration right away. Or we come already calibrated. For me, here, it was after about one-fourth of the movie.

A movie (or any story) is actually our mind-screen acting on and reacting to the projected screen, isn’t it? So it actually is- movie x movie or movie2?  For example, the same act may be an aww to some but an eww to others. The unexpected thing is that this movie2 had enough awws for so many! Quite a feat, given that our minds are so diverse.

where exactly?

The positioning of the narrative pieces was the first strength of the movie. And there was narrative continuity. Within which there was the just-right unpredictability and portent. The second strength was the steady and continuous pace of story-telling. All other strengths were held within these two main flows.

The narrative had the three interactive streams. Top layer- the story, which we consciously follow. Below, the background of expressions, visuals and sound, with which we swell and ebb. Even below, the unsaid, light & fragile. The thickness of these layers was an unusual ratio.

All actors were earnest. Two stood out (where you couldn’t tell the actor apart from the character). The Kalakeya king was one, with his character being a delightful cross between the Klingons and Ferengis. He was menacing without ever raising his voice in anger! The other was Amarendra Baahubali, more so towards the wordless scenes at the end of war. He carried the movie.

bucky balls are very stable  

In Heidi’s Chronicles and Buckminister Fuller, there were these moments towards the end – which were just a long, weighted pause. When the two hours of story-telling came to a halt. And stood on its own. These few moments transformed the story on the stage into a universal story. And the audience breathed as one.

Buckminister Fuller, a real life story, was about Bucky (of the Bucky Ball/Fullerene fame) going back to his beginnings. The few moments were when he was talking about walking along the river, contemplating ending his life. Because of his inability to stay within his way of free-thinking and living, while facing poverty, with a wife and child to feed. He was afraid of his child dying.

Then he paused in his monologue. Because he could not express what he felt in words. His struggle and acceptance he could only show in a pause of decreasing tautness. The grace of which brought the mind2 of audience to tears. It is this pause, this grace, I remember, even after years. These moments of the unsaid still carry the context, and the story, on their back.


I want to say about two, one minor and one minor. Bear with me.

It’s that the movie seamlessly mixes two things that are opposites. The point is just to point it.

The war tactics and some equipment in Baahubali were more Greco-Spartan and Roman. The culture of hugeness in buildings and statues was more Egyptian and the slave labor was more Egyptian/Roman. But then, there are no rules for a fantasy! Telling of new stories or re-telling of the old with newer, interesting or popular twists has always been so.  Like Ballaladeva’s cool, retractable mace.

Much of ancient Indian and part of medieval Indian mindset/philosophy was a pole apart from western counterparts. For example, Greco-Spartans had a tremendous energy vested on the physique. In Sparta, boys were brought up separately, in abusive conditions, to become fearsome warriors and only that. Infant boys with unpromising physique were left outside the city walls to die.

The opposite – was – bodily valor was valued equally or sometimes less than inner questioning, ignoring the body (not considering the extent to which this may have been followed). For example, the real life Baahubali (no relation to the movie as far as I know) won a few duels with his older brother and claimed the kingdom. Enthroned, he was puzzled enough by his actions that he retired into his famous quest. He is famous only for the quest.  
How do we separate the two streams- outer heroism and the inner heroism? Outer heroism can be so dazzling, and it was. It piggybacked on inner heroism.
Then, we have two yuvarajas at the same time, which feels like an anomaly. The ensuing rivalry being the basis of the story. 

From here let’s go to the Shiva-transportation scene. Please bear2 with me.

Shiva, the symbol of Advaita, was in a majestic dvaitic interpretation!! (Moving the symbol from one place to a better place is Dvaitic. Whereas, everything is the same, nothing is better or worse, with no need to move anywhere, is Advaitic.)

If you take an even closer look, Dvaitic world-view is within Advaita. Heh. Otherwise, there would be no movie made, nor would we be watching. 

Or are some of these apashrutis somehow a part of the melody? We can't really say until Part 2.  

then there was one

I missed some scenes after the interval, because hey, interval! The manager was selling curry puffs and I had to get one. All this made me late. Then I missed some scenes in the end because – you won’t believe this - new audience started coming in! Lots of them, for the next show. And they were frantically trying to find seats in the dark. One woman was asking me - Is this seat taken? That one? While I was trying to follow a war.

In this confusion was the scene where A. Baahubali was about to strike down the Kaalakeya king when Ballaladeva steals a strike from a distance. A. Baahubali restrains himself, puts down his sword with some effort even as he begins to realize what just happened.
His acceptance settles as a smile. It was an aww. A prince at height of war, putting down his weapon and spontaneously withdrawing his mind to honor another’s ego - you can’t get more Indian than this! This moment of poignant, silent grace goes across cultures.  


It seems to me that movies (and plays and stories) are constructed hoping to create in them such moments of magic. We pay and submit, to be entertained and hoping to connect to these magical moments and their harmonics. It is like an elaborate dance between the makers and the seekers. With the movie-dance going on for 100+ years now.  

(M did see the movie, when the shows were less occupied. Also the movie came to a regular Century)