When the Guardian, London, gives four stars out of five to a Telugu film for which even the ever-magnanimous Times of India gave a measly 3.5, you have to start wondering: did they review Ben Hur by mistake?
Everything is big: the size of the budget, the size of the heroes, the size of the sets, the ferocity of the fights, and the monologues; god, the monologues are so long that you think two or more people are mouthing it and mistakenly think they are dialogues.
But when two veteran reviewers, Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN and Shubhra Gupta of the Indian Express both give four out of five and end their reviews, one on air and the other in print, with the same sentence "I can't wait for the second part which will be out in 2016", it's time to crash the party and ask, really?
So, why did watching Baahubali in the original Telugu, in a near-empty hall in Delhi at 8 pm on a Sunday, leave me cold while it is touching even stone-hard critics and fans watching the Hindi dubbed version?
Using a sample size of one, here's why:
- It's substantially better than the standard Salman Khan-Akshay Kapoor-Ajay Devgn potboilers which are remade from Telugu and Tamil. So this is their kind of prayer for liberation from that kind of junk. As Rajdeep Sardesai might say, "fair enough"
- The generation of Indians that grew up on Amar Chitra Katha comics is now a sizeable demographic. Their wallets are thick enough to haul their families and spend as much money on popcorn and Pepsi as on mythology and fantasy.
- South Indian cinema is thirsting for a new superstar director after Shankar's recent flops, and the Rs 200 crore Rajamouli is rumoured to have splurged touches just the right chord in the Telugu Association of North Texas (TANTEX) and other Ameerpet émigrés.
- It is July, silly, nothing else happens. Even with Sania Mirza and Leander Paes winning women's and mixed doubles respectively, most Indians don't bother much with Wimbledon. The Ashes does not involve us. And even the Bangladeshis have beaten us. Id is a week away before Bhajrangi Bhaijaan is upon us. So, have mercy on us, Lord.
- Art is imitating life which is imitating art. Cinema has heard the national craving for a powerful leader who will triumph over evil and untruth. Narendra Modi did that 14 months ago. Arvind Kejriwal did that four months ago. Baahubali did that four days ago.