‘Ram Setu’ movie review: A bridge too far to cross for Akshay Kumar

The Akshay Kumar-starrer reads like the cultural manifesto of the ruling dispensation that seeks to put faith above everything else

October 26, 2022 02:05 pm | Updated 03:52 pm IST

A still from ‘Ram Setu’

A still from ‘Ram Setu’

The flow of films that voice the present political dispensation’s cultural manifesto has reached a volume where we can pick the cogent from the shrill and the forthright from the manipulative. In this distinct category of films, where you can see Whatsapp messages and dinner table discussions come alive-on screen, Ram Setu is a persuasive attempt to keep afloat the contentious theory that the limestone shoals that connect the Pamban and Munnar islands are part of a man-made structure and not a work of nature.

Drawing from the controversy around the Sethusamudram Project and Pushkar Bhatnagar’s little-known 2003 book where the writer attempted to date the era of Lord Ram on the basis of planetary positions described in Valmiki’s Ramayan, the makers have tried to construct a bridge between faith and science, between myth and oral history, and between religion and culture. It is a wobbly ride that ends with a potent lecture on preserving cultural pride and along the way, and gives a clear picture of the so-called majoritarian view on conserving the channels of faith, which can even sweep the judges off their feet and threaten to melt the structure of the constitution.

The VFX looks fake, and the performances are just about average, but the idea has enough heft to keep the devotees interested. For others, there is a clear message; those who don’t believe in Lord Ram, their faces deserve to be blackened.

Ram Setu is directed by Abhishek Sharma, but the voice is of creative producer and co-writer Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, one of the creative forces who work in the realm of fiction to provide legitimacy to the realpolitik of the ruling party and paint the previous governments in dark shades. In Samrat Prithviraj, Dwivedi presented an epic poem, taught in Hindi literature classes, as history. Here again, he positions a venerated epic poem as a source of historical evidence to keep the faithful invested and convert the fence-sitters, for Adam’s Bridge or Ram Setu is one spot that takes the story of Ram beyond the religious semantics and geographical boundaries.

Set in 2007, the narrative follows the structure of The Kashmir Files. If the Vivek Agnihotri film portrayed the change of heart of a young, secular Kashmiri Pandit, Sharma depicts the makeover of a celebrated liberal archaeologist Aryan Kulsheshtra (Akshay Kumar).

Aryan is working with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts to save the Buddhist heritage in Bamyan, before he is sent by those in power to Tamil Nadu to save the interests of a shipping tycoon (Nassar) whose expensive vessels could not float in the shallow channel between Indian and Sri Lanka.

He wants a ‘favourable’ report to be placed before the Supreme Court, and in ‘atheist’ Aryan, he sees the right candidate. But when Aryan and his team begin to find traces of evidence of Lord Ram, they become a threat to his business interests. In his search for ‘hard’ evidence, Aryan crosses over to the Sri Lankan waters and finds AP (Satyadev Kancharana), a mysterious guide who takes them to the spots mentioned in the Ramayan.

Like The Kashmir FilesRam Setu sees liberal and secular values in the Hindu society as a kind of rot that needs to be checked. The film gives a sense that if you hold a contrarian view, get ready to face the backlash. Aryan’s wife (Nushratt Bharucha) is a history professor who advises her husband to take into account the aastha (faith) of the majority before filing the report. Their son, who is shown to be studying in ‘Lutyens’ School — a term often used by those close to the government to target others who hold a contrarian view — is targeted for the views of his father.

In both films, the writers read the past from a sense of persecution complex of the majority, and tell us that we are in the midst of a war of civilisations. So it documents the demolition of the Bamyan Buddha and Jaffna Public Library, but makes no mention of the erasure of the Babri Mosque. It points out how the Metro route was shifted to save the Qutb Minar, but makes no mention of how it steered clear of the iconic Hanuman statue in Karol Bagh. It talks of the environmental concerns around the Taj Mahal, but forgets to tell the viewers that one of the reasons the Sethusamudram Project didn’t get clearance was because the apex court took note of the concerns of environmentalists. There is an environmentalist in the film as well, but she, played by Jacqueline Fernandez, remains a decorative piece.

The makers want to see the issue from the prism of faith, and instead of negotiating the complex layers of the past, Ram Setu seeks to jump to an imagined golden age, without building a bridge. 

Ram Setu is currently running in theatres

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