Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Jottings - slice of life - 123 ( Baahubali - my take on it)

Jottings - slice of life - 123 ( Baahubali - my take on it)
Over the last two years, on innumerable occasions during my travels and otherwise, I have been asked by well meaning Indian Friends and acquaintances who know my interest in cinematic art , either personally or through emails, if I had an opportunity to watch the first part of Baahubali, and if yes, what are my opinions on it. In fact, one of them recently said “ Bala, this movie was and is a cinematic sensation in India, and i am surprised you are keeping a studious silence about it, I would love to read what you have to say…”
The truth of the matter is I hadn't seen the movie, nor did I have any inclination to watch it ( until yesterday on youtube), in spite of the fact the movie ran in cinema theaters near me wherever I went. Of course, I did read about the movie, its gigantic production, the years of preparation and execution that went into it, the sheer magnificence of cinematic panorama depicted on screen, the vivacity, energy and beauty of its lead characters - all of that. But something within me didn't quite relish the idea of watching it. I have wondered why ,and the reason was not too far too seek.
I am a firm believer that technique is important in any art form. In fact, the history of art is all about refinement and improvements. For example, when painting was the prevalent medium of visual art up to nineteenth century, the amount of detail and themes that could be painted were limited. The path breaking few who could visualize something beyond the general were geniuses, and they didn't produce what they produced because of any notable improvements in technique, but only out sheer creative effervescence and grace within and nothing more. Technique of photography changed all that. There was a now a way available , which doesn't demand creative visualization as a prerequisite, enabling everyone to capture pictures and themes which could put a michalengelo or Ruben to shame in terms of what they could capture on photographic film. Of course, great photography needs special talent, and not all can handle the camera as an extension of their inner eye. Technique may be there, but must be wielded well, and to the purpose of the medium. Also the point is mere improvement in technique doesn't always necessary mean great art. I could capture a pic on my iPhone and claim to produce art, but it doesn't compare to someone who would travel to Antarctica in its coldest winter, wait sleepless and shivering, to capture the rays of sun during its winter solstice as it sweeps across the dark sky mercurially changing color from yellow to gold in the blink of an eye for few minutes. In such cases, technique should go hand in hand with inner vision and an urge to convey something extraordinary. Technique is useful, but art in any form cannot be merely technical, It must be used to unfold something deep within which can resonate in our hearts and mind - in our souls. In the hands of gifted artists, such technique can become magic wand capable of educating, entertaining and aesthetically uplifting .
Now commercial cinema is all about technique and money. And if technical production and amount of money pumped into it are the only measures of cinematic success, I think, in my opinion, we have completely lost the focus and impetus which gave birth to this wonderful medium of cinema. I am not for a moment saying that we should not invest heavily, or not produce big budget films; it is definitely required for quality and to allow the creative possibilities in a director - who wishes to tell a meaningful story - to flourish and flower. But what I am saying is the story must take precedence in a film and not always the superficial aspects of how its told. The technical production of a film should scaffold and safeguard the embryo of a sensitive tale and embellish it as much as required, and not more. The movie that comes to mind as I write ( and everyone knows) is Ang lee’s magnificent rendition of “Life of PI” . Everything you see in Baahubali as jaw-dropping is present in “life of Pi”; yet it is subdued there and serves the purposes of the poignant story lee wishes to tell and doesn't jarringly intrude in the flow of the narrative. Or for that matter consider James cameron’s “Avatar”, or Spielberg's “Jurassic park” or let me stretch to it to fifties and point out “Benhur" or “Ten commandments”. In all these movies, the focus was on what is being told, and the “how” of it is subservient to the “what”.
Baahubali - the beginning is now on Youtube. And I watched it. Its good tale of fantasy and nothing more. In the context of Indian cinema, the quality of technical execution was clean, and flawless. The production value and its visual impact , which has has been the talking point for years now, is nothing we havent seen before. My detractors may argue that I should watch it on screen and not plasma TV. Maybe, maybe not!!. I have watched enough movies both on screen and otherwise to make an aesthetic judgment for myself. I am sure, on screen, some of the effects may have been spectacular; but for me, that will never be a yardstick for a movie. I would watch Harry potter, Star trek anytime - if effects is all I need to admire.
All said and done , as an Popular Indian actor said during a recent interview “ Baahubali is good for Indian cinema. Its at least seeing money”. My opinion is Baahubali served its purpose of doing out what audiences wish to see. Three hours of suspense of disbelief, packaged in modern technology. As long as this remains what we want of movies as a medium of art, then Baahubali is a resounding success. But for me, and I may be an infinitesimal minority, Baahubali is passable entertainment. Nothing that would make me rush to watch Part 2 anytime in the near future.
( PS : This piece represents only my personal view on this topic, and I greatly respect the sentiments of those who have enjoyed the movie for reasons and perspectives I may not be cognizant of, or illiterate about. )
God bless..
Yours in mortality,

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