Baahubali: Crown of Blood Review: SS Rajamouli’s Animated Spin-Off Is a Watered-Down Version of His Epic Films

It has been around nine years since Rajamouli’s grandiose period film franchise Baahubali, set in a fictionalised Mahishmati kingdom, hit Indian screens and yet the fandom feels fresh; the magnificent sets, the powerful story, impressive VFX, nuanced performances, and addictive songs made Rajamouli’s magragnum opus unforgettable.

So when Hotstar announced an animated spin-off, fans of the franchise like me were inevitably excited, especially when the storyline promised a surprising departure from what we’ve come to expect from the familiar characters: Katappa, the loyal guard of Mahishmati kingdom who had sworn to serve the royal family all his life, chooses to battle against the kingdom and face off against the two princes in battle ground, whom he himself had trained.

The original actors from the films have reprised their roles, lending their recognisable voices to similar impact. For the Hindi version, makers have chosen Sharad Kelkar for Baahubali, Samay Thakkar for Kattappa, Mausam for Sivagami and Manoj Pandey for Bhalladeva. For the Telugu version, Prabhas and Rana Daggubati have lent their voices.

Even though the makers had the leverage of banking on an already established blockbuster, the animated series is a toned-down, diluted version of the franchise, seemingly tailored for young audiences.

The series is set long before the heir to the throne is chosen, when Prince Bhallaldeva was envious of the love that Prince Baahubali received from the citizens of Mahishmati and insecure of losing the throne to him. Yet when a new threat to the kingdom emerges in the form of a masked villain, and of course Kattappa, the two step-brothers are forced to come together for the sake of Mahishmati.

While the original Baahubali movies also explored similar narrative arcs — like the Kalakeya attack — they were grand and kept the audience on their toes. The series, however, feels more like an oversimplified Amar Chitra Katha version of those stories, with the film’s morally grey treatment of characters and emotional complexities nowhere to be found. It seems like the makers were hesitant to add depth to the storyline to avoid making the series too complicated for its intended audience. Similarly, even though the entire premise of the series is built on suspense, the thrill and excitement of what might come next is served sporadically. Even with its beloved characters and familiar storylines, the show lacks coherence and somehow fails to keep you glued.

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The series is a prequel to Baahubali movies

 

What ticked me off the most was the compromise with the gravitas of Baahubali’s character, which forms the backbone of the franchise. In certain scenes, he comes off as a helpless Panchatantra character, running after people trying to teach them what is right and what is wrong, who can be admonished by anyone. Even his mother Sivagami, for that matter, seems detached from Ramya Krishnan’s iconic portrayal, and is bent more towards the villainous side. In one scene, she is seen convincing her son to ignore his promise to slaves and focus more on his royal duties; umm, what? Or maybe Rajamouli has tried hint that Sivagami always had a hidden villainous side, and the way she treated Baahubali’s wife Devasena in the films wasn’t just an isolated incident!

The show has, however, brilliantly captured the shrewdness of Bijjaladeva’s character. He is still the loathsome scoundrel that he was in the movies. He still poisons his son’s thoughts and is cruel, heartless, and selfish to his very core. In fact, one of the major premises of the series revolves around Bijjaladeva’s corrupt nature, which invites bad luck to the entire clan.

On the technical front, the animations are pretty good, and all characters have a striking resemblance to the original star cast. The animators have also experimented with each character having a distinct border, or sunlight and or even moonlight glow, in some scenes.

If only the same could be said for the cartoonish backgrounds. Except for a few impressive sequences of the royal palace, the screen is filled with dull backdrops. In some of the scenes set within the royal courtyard, the emptiness gives off eeriness instead of a regal aesthetic. The show could have easily earned a few more brownie points with more detailed animation work beyond the characters.

Given that the pool of good Indian animated shows is already quite shallow, I was counting a lot on Rajamouli’s latest endeavour. Even though he has collaborated with the makers of Legend of Hanuman on Hotstar, a popular series based on the Hindu God, Baahubali pales in comparison the makers’ previous work in several areas. If the intent of the makers was to introduce kids to Indian superheroes, Rajamouli should have invested more into researching how to beat his Western competitors. But that might be too high a bar to clear. Baahubali: Crown of Blood might not hold up to the standards of Rajamouli’s best work, but it can bring a slice of variety to kids’ watching list.

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