Mahābhārata motifs and motives in the film epos Baahubali
Panel:Adaptations of South Asian Narratives Across Time and Space
When the Mahābhārata is praised as the longest epic poem in world literature,
it is implicitly referred to as a single, coherent piece. The singular of the title enforces this impression of a work one is supposed to know and can handle as any other story despite its many subplots, actions, twists and turns. Moreover, it is Vyāsa’s Mahābhārata which is usually taken as the “right” version. The specific character of the Mahābhārata literature as a vast collection of narratives, themes and motifs assembled around a frame story plus its generic nature as tradition transmitted orally and written in multiple versions from its very beginning until today proves this impression doubtful. Therefore, some scholars also use the plural when referring to the whole tradition (“Mahābhāratas”) or identify the Mahābhārata not as a work of literature, but as a subject (“Stoff”).
But how do these different versions interact, relate to each other and form a continuum in the cultural memory through the history until today? In my paper I will address these questions on the basis of motifs and motives taken up in the two parts of Baahubali (2015/2017 dir. S. S. Rajamouli). I will mainly pursue issues like the right moral behaviour, righteous kingship, rivalry among cousin-brothers for the kingship, self-abandonment for the sake of loyalty and the role of women. In my analysis I ask how these themes are taken up, how they are transposed into the language and aesthetics of the film-medium, how they are interpreted from the perspective of a modern Indian society and projected back into history.