Sanjay Leela Bhansali and I have a rocky relationship. I loved Khamoshi when it was a flop, liked Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, but was dissapointed in Devdas. The opportunity to do something with a literary classic was squandered in favour of a show of large overdecorated sets and overdressed cast. Dialogue was unintentionally funny, acting over the top and subtlety word SLB ki ‘bokwas’ dictionary mein nahi hai. Same trends have continued in his later films.
Now to the Ram Leela. Its the story of Ram and Leela, surprisingly. They meet, sparks fly and they set themselves and each other ablaze. They want to elope but get caught up in the fight. The rest is just their struggle within themselves. Moving between rebellion, reconciliation, confrontation and resignation, the lead couple struggle to get to the same page as each other. They are two different characters, though. Not at all copies of each other, and neither docile. SLB relishes creating strong female characters and here he has his plate full. Deepika’s Juliet is totally unlike a typical filmi heroine. She rebels, she revels in her passions and she is willing to take her lover to task. She is joined by Supriya Pathak and Richa Chadha (underused) in forming a three pronged female powerhouse. Both of character and performance.
The only male character of note is the hero, intruduced in a song designed to remove all dandruff. Ranveer Singh is charming, and disarming. He diaplays enough energy to last several films and talent enough to make him last. I liked him a lot in Lootera and he is displaying some star power in this. Let’s all remember that this is a Bhansali film, so his acting won’t be quite as loud in his other, ‘normal’ outings. In this film, a manic energy works.
All this is not to praise the film too much, though. The faults are there aplenty. Character motivations don’t often make sense, the writing meanders in bizzare directions and everything is too choreographed. My biggest complain with the director remains his idea of what a film should look like. A village ravaged by warring gangs should not look like a holiday resort replete with peacocks. It should look shabby. It should look poor. It should have people in shabby, warrior uniforms, not impeccable white kurtas. It should have fortress like houses with small windows, not elaborate balconies with exotic gardens. I know this is a Bollywood film, but the dissonance was too distracting for me. For all the preaching about peace, this movie makes violence sexy. And that is not my only problem. Ram almost borders on abusive in her behaviors towards Leela. Seems weird.
In the end, its a spectacle. Go with low expectations and it may exceed them. Go for originality and you will be disappointed. In many ways this is Hum dil de chuke sanam meets Rowdy Rathore, but not entirely in a bad way.
If you are on the fence, go for the sizzle of the scenes involving the titular couple. Deepika and Ranveer light up the screen when together and teach you what ‘chemistry’ means.
My beef with Sanjay Leela Bhansali continues. He still doesn’t understand what makes his films work. He is good at depicting, often eliciting emotions. But, like RGV, he is becoming more and more obsessed with his signature style at the expense of narrative clarity. There is a body mutilation scene followed by the director lovingly looking at artistic blood flow. He even had the character step out of the house and stand in rain to give more of the arty look to the blood mixing with water. And of course there was rain. Heavy rain. In desert. Well at least this film is not a Sawaria.