Bahubali 2’s not an overtly feminist film, but it defies some of Telugu cinema’s sexism

When you grow up watching Telugu films, you get used to the fact that women won’t ever be portrayed as having agency. You walk into a film expecting a close up shot of a nadumu (waist), sometimes all kinds of fruits fall over the navel (Raghavendra Rao’s cinematic magic?), sometimes the hero prances around the said navel. You’re not surprised when the hero lands a handkerchief on the woman’s shoulder to claim her as his— just like he would a seat on a bus. Somewhere between the 80s and the 90s, Telugu filmmakers decided to unite in their sexism and hero-centric films have claimed their place in the film industry as ‘age-old’ tradition.

SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali: The Beginning (first part), though engaging, had some cringe-worthy moments. Just as soon as he had introduced Avanthika (Tamannah) — the accomplished warrior and rebel, he stripped her off those qualities almost immediately with just one song. Some critics called the it the‘rape of Avanthika’, some lamented about how Bahubali’s masculinity porn killed an awesome female lead and so on. The stripping away of Avanthika’s agency drew a lot of ire from women, and rightly so — it’s almost as if Avanthika was placed in the movie to facilitate Shivudu’s (Prabhas) performance of traditional masculinity. Avanthika’s important mission is forgotten as soon as Shivudu enters the scene, plays hero and takes over. Avanthika is pushed to the sidelines, despite the fact that she has dedicated most of her life to the cause. However, in the second part (and the final part) of Bahubali 2: The Conclusion, I couldn’t help but wonder if Rajamouli read all these (scathing) articles, educated himself and wrote the kind of story that didn’t negate the agency of women. Bahubali 2: The Conclusion is not an overtly feminist film, but it tries to be one, much more than any mainstream Telugu film in the last two decades.

These are the five aspects of the film that try to defy the norms of storytelling in the Telugu film industry:

Devasena and Bahubali believe in equal partnership

Devasena (Anushka Shetty) is a princess from Kunthala region, a small but prosperous region in the fictional universe of Mahishmati. She is accomplished, a great warrior and archer who is constantly trying to better her art through diligent practice. Bahubali seems to be impressed more by her technique of martial arts than her beauty — he doesn’t just think of her as a beautiful person, but as someone much more than.

When Bahubali comes to the aid of Kunthala against warriors sent from Mahismati, he teaches Devasena the art of shooting multiple arrows at once. A quick learner, Devasena masters the art and the duo fight against the enemies together utilising their craft. And it’s this scene that sets the tone for the rest of their relationship — one that’s built on the premise of equality.

Devasena won’t stand for sexual harassment

When an uncouth army commander (Bhallaladeva’s choice) takes opportunities to touch women inappropriately, Devasena is having none of it. A fully pregnant Devasena grabs the army commander and chops his hand off. Barbaric? Yes. Suitable in that historical context? Hells yes.

Bahubali is a male ally (a bit pompous, but an ally still)

Bahubali is the kind of male ally we should all want. His sense of right and wrong doesn’t get influenced by family ties or blood, but his moral compass is his dharma. He doesn’t discriminate between his abilities and his wife’s abilities. Sure, he is physically stronger, but he comes across as a person who genuinely wishes the best for his female counterparts.

And, courage, for once isn’t represented as the masculine ideal. Devasena’s cousin Kumara Varma comes across as meek and weak in the beginning, unable to perform any duties that a seasoned warrior would be able to, while the film tries to bask in the comic relief it presents, it goes an extra step to show that courage isn’t the property of men and it is a quality that can be honed over time. Kumara Varma learns from his experience and develops into someone with strength of character.

Partiarchy’s messages can be internalised by men and women alike


The film shows an important and nuanced understanding of partiarchy through Sivagami, who appears to be a feminist beacon — a steadfast ruler, a kind mother and a just person who truly believes that Amarendra Bahubali is the rightful king, all these are qualities one would deify. Yet, Sivagami is also an excellent example of how patriarchy’s messages get internalised and how women can also turn misogynistic to coerce and control. When her son, Bhallaladeva (Rana) says he ‘wants Devasena’, Sivagami promises that she will be his. Sivagami doesn’t flinch even once in talking about another woman as property.

Unlike the first part of the movie where the concept of consent went for a toss, Bahubali 2: The Conclusion attempts to be conscious in describing the true nature of consent. Devasena questions Sivagami’s move to finalise a wedding between Bhallaladeva and Devasena without even considering the woman’s consent. The film makes it amply clear that a woman has the right to choose to become the kind of woman she wants to be — a warrior, an archer or whoever. And the woman has a right as much as a man to choose whom she wants to spend the rest of her life with.

Published Date: Apr 30, 2017 01:54 pm | Updated Date: Apr 30, 2017 01:54 pm


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