Baahubali: The Conclusion has set off numerous debates. Is it an RSS film promoting Hindutva? Does it glorify caste? Have the Khans and the Kapoors been upstaged from the box office at last? Are the rumoured salaries the cast received fair?
Obviously a film that has done such mammoth business is going to generate all this analysis and more. Besides, there are very few films releasing because Baahubali has taken up so many screens across cities. For now, it's the only film people seem to be discussing.
And the ladies, especially, can't get over Amarendra Baahubali. Not Prabhas, Amarendra Baahubali. Yes, the muscles help but Shivudu (played by the same actor) also has the same body and nobody is swooning over him.
The prime reason, one gathers from observing women-only social media groups silently, is that Amarendra Baahubali stands up for his wife.
Really. Not his ability to uproot trees or ride bulls with flaming horns. Just his ability to say, "Amma, you're wrong."
We're in the land of "Mere paas ma hai" where film after film has glorified the hero's unmitigated devotion towards his mother. The heroine, the woman he's harassed into saying yes, is always in second place. She's the misguided soul who "insults" his mother or wants to do the unthinkable act of evil - moving into a nuclear setup. Whatever mummy says, hero does - this has been the logic of our cinema for eons now.
And to be sure, this is a popular sentiment off screen, too. There are numerous jokes about the poor Indian husband who is caught between his mother and wife. Invariably, he's applauded as a good son if he picks the mother and jeered at as "henpecked" if he picks the wife. Of course, nobody wonders why the wife and the MIL are pitted against each other in the first place and if the patriarchal nature of the Indian family isn't the reason.
When Devasena talks back to Sivagami and refuses to obey her decree to marry Bhallaladeva, the latter's father is quick to remind Sivagami of all that she's done for Amarendra. Breastfed him, brought him up like her own son, even giving him a fair chance to become king.
In the average Indian film, this would be the point when Amarendra breaks into tears and falls at Sivagami's feet, begging for forgiveness and telling Devasena, "Sorry, but Mummy first." Instead, Amarendra calmly tells Sivagami that she is wrong and that he will stand by the word he's given Devasena.
Later too, when Devasena is angered by Sivagami's indifference at her baby shower and questions her silence as Bhallaladeva strips Amarendra from his position as the army commander, Amarendra doesn't ask her to shut up. Devasena's "arrogance" would have been tamed by the good-son hero in any other film with a tight slap but not Amarendra Baahubali. He knows she's right and his mother is wrong - the ability to make that judgment is almost a superhuman power, going by how rarely you see it in real life.
The only point when Amarendra goes loopy over his mother is when he's dying and he tells Kattappa to make sure she's safe - but then, this makes sense because the fate of Mahishmati depends on Sivagami and he knows that there is conspiracy afoot in the palace.
Considering Baahubali falls into the genre of an epic (where mummy sentiment thrives), this contemporary rendering of Amarendra Baahubali's character is surprising and refreshing. Yes, it's kind of sad that our expectations from men in cinema are so low but while acknowledging this, let's not forget that in terms of cinematic depiction, this is quite an original departure to make.
There are many reasons why the audience will remember Amarendra Baahubali in the years to come. There are many lines he says which will give people goosebumps when they watch the film again and again. But for most women, it's that scene in the courtroom where he stands next to Devasena, challenging the soldiers and his mother's authority, calmly declaring, "Whoever touches Devasena touches my sword" - which makes all the difference.