One goes to watch a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film expecting grandiose sets, elaborate costumes, larger-than-life characters and painstaking attention to detail. And in none of these areas does ‘Ram Leela’ disappoint. Where one might be forgiven for pinching oneself occasionally and thinking one fell down the rabbit hole, is in the sometimes raunchy dialogues and the seemingly endless smooches between the lead pair – except for Ranbir Kapoor’s towel dropping scene in ‘Saawariyaan’ which appears almost demure now in comparison, one thought SLB kinda kept his romances clean.
The film is loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ a fact that is acknowledged in the opening credits itself. So you have two warring families in the manner of the Montagues and the Capulets, set against the arid landscape of Gujarat. Both families deal in guns, smuggling and killing. Ram (Ranveer Singh) runs a car thieving business, porn video rental and other such unsavoury activities as he has no interest in the family ‘business’ of bloodshed. He decides to leap into the lion’s den one day and goes off to play Holi in the enemy’s territory, where he espies Leela (Deepika Padukone) the daughter of female don Ba (Supriya Pathak) Cupid strikes instantly and some billing and cooing ensues on Juliet, sorry, Leela’s balcony. Some more guns but no roses later, Leela’s brother kills Ram’s brother upon which Ram shoots Leela’s brother (keep careful count of the brothers, here!) Ram and Leela then decide to elope; they do manage that but they’re tracked down and tricked into returning to the village. In a strange quirk of fate, Ram is now crowned the head of his tribe by his Daddy-O. Not to be left behind, Leela gets to be head of her tribe too, after her mum gets shot (but not killed) by her wicked cousin. Some more plot twists and dead bodies later, when each tribe holds the other responsible for betrayal and bloodshed instead of just letting Ram and Leela go ahead and consummate their “wedding night” which is all that the pair really want, the lovers get weary of the whole ruddy mess and decide to shoot themselves instead.
With ‘Ram Leela,’ SLB moves away from his usual genre of opulence and dreamy drama and embraces the unstable world of violence. There’s lots of blazing guns and talk of manhood, lewd references to sex and suchlike. Nonetheless, the movie is a spectacular extravaganza. What I don’t get is this current Bollywood obsession with ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram?’ Did someone die that I don’t know of or is yet another festival around the corner?! The words are being bunged into so many songs these days and quite horrifically too!
All in all, the movie is quite gripping and one rarely catches one’s attention wandering. It starts off well too, except then there is a song that pops (sic!) up abruptly in the tumult between all the pistol shots and fleeing crowds to introduce Ram. Ranveer Singh has done a very creditable job and is extremely fit – I refer of course to his dancing those intricate Gujarati garba whirls and twirls so effortlessly, although tossing off his shirt ever so often to display those rippling six packs certainly didn’t hurt the ladies in the audience! There is a fine chemistry between the lead pair. In spite of that, there is a certain contrivance to the kissing scenes; it’s as though they’re obeying the director’s mandate of literally locking lips and staying locked until they hear ‘CUT’; sticky taffee couldn’t do it any better! Deepika has done a very good job in the latter half of the movie as a quiet and dignified don lady. Her acting is superior – but her looks leave much to be desired, especially in the first half of the movie. If you’re expecting to see an ethereal beauty like Aishwarya Rai in the SLB style of ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ then Dippy is gonna disappoint. In the dance sequences too, while she has hitherto been able to cope quite well with westernised steps, she was utterly inelegant, gawky even, in those uber feminine swirls and loops that the traditional garba demands. In fact, I’m astonished she was the final female choice that was zeroed in on by Bhansali.
The surprise package of the movie is undoubtedly the rotund Supriya Pathak Kapur. By golly, what acting; she is crude, vulgar, menacing in turn, and those heavily kohl-ed eyes and tattoeed hands just add to it. Her dialogues are delivered in a measured pace in her customary raspy voice – move over, Al Capone! With nary a twitch of an eyebrow she lops off her daughter’s finger with her betel nut cutter – a positively diabolical act that elicited horrified gasps from the audience. Bravo; this is a performance indeed!
Priyanka Chopra is wasted in that item number. Toned body but graceless dance moves. What is that girl smoking these days?? Richa Chadha as Rasili is passable; not as strong a role as she essayed in ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ of course. Barkha Bisht as Kesar looked soulful and innocent and did what was required. Tinnu Anand is back after a long hiatus. What a surprise to hear a familiar booming voice – and then one looks past the white turban of the sarpanch to find good ole Raza Murad resurrected.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali takes film making to grandiose levels. He is credited with the music and direction and is editor as well co-producer; must have been hard to juggle all those hats. Whatever, it’s paid off. As usual, there is the SLB meticulousness and so it is a joy to watch the attention to costumes, make-up, tribal tattoos, backdrops, Gujarati words interspersed in the dialogues, the accents. The music is apt and not jarring; ‘Lal Ishq’ is a particularly mellifluous number. After a long time, I have enjoyed the dialogues of a Hindi movie; lots of clever puns – no more, no mor (peacock) -and intentionally crappy ‘shers’ that actually need a lot of grey matter to think up. Garima-Siddharth – take a bow. The lyrics are by the duo too. Cinematography is by Ravi Varman; no surprises there as he always delivers an impeccable product. Editing could have been crisper; although the movie is engrossing, it is a shade too lengthy.
Err. I gotta question. A biggie. WHY does Ram not go back to claim his Leela when they still love each other and consider themselves married? It’s a question Leela asked Ram too, but got no answer. This is the pivot of the plot. Will this Sanjay answer, please?!
*This review is written exclusively for The Film Writers Association of India.