The phrase larger-than-life is often used to describe director SS Rajamouli's films, but never has it found a truer meaning than it does in Eega (2012), in which the hero is a housefly. Through his eyes, everything appears larger than life. A trickle of water assumes the proportions of a Biblical flood. A small step by a man appears like a gigantic, monstrous disaster. It's a familiar world, rendered strange through a shift of perspective — like a Lilliput in a land of Gullivers.
About 30 minutes into Eega, the real hero of the film makes his entrance. A fly is born, hatching out of larva. The moment is filmed — complete with triumphant music and flattering camera angles — to make even this minuscule pest look majestic. Nani (Nani) has been reborn as Eega, but he doesn't know that yet. Our hero may be a fly, but what sets him apart from others of his kind is consciousness. The remnant of a firecracker brings back a fragment of a memory; he used to make them in his past life. Flashes of his helpless last moments as a man — he was beaten to death — replay in his mind.
Part of the fun is just experiencing the world like a fly would, perils and all, like a pinball in free fall
Over the next 10 minutes, Eega learns the truth about himself, both as Nani and as a fly. Even as he remembers how he was once in love (with Bindu, played by Samantha Prabhu), but a bad, bad man intervened, he learns the limitations and strengths of his new body. A harmony was disturbed, and balance must be restored. On such rules is built the reincarnation drama, a form that owes much to the Hindu belief system, and a form that Rajamouli gives an outrageous twist to in Eega by combining the visceral thrills of a video game and the beating heart of a love story; told with the flair of a bedtime yarn, but in the language of cinema. The entire sequence is wordless, with MM Keeravani's score playing a crucial role in articulating Eega's emotional and physical graph.
In the beginning, the perspective shifts from Nani's to Eega's, signalled by switching genres — Nani's is a tragic love story; Eega's is an action comedy. Rajamouli puts us in Eega's state of mind with such urgency that there is only time to react. No sooner than the fly is born does he have to make a desperate run for survival, as water from a drain comes at him with the force of a mighty river. Here's our first emotional connection with Eega. After all, if there's one thing that is common to all life forms, it's the instinct for survival. When Eega finally does take wing, after a couple of failed attempts, it's as if the film also catches a kind of kinetic rhythm. Part of the fun is just experiencing the world like a fly would, perils and all, like a pinball in free fall.
It's hard to imagine Eega without Sudeep playing the villain (also called Sudeep). He's exactly the kind of cocky, powerful baddie we want to see taken down by the little guy
There's a playful quality to Eega exploring his world, particularly when he finds himself enwrapped in soap bubbles among children playing in the park, or when he is tossed around after being stuck to the micro-fibres of a tennis ball and is nearly squashed to death when a cricket bat strikes it with great force. It's as if Eega is a child too (which he is, in that stage of his life-cycle as a housefly). Even though every event is a near-death experience, Eega doesn't entirely seem to lose his sense of awe and wonder — necessary qualities in a hero for the narrative arc that his journey must follow.
The journey then levels up, like in a video game. So far, the job was to survive in a world that hasn't noticed him. Now Eega has to contend with a creature that actually wants to kill him: a bird of prey gives him a good chase before, realising that a disadvantage can be an advantage too, Eega manages to get into a house through a small hole in a window. The hero is being prepared, step by step, to face his arch nemesis. Also, the housefly has finally found a house, and it's the villain's lair, a remote-controlled villa, where much of the action will take place.
It's hard to imagine Eega without Sudeep playing the villain (also called Sudeep). He's exactly the kind of cocky, powerful baddie we want to see taken down by the little guy. Rajamouli builds Sudeep up to be Eega's perfect adversary, putting a mad spin on a David-versus-Goliath cliché. Sudeep's is the last face Nani saw, from a low angle. Eega's first glimpse of Sudeep mirrors that moment, only the scale is much larger. The fly finds himself in a glass of ice tea, being stirred in a motion that mimics the head-spinning 'It's all coming back to me' effect, while we see flashbacks from the scene in which Nani was killed. Here, Keeravani's atonal score is interspersed with harsh sound effects, like a phone ringing and Sudeep's evil laughter.
Rajamouli takes us through a range of emotions, as Eega moves from hatchling to adulthood, in one continuous action set piece that feels plausible precisely because Eega is a fly
Eega nearly drowns, but the urge to live has never been stronger. Now he has a purpose. He will kill Sudeep (Nani's line 'I will kill you' keeps coming back like a ghost). Targeting his face, Eega prepares to charge at Sudeep, his righteous rage signalled by exaggerated sound and visual effects. It's in explicit animation territory, with a chopper blade sound used for the whirring of wings. Yet for all that sound and fury, Eega barely registers as a pest to Sudeep, who casually swats the fly away, reinforcing the power imbalance. What Eega and the audience learn is that the villain can't be defeated with force. He will have to be outsmarted. It will take something bigger — a higher purpose — to bring about the ultimate takedown. This is a recurring trait in the arc Rajamouli writes for his heroes and is drawn straight from the stories of mythological heroes.
The final piece of the puzzle is an object from Bindu, who completes the triangle formed by Eega, her and the villain. Eega travels to her house at lightning speed and the audience realises the fly has achieved his heroic consciousness when he tries to communicate with Bindu. It tells us that Eega knows he is Nani. How Bindu, and eventually Sudeep, will come to this same realisation is the focus of the rest of Rajamouli's film.
Rajamouli takes us through a range of emotions, as Eega moves from hatchling to adulthood, in one continuous action set piece that feels plausible precisely because Eega is a fly. The moment the fly is given human qualities, we enter the realm of fantasy, liberated from realism — but only to an extent. Rajamouli tethers his fantasy to selected grains of reality. Like the fact that flies have life spans that are significantly less than that of humans helps condense screen time even further. Eega's introduction scene has a three-act structure and with its beginning, middle, and end, the sequence is almost a standalone short film that encapsulates the larger film's essential elements. With its ability to invoke empathy that seems equal parts Pixar, David Attenborough, and masala cinema, alchemised by a style all his own, the man behind India's wildest blockbusters delivers a masterclass in how to care for a fly in less than 10 minutes.