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'Ramyug,' another disappointing entry in Bollywood’s mythological genre

A scene from ‘Ramyug’.  

One of the first things you notice about Kunal Kohli’s Ramyug (the first episode of which premiered on MX Player recently) is that hardly any actor on display seems to be comfortable with the task at hand. Perhaps it’s because the task itself is ill-defined: with the gym torsos on display and the emphasis on special effects, Ramyug clearly wants to be a vaguely modernised retelling of the Ramayana, a Game of Thrones-flavoured retelling, if you will.

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But nobody told the writers. The dialogue, therefore, betrays no sign of this modernisation brief — there are no indirect references to the contemporary era, nothing allusive at all, in fact. At its best, Game of Thrones worked because the dialogue was ambitious and tried to establish connections across eras and cultures. In the absence of such ambition, a period drama’s dialogue then has to gun for era-specific authenticity and, of course, strength of characterisation.

Sadly for Ramyug, the show fails on both of these counts. Ram (Diganth Manchale) and Sita (Aishwarya Ojha) are either preternaturally calm or frightfully prone to forget their lines, leading to pauses either unnaturally long or not long enough. And Raavan (Kabir Duhan Singh), while he has some fun with his own heads circling around and questioning his moves, is ultimately too much of a caricature to be taken seriously as a Big Bad. The greenscreen-heavy visual effects didn’t do much for me either. If they really are looking to tap into an audience that devoured Game of Thrones, Kohli and Co. will have to do much better than this, I’m afraid. The VFX in the ‘magic’ sequences are still tolerable but the combat visual effects are comical and video-gamey. Which is surprising also because this is not a cheaply made show in general: the scale of production is apparent.

Disappointing entry

Ramyug, then, is just another disappointing entry in Bollywood’s mythological genre (which was, let’s not forget, huge once upon a time). Graphic India and Hotstar’s animated show The Legend of Hanuman (which premiered in January 2021) also suffers from subpar graphics and animation — at least five to six years behind international standards, truth be told. Then there was the 2015 TV show Siya Ke Ram, on Star Plus; also caricaturish but at least had the saving grace of veteran actors like Grusha Kapoor and Dalip Tahil in supporting roles.

Why has it proven so difficult for Indian creators to match the popularity of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan and B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat? It’s not for a lack of eyeballs, as the re-runs of these shows have proven with their record-breaking statistics. It’s not for a lack of intent either, as several A-list Indian actors and directors have expressed interest in launching big, ambitious, expensive mythological projects of their own.

Online trolls

The main problem is that when it comes to the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, creators are walking on eggshells. Say the wrong thing, or even the right thing in the wrong way, and you will have FIRs and the state’s full might launched against you, not to mention a very dedicated army of trolls online. This also leads to a scrambled brain, one that cannot decide whether to lean into the philosophical and religious aspects of the texts themselves (this was where Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan reeled in its audiences). The alternative, of course, is to treat the story like a purely visual spectacle — like the Baahubali films did so successfully.

In fact, it may well be Prabhas (the star of the Baahubali films) who breaks the run of bad form the mythological genre has been suffering. He’s no great shakes as an actor, to be honest, but he has the charisma and the physique of a true blue action star. His next project, Adipurush, is a Ramayana adaptation: Prabhas plays Rama while Bollywood stars Kriti Sanon and Saif Ali Khan play Sita and Ravana, respectively. As one of the most expensive films to be ever made in the country (the budget is estimated at upwards of ₹500 crore), the success or failure of Adipurush could decide Indian creators’ appetite for the mythological genre.

The writer and journalist is working on his first book of non-fiction


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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 10:20:10 PM |

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