Weapons in Telugu Cinema tell a story of their own, and they define the cause which the hero fights for, and whom he stands up for.
In Baahubali : The Conclusion, Amarendra Baahubali and Kattappa, arguably one of the best tag-team partners in the cinematic battlefields (before Kattappa stabbed Baahubali), have an affinity to swords. You see Baahubali asking his mama (uncle) to get his aayudham (weapon), which they share on more than one occasion. That sword binds them together and is a symbol of their trust and faith in each other. Director SS Rajamouli stresses on that single line – “Mama, Aayudham (Uncle, weapon!)” on at least three different occasions, and this explains why the betrayal towards the end of the film feels so overwhelming. The sword symbolises trust and betrayal in Baahubali and assumes a life of its own over the course of the story.
This, however, isn’t a random instance in Telugu cinema. In their attempt to elevate the hero to a mythical figure, Telugu filmmakers have often resorted to equipping the hero’s arsenal with a wide range of weapons, depending on whether he’s a working class hero or a man of the masses, among other things.
You see this happening in RGV’s Shiva, where Shiva (Nagarjuna) pulls out a cycle chain (and makes it look like child’s play) to bash up Bhavani’s goons. This starts in the cycle stand in their college. Revolution, if one may call it so, begins in their own backyard because the majority of these students aren’t rich enough to own a bike or a car. The cycle chain became an iconic symbol of student resistance against crime and anti-social elements in the society.
Sickle is one of the most preferred choices of weapons in Telugu films, and it’s easy to see why. The tool is traditionally used in farming and it almost becomes a de facto choice when a story focuses on agrarian crisis or uprising in a village. Then, there’s an axe, which is used for chopping wood. But in the hands of a faction leader, who doesn’t mind getting drenched in blood, it becomes a powerful tool to chop the heads of his adversaries.
As long as Telugu cinema focused on issues in rural areas, especially exploitation of peasants by feudal lords and upper castes, weapons like sickle and axe represented the working class. That they got smeared in blood is considered a necessary evil to restore peace in the society. After all, we don’t have enough Gods who have shunned weapons for the greater good of humankind. So, why should a hero in a masala film do so? Right?
This trend gets fascinating and, if I may say so, complicated when filmmakers focus on urban-centric stories. Sickles and axes are too rustic in such a setting. And thus, heroes are equipped with guns. Lots and lots of guns like Neo would say in ‘The Matrix’. Guns with a never-ending supply of ammunition. Guns the size of a share auto. Guns the size of a Contessa car. Some have even gone a step ahead and used a Gatling gun and all sorts of machine guns, including AK 47 among other things. The smoke emanating from the nozzle gives that additional zing to the hero’s slo-mo walk after firing a round of bullets. And if you are Rocky from KGF 2, the machine gun will turn hot enough to even light your cigarette.
But then, guns are boring. They don’t have an emotion associated with them. They don’t represent anything specific which would touch a raw nerve. And so, we have a unique trend of heroes using designer-wear weapons : Weapons, with plenty of carvings, which are designed for effect. Now, they represent something. In the right hands, at the right time, these weapons turn into weapons of mass destruction because the hero’s rage and anger has been funnelled into them, along with hot lava and iron.
Take this scene from Simhadri, where the hero wants to put an end to the atrocities of a gang in Kerala. Without paying much attention, he picks up an axe from an ironsmith and by the end of his killing spree, he drowns in the blood of these henchmen, and only then he calms down. This transforms him into the incarnation of Lord Narasimha.
Or perhaps this instance from Balakrishna starrer Legend, where the weapon of his choice is seen as a symbol of rage and masculinity.
In Rajamouli’s Magadheera, the hero finds his sword, which has survived the ravages of time for more than 400 years, and kills the reincarnated version of his age old nemesis. That sword tastes blood once again and it has served its purpose, just like the hero, whose clan is legendary for killing at least 100 people each.
Another interesting trend, which has become a recurring trope in Telugu cinema, is that of a hero from an urban area going to a village in search of his roots. As a result, he finds his calling and gains superpowers when he touches an agrarian tool like a sickle or an axe, before he goes on a killing spree and weeding out the unwanted and invasive species in the fertile ground. He finally feels ‘he belongs’ to that place. Thus, he can be at peace because he has finally restored peace.
Of late, filmmakers have borrowed elements from the stylised action choreographed from Asian martial artists, like the Thai, Vietnamese and Hong Kong based action choreographers, where anything in the near vicinity can be turned into a weapon. If someone uses a wet towel as a stand-in for the nunchaku or a paperweight into a boulder-size weapon, you know where this is coming from.
In any case, in the absence of a weapon of any sort, the hero himself becomes a weapon, always ready to avenge something. If you still don’t understand the visual imagery, the writers will slip in a few lines praising the razor-sharp eyes, the ferocious energy exuded while huffing, or even the cheetah-like raw running power which will turn his prey into gazelles without a doubt. If you have noticed, there’s a reason why the hero is usually referred to as “katthi-lanti kurrodu”, which means – A sword like man. So, when he lands a punch, the villains have no choice but to puke blood, and when he breaks bones, the punch sounds like a metal has crashed into brittle bones. What all we end up doing to make a hero look larger-than-life…