It’s been about nine years since Rajamouli’s blockbuster Baahubali film franchise, set in the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati, hit the Indian screens and yet the fandom feels fresh; magnificent sets, impactful 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 myself were inevitably excited, especially when the plot promised a surprising departure from what we’ve come to expect from the familiar characters: Katappa, the sworn loyal guard of the Mahishmati kingdom to serve the royal family all his life, chooses to fight against the kingdom and face the two princes on the battlefield that he himself trained.

The original actors from the films have reprized their roles, lending their recognizable voices to similar impact. For the Hindi version, the makers have cast Sharad Kelkar as Baahubali, Samay Thakkar as Kattappa, Mausam as Sivagami and Manoj Pandey as Bhallaladeva. For the Telugu version, Prabhas and Rana Daggubati have given their voices.

Although the creators had the opportunity to bet on an already established blockbuster, the animated series is a toned down, watered down version of the franchise, seemingly tailored for a young audience.

The series takes place long before the heir to the throne is chosen, when Prince Balaldeva is jealous of the love Prince Baahubali receives from the citizens of Mahishmati and is unsure 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 Katappa, the two stepbrothers are forced to come together in the name of Mahishmati.

Although the original Baahubali films also explored similar narrative arcs – like the Kalakeya attack – they were spectacular and kept the audience on their toes. However, the series feels more like an over-simplified version of these Amar Chitra Katha stories, with the morally gray treatment of the characters and the emotional complexity of the film nowhere to be found. It seems that the creators hesitated to add depth to the plot to avoid making the series too complicated for the target audience. Similarly, although the entire premise of the series is built on suspense, the thrill and excitement of what might come next is served up sporadically. Even with its beloved characters and familiar storylines, the series lacks coherence and somehow fails to hold you.

The series is a prequel to the Baahubali films

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

However, the series has brilliantly captured the insight of Bijaladeva’s character. He’s still the hideous badass he was in the movies. He still poisons his son’s thoughts and is cruel, heartless and selfish to the core. In fact, one of the main premises of the series revolves around the corrupt nature of Bijaladeva, which invites bad luck to the entire clan.

Technically, the animations are quite good and all the characters bear a striking resemblance to the original star cast. The animators also experimented with each character having a distinct border or sunlight and even moonlight in some scenes.

If only the same could be said for the cartoon background. Except for a few impressive sequences from the royal palace, the screen is filled with boring backgrounds. In some of the scenes set in the royal court, the emptiness gives off an ominous instead of regal aesthetic. The show could have easily scored a few more brownie points with more detailed animation work outside of the characters.

Given that the pool of good Indian animated shows is already pretty shallow, I had high hopes for Rajamouli’s latest venture. Although he has collaborated with the makers of Hotstar’s Legend of Hanuman, a popular series based on the Hindu god, Baahubali pales in comparison to the makers’ previous work in several areas. If the makers’ intention was to introduce kids to Indian superheroes, Rajamouli should have invested more in researching how to beat his western rivals. But that might be too high a bar to pass. Baahubali: Crown of Blood may not live up to the standards of Rajamouli’s best work, but it can bring some variety to the kids’ watchlist.