Mahishamati as Radical Soil: The Maoism of Baahubali

My old friend Neha Natalya Pandey, currently engaged in postdoctoral work in the United States, was kind enough to forward me her mother Dr. (Mrs.) Valentina Dimitrieva Pandey (M.A., M. Litt., Ph. D.) ‘s monograph on the Baahubali movies, with a request to share it. The recent turmoil in American – Russian relationships, with both the associated financial sanctions, and, tragically, the vilification of anything Russian among American academe, has made it impossible for Neha Natalya to maintain the Pandey family’s blog; and so she has been forced to forward their works for the popular masses to her friends to ensure that we common people continue to benefit from the erudite family’s research and advocacy. I reproduce Dr. (Mrs.) Pandey’s monograph below, unaltered and unedited. – AK


I have been dismayed at the vilification of Baahubali 2 in the counter-revolutionary press of India. Late capitalist media, sustained like fungi by the rotting advertising dollars of corporate houses, seeks to suppress or mischievously misrepresent truly revolutionary works of art. To serve their corporate masters, media houses have attacked the Baahubali films as racist, casteist, feudal, and antifeminist. As we shall see, nothing could be further from the truth. Baahubali 2, especially, is a pioneering work of cinema that speaks for the proletariat, the downtrodden, and the coming revolution.

That Baahubali 2 is revolutionary could have been anticipated from the creators alone. Like artistic stalwarts David Dhawan and Manmohan Desai, SS Rajamouli has spent his career on cinema that conveys the rage of the forgotten man in an unforgiving system of brutalisation. Yet even I was unprepared for just how far the Baahubali saga was willing to go in its championing of the subaltern. Rajamouli’s earlier body of work – for nobody is perfect – still privileged the individual vengeance over the dismantling of structural inequity. Baahubali goes a step further, and issues a call to arms for revolution.

We see in Baahubali that the land of Mahishamati is ruled by the wise regent Sivagami, and exists as a peasant utopia, untainted by industrialisation. The scholar Dominique Legrand-Metternich, in her work Mutter, Boden, Mensch, has pointed out that in (ab)original societies, the mother (who is not-male by virtue of her role, even though she may be male when observed through the lens of crass empiricism (see: Idle, 1979)) is identified with the land; whereas the father (who is always male, and thus anti-feminine) is identified with the fire. Thus, the preindustrial societies are inherently feminist, while post-industrialist societies are anti-feminist. Sivagami is able to maintain the idyllic conditions of Mahishamati, until Bhallaladeva takes the throne. It is then that industrialisation raises its ugly head.

The senior Baahubali is exiled, and works his revenge by introducing the technology of the gear-drive to Mahishamati. But this is only the spark that lights the fire. Once Sivagami is murdered by Bhallaladeva, the true end of the pastoral Mahishamati is brought about. For the next twenty five years, Bhallaladeva brings about so-called ‘development’ and industrialisation – but all this ‘progress’ is restricted to military technology, like automated chariots; or giant waterworks. Rajamouli’s film is therefore a searing indictment of Greco-capitalism; as the military-industrial complex, created by the American imperialists; and large dam projects, funded by the same imperialists; are both placed in the person of the villainous Bhallaladeva.

Fortunately, the end of ‘development’ is at hand, as Mahendra Baahubali and Avantika lead a peasant guerrilla army. As a Telugu speaker, Rajamouli is well aware of his culture’s glorious history of peasant revolutions. The pairing of the peasant Avantika, and the bourgeois Baahubali; coming together in a glorious synthesis of a proletarian revolution, is an obvious hat-tip to both the Chinese people’s revolution, and the ongoing Naxalite revolution in India. In an atmosphere of increasing suppression of people’s movements, and of their supporters, Rajamouli is as courageous as Baahubali himself in creating a film that so unabashedly propagandises the Naxalite movement.

In conclusion, the Baahubali films represent a pro-people, anti-feudal, anti-Greco-capitalist, and pro-revolutionary message. It remains to be seen, whether the bourgeoisie of India shall recognise the writing on the wall – but the people have awoken. Lal salaam!

– Dr. (Mrs.) Valentina Dimitrieva Pandey
MA (lit.) MPhil (illit.) PhD (corres.) M.A.S. University, Darjeeling

(The writer is the Randal Zakuroff Chair of Gender Studies at the Department of Social Sciences, at the University of St Petersburg, Russia. She lives with her husband Acharya Somuchidononanda Pandey in the Malyeshi suburb of St. Petersburg, where their twenty-two children frequently visit them.)