Baahubali. The movie that is being talked about all around the world. In the last two years, since the first movie has come out, it has become one of the biggest things that India – specifically South India – is now known for.
There are a million different aspects of both Baahubali movies can be talked about – from the cast filled with versatile actors to the amazing graphics used throughout the movies, the franchise deserves a lot of praise. But there is one specific thing that stood out to me, especially in the second movie – the female characters.
In the first movie, Avantika (played by Tamannah Bhatia) is first shown as a brave and selfless warrior, set out to save her kingdom’s princess from the prison that the antagonist has built for her. However, she meets the hero and all goes downhill from there. What was once her mission, to save Devasena, becomes his.
The quick downfall from being a brave woman to a damsel in distress disappointed the feminist in me, and I chalked it off as one more South Asian movie that downplayed the importance of women.
But then, the second movie came out.
Within the first little bit of the movie, we are introduced to Princess Devasena (played by Anushka Shetty), and her first scene in the movie is not a cheesy love song or a “damsel in distress” moment – rather, it is her fighting off dozens of evil men. It is her as a warrior, as a person who sees herself as capable of fighting off anyone and everyone.
Throughout the movie, this continues.
Devasena goes from being a warrior to a princess, to a woman in love to a wife and a mother. And through all of that, her strength and determination never falter. Not even after thirty years of being a prisoner in a kingdom that has taken away everything from her.
She is fearless; not even Bhallaladeva and his minions, who treat her like dirt, can scare her. She knows her self-worth, and never lets go of her confidence. Even chained up in the middle of the town, in old clothes and a tired face, she still knows that she will come out as a winner in the end. No matter how much she looks like she is fragile and breakable, she is anything but that.
The part that stood out to me most is when she rejects a marriage proposal sent to her by Raja Mata Sivagami (played by Ramya Krishna), who oversees the kingdom of Mahishmathi. While Sivagami is an equally strong female character, also portrayed in a very unique way, the one who stands out in this scene is still Devasena. Sivagami, thinking that she has the right to simply tell the woman of her choice that they must marry her son, sends her men to Devasena with all the jewels and material objects that one can only dream of.
However, Devasena isn’t a woman that can be wooed so easily – she does not care about material objects, nor is she one who is alright with people telling her what to do. Rejecting the marriage proposal, Devasena talks about how she, as not just a woman but as a human, has the right to decide who to marry; that it is not up to someone else to decide for her, no matter how powerful or rich they are. With no fear whatsoever, Devasena sends a letter back to Sivagamii explaining to her exactly why she is rejecting the proposal, and teaching her a lesson about consent when it comes to marriage.
This is a lesson that so desperately needs to be spread in South Asia – a region where women are still seen as property, where forced arranged and child marriages are still too common. This is a reminder that women are human too, and deserve to be able to choose how to lead their lives, including when it comes to picking a life partner.
For once, a South Asian movie has given me a protagonist that I can look up to. It has given me a character that is around for more than just a couple of songs. Devasena is not around to be the character that the hero saves, just so he can get an ego-boost and be seen as a king. Rather, she saves herself.
Growing up, Disney movies were fun to watch. But I no longer want to be a Disney princess. I don’t want to be a damsel in distress.
If there is any princess I want to be like, it’s Devasena.