OK, so this 2015 Telugu film about a famous 13th-century queen turned up on UK Netflix a while back and I added it to my list — but it’s two and a half hours long, so I never really sat down to watch it. On Saturday, though, it was rainy, so I watched this bad boy in my pyjamas while eating waffles and petting the neighbour cat and it was very enjoyable. I believe the version on Netflix is dubbed into Hindi (I think?), but I don’t speak either Hindi or Telugu so it doesn’t really make a difference to me.
I don’t know how many Indian historical epics you’ve watched, but just imagine if the people who made Chinese historical epics said “y’know, this is pretty good, but it could have a little more jingoism and sentiment and maybe a little less fidelity to historical fact. And some dance numbers.” That should give you a rough idea of how these things operate. It might not necessarily make a good movie, but it’s a pretty entertaining way to pass a rainy Saturday morning.
You get a lot for your money in two and a half hours: scheming villains, a fairytale story about a princess pretending to be a prince, elephant fights, battles, speeches, the aforementioned dance numbers, a lot of pageantry, a lot of religious allegories (a lot), a little feminism, a smidgen of history, lots and lots of costumes and some of the best moustaches ever committed to film. Also some very, very ropey CGI. Very.
But the moustaches are pretty great.
Have I mentioned that there’s a framing narrative in which Marco Polo explains the story to the … the king … of Italy? I guess? As a feminist parable? In a set that is very reassuring about the fact that goofy stereotypes of other cultures are not exclusively a western thing.
I feel like two and a half hours of inspirational historical glurge is a lot to get through, even though crazy stuff keeps happening, so it actually might be best to watch this thing in five thirty-minute chunks or similar.
So what about the history? Well, there certainly was a Rudrama Devi (“lady Rudrama,” more or less) who ruled the the Telugu-speaking Kakatiya kingdom in the mid-late 13th century. And she was crowned as co-ruler while her father was still alive in a move that displeased many of the local chiefs and stuff. And she did marry a guy who has the same name as her love interest in the movie, although I suspect the resemblance may end there.
I get the impression — and I am far from an expert — that she sort of represented herself with traditionally masculine aspects to lend her rule legitimacy, although I’m not sure that quite translates to being disguised as a boy like she is in the film. So basically this is a fairy tale that incorporates some elements of the history — the Kakatiya dynasty were apparently pretty apathetic about the caste system, for instance, which comes up in the film as another sign of the heroine’s personal virtue — and uses them as a springboard for a full-on fantasy adventure story. That may represent an existing folkloric tradition, in the same way that if you make a movie about Billy the Kid or Robert the Bruce you have a whole lot of not-historical-per-se material to draw on.
Quite a lot of the architectural detail, statues and so on comes from actual remains of Kakatiya dynasty art and architecture:
Like, there are a lot of these gateways in the movie. I do wonder if some of it is presented out of context. For instance, there’s a sculpture on what seems to be a bit of a ruin that I’m pretty sure is a ruin now — but was it a ruin then?
Irrigation is very important in the film, which I believe is pretty true to the concerns of medieval India.
Anyway, as I say, it’s pretty nuts throughout; bits of it look gorgeous, bits of it look stupid and a lot of it looks gorgeous and stupid. It’s very pageant-y, very much of an older school of filmmaking, and I probably wouldn’t sit down and watch the whole thing with undivided interest from start to finish, but it’s enjoyable.