Beautifully choreographed and visually opulent, Ram Leela has all the ingredients of a palace intrigue
We no longer identify with the upright hero relentlessly courting a blushing, ‘catch me if you can’ heroine. Ram Leela (should have been called Rasleela) is testament of the changing tides in Indian cinema.
Coy looks and stolen glances are passé. It’s now lust at first look. He purveys porn and runs guns and she’s neither prude nor a coquette. He tells his brother in the presence of his father to ask any woman in the village when his virility is questioned. Women swoon when he flaunts his chiselled body and gyrates suggestively. She’s the family’s darling daughter with a fiercely protective brother and a virago for a mother. Of course their families can’t stand each other. When their eyes meet the screen is ignited by a very palpable sexual tension. He beckons her to the balcony for a stolen kiss but she pulls him and seals his mouth with hers. Thankfully nobody in the audience cares enough to hoot. Please put your hands together for the new, emancipated heroine in Indian cinema.
Also welcome Sanjay Leela Bhansali out of a claustrophobic closet full of pretentious, self-indulgent films. When he was not [unsuccessfully] trying to move you with the woes of the physically challenged (Black, Guzaarish) he’d try to woo you with opulent sets (Devdas) or tepid romance (Saawariya). With Ram Leela he manages to marry form with content like he did in the very likeable Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Ram Leela reminds you a lot of Isahqzaade, but then films with lovers whose parents are rivals are as old as cinema itself.
Bhansali in the initial sequences establishes a land where bullets are exchanged more than words. Even kids of rivals are not reprimanded but shot at. The byzantine bylanes of Bansali’s land is crowded with colourful characters. They’re loud and proud. It’s the tiny but significant twists that pepper the otherwise pedestrian plot and make the film interesting. There are songs every few minutes but they’re beautifully choreographed and visually opulent. The dialogues are naughty inducing a smile rather than making you shift in discomfort. The film has all the ingredients of palace intrigue but there’s a foreboding of a Greek tragedy. There’re clichés in characterization like the nerdy, bespectacled and obsequious groom the heroine’s mother wants her to marry. Well, the chemistry between the lead pair, Ranveer and Deepika sets the screen on fire. Ranveer is over the top and exudes the animal magnetism the role demands. This is one role I don’t think his gifted rival Ranbir would have been comfortable playing. The role demands machismo more than charm. Deepika’s acting abilities match her ascent as the new prima donna of Hindi cinema. She’s first rate be it as a flirt or when she dons the role of godmother. She’s realized that her biggest assets are her expressive eyes.
Supriya Pathak is a case of classic casting. As a ruthless matriarch who speaks with an emotionless monotone she’s riveting in the scenes she appears in. Strangely, she reminded me of her mother Dina Pathak’s performance as the didactic mother-in-law in ‘Khubsoorath’.
If Bhansali’s colourful dreams have been successfully converted into celluloid the credit should go to cinematographer Ravi Verma. This is another feather in his crowded plume. Ravi splatters the screen with a chaos of colours making the film a visual treat.
With ‘Ramleela’ Deepika ascends the throne as Bollywood’s numero uno. She’s a worthy successor to a long list of South Indian heroines who’ve ruled. She’s not buxom like the ladies of yore but beautiful, can act and should rule for quite some time if she’s prudent in her choice of films.