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Movie Review: Ram-Leela

Updated November 19, 2013

'Ramleela' movie poster. - Courtesy Photo
'Ramleela' movie poster. - Courtesy Photo

A bloody, grand, color-splashed spin on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet features Romeo in the adult film retail business and Juliet prepared to jump him at any available opportunity.

As with every film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali directs (with the exception of “Khamoshi – The Musical”), a few aspects are mandatory: big sprawling sets, a drastic idiosyncratic color palette, and key players engaged by consistent conflict or commotion – which in the case of “Ram-Leela” is both.

There’s too much to love here, even if by the end one ends up being irked by a bulk of it.

Inspired from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “Ram-Leela” (aka. “Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram Leela”) opens on a small Gujrati town one would be hard pressed to find on a map or Google Earth. The place is a perpetual, easy going limbo between the old and the new world, where everyone is garbed in traditional clothes, ride Ambassadors and use gaudy, blinking cell phones (thank goodness there’s no product placement in Mr. Bhansali’s films); despite being in what I presume to be our times, there is nary a pant-shirt in sight.

A still from movie, 'Ramleela'. - Courtesy Photo
A still from movie, 'Ramleela'. - Courtesy Photo

The town is divided by five hundred year old rivals: the Rajadis and Saneras – two local gangs who rarely do anything nasty (I didn’t see one kidnapping, assassination or any other misdeed from anyone). The reasons behind their grudge is never fleshed out, but whatever it is, I can guess that it will be as single dimensioned and soft-cored as the immediate physical attraction between Ram and Leela.

Ram played by Ranveer Singh, the local “Romeo” (the roadside kind, with a tinge of Disney’s Aladdin) with a sweet trimmed physique and a lack of body-hair, is from the Rajadis. The Saneras “Juliet” is Deepika Padukone’s Leela, whose natural beauty scarcely measures up to her primed carnal sense (lips are locked whenever the two hone in on each other).

Mr. Bhansali’s film has a disarming flair for theatricality, from the word go: in his town gun stalls are set-up like grocery stands and ammunition is stored in everything from achaar jars, flour drums and front bonnets of rusty cars.

A still from movie, 'Ramleela'. - Courtesy Photo
A still from movie, 'Ramleela'. - Courtesy Photo

Notwithstanding the open kill-or-be-killed agreement between the two clans, no one is critically hurt until “Ram-Leela’s” intermission. By then the narrative starts to bite off too much, escalating the lingering conflict into a lackluster, hyperbolic affair. The contrast is disorienting, because it moves away from “Ram-Leela’s” nimble and entertaining pre-intermission story layout.

Mr. Singh as Ram is an immediately like-able presence – a winking, nudging, overconfident oddball who oozes charisma, and isn’t really the image of the town bad boy he advertises himself up to be (he’s also the family black sheep, choosing instead to run an adult video retail business, rather than be in the “family business”). Ms. Padukone’s Leela shares Ram’s deeper sense of character, vulnerability and richness – including their shared eagerness to run away at any given moment.

A still from movie, 'Ramleela'. - Courtesy Photo
A still from movie, 'Ramleela'. - Courtesy Photo

The two, with their raw eroticism make a scorching-hot on-screen couple, whose versatility on the dance floor includes everything from impromptu jiggy body-moves to Garba. The film’s spiffily orchestrated soundtrack is another handiwork of Mr. Bhansali’s talent (“Nagada Sung” by Shreya Ghoshal, Osman Mir, “Tattad Tattad” and “Ishqyaun Dhishqyaun” by Aditya Narayan are dandy foot-tapping numbers).

Mr. Bhansali, who always writes grounded characters, fills the space between Ram and Leela, with Ba (Supriya Pathak) Leela’s mother and her clan’s godmother, Raseela (Richa Chadda) Leela’s sister in law, and Bhavani (Gulshan Devaiah), her cousin and the film’s juvenile villain. On Ram’s side only his brother, played by Abhimanyu Singh is given a little elbow room in an already overcrowded screen-space (or maybe, that’s just the production design making things look jam-packed).

A still from movie, 'Ramleela'. - Courtesy Photo
A still from movie, 'Ramleela'. - Courtesy Photo

There is sumptuousness in Mr. Bhansali’s frames, as he makes “Ram-Leela” a deliberate cross-breed between “Hum Dil De Chukay Sanam” and “Devdas”. If the cinematic maven would have stuck to the former, the film’s attraction wouldn’t only have to rely on superficial physical lure, and later, the tendency to go bloody boom. It would have simply been an instant classic.

Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Produced by Mr. Bhansali, Chetan Deolekar, Kishore Lulla and Sandeep Singh. Written by Mr. Bhansali, Garima and Siddharth (based on Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare); Cinematography by Ravi Varman; Editing by Rajesh G. Pandey and Mr. Bhansali; Production Design by Wasiq Khan; Music by Mr. Bhansali.

Starring: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Richa Chadda, Supriya Pathak, Sharad Kelkar, Gulshan Devaiah, Barkha Bisht, Abhimanyu Singh, Anshul Trivedi and Priyanka Chopra (special appearance in the song "Ram Chahe Leela") “Ram-Leela” is released by Eros. The film is rated A for unrelenting romance, eroticism and presumed high body count.