SS Rajamouli retrospective: Magadheera – beginning of a new era
In this retrospective series on SS Rajamouli’s career, we try to understand what makes him tick as a storyteller. We are hoping that this exercise will reveal certain recurring patterns, themes, tropes and cinematic elements which Rajamouli has perfected over the last 20 years to reach where he is today.
SS Rajamouli began to let his imagination explode with the genre-bending drama Magadheera (2009). Between Sye and Magadheera, Rajamouli limited himself to the conventional boundaries of Telugu commercial films. Chatrapathi, Vikramarkudu and Yamadonga had the usual dose of over-the-top heroism. But, they remained within the realm of familiarity. With Magadheera, Rajamouli began to scale up the images in his films.
Magadheera gave the first signals of Rajamouli’s ambition and visual capabilities. And like all early works, this was replete with rookie mistakes. Yet, the audience in the south received the film very well, which in turn boosted the confidence of the young filmmaker to dream bigger.
The movie opens with the death of Kala Bhairava (Ram Charan) and Mithravinda Devi (Kajal Aggarwal). Set some 400 years before the film’s present day, the scene gives us a glimpse of what’s about to come: a rebirth of the hero with exceptional abilities. Enter, Harsha (Ram Charan). We know nothing about him yet and we won’t even later in the movie. Except for his supernatural bike-riding skills, we know nothing about the hero. Who are his parents? What’s his social circle? Where does he live?
The film keeps us hooked on the past and the future and makes us forget the present. And we take the bait without asking a lot of questions as the film doesn’t offer us a single dull moment. For instance, Harsha performs an extreme dirt bike stunt in the middle of the road on an urban motorbike. Or the moment when Chiranjeevi becomes 20 years younger with the help of crude special effects to perform his iconic dance moves. Or when Srihari’s Solomon uses a jeep to bring down a flying chopper. The list of audacious moments that test our believability is barely scratching the surface. Yes, it exploited our willingness to temporarily trade our logical thinking for the sake of popcorn entertainment to the hilt. Nevertheless, it was fun. We are also rewarded with an iconic fight sequence when Kala Bhairava single-handedly takes on the army of 100 men.
SS Rajamouli doesn’t mount his films to cater to the intellectual faculties of his audience but to engage their senses. While it seems to be the purpose of most, if not all, commercial filmmakers, only a few can do what Rajamouli could.
Imagine if the mass audience had fussed about the imperfections and perceived everything from the analytical lens, Rajamouli would perhaps have not had the confidence to make Eega. And hypothetically speaking, it would have even discouraged Rajamouli from attempting to make the Baahubali series or RRR,