Deepak Saagar Kalaikadal
It’s been three weeks since Baahubali — The Conclusion opened to packed theaters with an audience hanging onto every scene, every dialogue, and every eye-roll of the lead (the ladies apparently can’t get over Prabhas’s smile) and supporting characters alike. These three weeks have, of course, witnessed a plethora of posts discussing everything from the hidden political agenda to the jewelry designs of Sivagami and Devasena, from wide suppositions of Kattapa’s age to the workout techniques religiously followed by Prabhas and Rana.
However, nothing fascinated me like this post, which claims that the secret to Amarendra Baahubali’s burgeoning overnight female fan base came from his ability to say ‘Amma — you’re wrong!’
That may be true, and seriously undermining all the effort Prabhas put into his six-pack, but what about the male fans, who just can’t seem to get enough of the movie either? Apart from all the sword-fights, human-catapults, and action sequences capable of pumping sufficient adrenalin and testosterone to charge a small battalion, the comparatively eye-popping VFX and CG to keep the geeks satisfied, and not to forget the customary hero-worship rooted deeply in the early history of Indian cinema, isn’t Devasena as large a contributing factor as Amarendra Baahubali? With looks that could give beauty a good run for its money, intelligence that oozes with her every word, martial skills, and the relentlessly bold demeanor, Devasena manages to crush every guy’s heart effortlessly.
After having to endure through the now infamous ‘Rape of Avanthika’ in Baahubali — The Beginning, Devasena’s portrayal is delightfully refreshing, to say the very least. Enough has been said in the media about Rajamouli’s depiction of Devasena being an attempt to redress the injustice meted out to Avanthika in the last part, and I couldn’t agree more.
To be utterly truthful, my heart sank a good few inches when Devasena was introduced in The Conclusion. While her impeccable poise, the makeshift-curtain shield, that beautiful elbow smash, and the jaw-breaking kick, made me scream silently in awe, Amarendra’s glazed look, flashbacks of Shivu’s ‘glamorizing’ of Avanthika, and the subsequent stripping of her ambition and courage among other things, made me queasy that Devasena was destined to go down the same path. I was never happier to have been proved so wrong.
In stark contrast to The Beginning, the romance that follows is perhaps one of the best cinematic depictions seen in recent times. It was hard to believe that the same actor who had made me squirm uneasily in my seat in the last part, had me hooked to the amazing chemistry that he shared with Anushka as Devasena. He loved her for her character, her courage, and her ability to stand up to what is wrong, and we loved him for that.
Having lived in a country, where a woman is frowned upon for talking back — to her elders, her ‘equals’ (largely men), and sometimes even to men who are way younger — irrespective of the validity of her stance, and with mainstream cinema largely championing the cause, beholding an onscreen persona like Devasena was like bursting into the cold air after being underwater for way too long.
Just as Devasena shocks us into silence with her strong and borderline rude, but nevertheless well-deserved, missive to Sivagami, she also captures our total attention as the warrior who appears beyond impeccable after just having woken up from a deep slumber. And learning that three-arrow technique in a jiffy — mind-blowing. Beautiful, brave, and a quick learner too? This lady seems to pique our interests with every passing scene. The gorgeously choreographed sequence that follows only adds further fuel to the fire.
While her answer to Amarendra, when he asks her to come with him as a slave to Mahishmati, highlights both her self-respect and her immense love for him (which again, can always thrive in co-existence), it is her stance against Sivagami at the court which manages to wring out my greatest respect for the lady. When Sivagami commands that Devasena is to marry Bhallaladeva and not Amarendra, she not only stands her ground unflinchingly, but taking it a step further, she DOES NOT turn to Amarendra, beseeching his help in the matter. She belts out a fitting reply, establishing her agency in the matters of her marriage. Though Amarendra had pledged himself to her in this lifetime (Naan unnudayavan Devasena -another ‘High-Five Rajamouli’ moment), she does not run back to him the moment she meets resistance from the mother-in-law. And therein lies the proverbial feather in her cap.
Just like the ladies dig Amarendra for his ability to string together the words — ‘Amma, you are wrong’, the men are enchanted by Devasena’s ability to NOT resort to ‘Hubby dear, your Amma is wrong!’ Not once does Devasena try to burden Amarendra with the task of questioning his mother’s methods. She achieves that by herself, with total panache, every single time.
Even at the seemantham, when Devasena is annoyed by Sivagami’s silence at Bhallaladeva relieving him of his responsibilities as the army commander, she neither seeks nor waits for Amarendra’s approval before lashing out her thoughts at her mother-in-law. Surprisingly, Amarendra’s reaction here is closer to the men of the real world — he remains a silent spectator.
It would be unjustifiable to wrap up any article on Devasena without mentioning her heroic deed at the temple. Here too, in spite of being opposed by an apparently authoritative person, she does not go in search of her husband. She stands for what is right and chops off the lecher’s fingers. Whistles - What a woman! Whoever said that feminity and bravery are not always mutually inclusive should be made to watch this brilliant scene on a loop.
In hindsight, after watching this scene, it appears that the most appropriate move for Avanthika when Shivu tries to ‘bring out’ the ‘feminity’ in her, would have been to take a leaf out of Devasena’s book and chop his fingers off. Such women are the need of the hour! Especially in India, where gruesome stories of rape, abuse, and honor-killing dominate large spaces in our dailies.
And finally, when Amarendra leaves to rescue Kattapa, Devasena captures a little more space in our hearts when she sits up amidst her labor pains, and hands his sword to him. Hats off princess! Even at a time when most women would want their husbands to be near them, she sends him off with a smile, without a second thought, because she understood his need to leave.
Devasena was no ordinary woman, and she was not depicted lightly either. Rajamouli made sure that she would be imprinted in the memories of the audience for a long-long time. This was not a regular saans-bahu episode, but a clash between ego and selflessness, between dharma (morality of conduct) and shaasana (constitutional law), between ‘what is best’ and ‘what is right’. It was the story of a woman, deeply in love with the ‘perfectest’ of men, who stood for what is right, come what may. It is what made me go to see the movie twice –once in Telugu and once in Tamizh, shelling out nearly $ 45 together (which is a princely sum for a graduate student).
Devasena would have been the perfect Sita to Amarendra’s Raama, and the perfect Draupadi to his Arjuna, but to a large majority of the men, she would also be that ideal woman who does not come back to them with saansu-ma issues, but hey, enough with the wishful thinking.
I sum it up quoting a favorite meme from the past week— ‘Ladies, to marry an Amarendra Baahubali, you need to be a Devasena!’ and of course vice-versa.
Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.