The uplifting story of Ram, Seeta and Ravan continues to inspire filmmakers. Some go by the text; others look for the subtext. No what if the textbook characters, while playing their parts, start subverting the epic?
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Bhavai , named after the traditional folk theatre popular in western India, exists in that disturbing space. In news for the controversy over its original title Ravan Leela , the film doesn’t aim to indulge those who love to debate the plurality of the epic. Instead, it seeks to address the faithful and check their unstinted devotion to the monochromatic depiction of the lord and the demon. Being set in a non-descript village in Gujarat, where there is no mobile network, it provides a fertile ground for the exercise. Like many villages in north India, the audience watching the Ramleela in Khakhar village can’t differentiate between the characters and the men playing them on the stage. They are mounted in such a way, that Ram can’t be questioned and Ravan can’t be justified. Once actor Arun Govil told this writer, when he was playing Ram in Ramanand Sagar’s series, he had to give up drinking wine in public.
What if Ravan is essayed by an actor who could persuade villagers into believing in his transgressions? What if he is more than just a cardboard that is set afire, year after year? What if a politician starts using the innocuous Ramleela for his political agenda…. Bhavai appears benign on the surface, but the narrative carries lot of volatile undercurrents, which writer-director Hardik Gajjar hasn’t milked enough.
Gajjar has cut his teeth on mythological dramas on television. Its influence plus censorship, self or otherwise, robs the storytelling of some of its sharpness and reduces a potent idea to an average fare.
Pratik Gandhi as Raja Ram, a wannabe actor who gets to play Ravan because of circumstances, is the force that drives the film even when the journey becomes dull. Gandhi has that intangible charm that captures the unarticulated portions of the script.
Aindrita Ray as Rani/ Seeta falls short in this aspect, as she renders a rehearsed performance. The crucial romantic interludes, despite being laced with hummable songs, fail to make hearts skip a beat.
However, the passage where their off-stage conversations start spilling into their on-stage dialogues, evoke interest.
Rajendra Gupta shines as the father of Raja Ram. His interaction with Ram on the role of society in shaping the actions of even the Lord spells out the motivation of characters.
Rajesh Sharma, Ankur Vikal and Abhimanyu Singh lend able support. In fact, the best moments are those when we see the Gods as ordinary beings struggling with giving long hours of darshan (audience) to the devoted public or when their arrows go off target during practice sessions.
It has colour and the climax in not a cop-out, but all along Bhavai tastes like a Gujarati meal – mild!
Bhavai is currently running in theatres