In Radhe Shyam, trending up and down in Pakistan’s Netflix’s top-10 chart, Vikramaditya (Prabhas), a prodigious palmist who believes his predictions are never wrong, waltzes through life with the carefree-ness of a man who has nothing to lose.
Philandering without commitment — because he doesn’t have a love line since he read his own hand and future — he falls in love with Prerna (Pooja Hegde), a young doctor who has a predilection for hanging out in the air from speeding trains (people who bump into her have to hold on to her dupatta that’s tied loosely around her waist).
Prerna, who lives in Italy — a country that has a surprising number of Indians — has an incurable medical condition; Vikramaditya knows his own fate. The film has no villain, except pre-written destiny of these two individuals that’s centered on a bewildering fact: as per the alleged science of palmistry, 99 percent people can’t fight destiny; only one percent can.
At an hour and 50 minutes (that includes Netflix’s long credit list of quality control service providers), Radhe Shyam tests your patience. It is too long in the first half, and somewhat interesting, but still boring in the post-intermission portion.
Set in 1979, the production design in half convincing (the gaffer — ie. the lighting designer — has no shame when it comes to putting giant lights in frames). Also, natives in Italy, especially the children, seem to know Hindi as well as the Indians! Oh joy, for the takers of creative licenses.
The film is VFX-heavy but they’re not that photorealistic. No one tries hiding the fact that we’re looking at a fantasy — and a far-fetched, half-baked one at that. And to think we condemn Pakistani cinema when it makes better content (talking mostly about the titles that come out at Eids).
Life is a vortex, if you take the word of Motoko (voiced by Alice Hirose in Japanese and Erica Lindbeck in English). With a convincing line of reasoning, where vortexes take the shape of everything from stigmas in sunflowers (stigma is the big middle part of bloomed flowers), spirals of star systems and galaxies, to tornadoes and typhoons — vortexes are devastating and beautiful; they end and create life in a never-ending circle.
The context of vortexes manifests late in this animated film when Uta (voiced by Riria and Emi Lo), an extraterrestrial, changes from a sentient bubble to a human being, in what is the most dramatic and ingenious adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid.
Years ago, bubbles from the sky appeared over Tokyo. Scientists the world over didn’t understand the phenomenon. At first benign, the bubbles burst outwards devastating and engulfing a big portion of the city in a giant cocoon.
Drowning in water (thanks to the bubbles that became rain), Tokyo became a no-habitable zone with strong gravitational shifts and matter-eating black holes scattered around the city.
Tokyo now belongs to orphans who have banded together as parkour-gangs who jump, hop, cartwheel and sprint around the city.
Hibiki (voiced by Jun Shison and Zach Aguilar) is the prodigious hero who can parkour better than anyone in the world, because he feels a sense of familiarity and ease with the environment and the bubbles; the latter sing to him, like the mermaid princess (ie. Uta) in The Little Mermaid. Yes, this is an ill-fated love-story.
Tetsurō Araki, the director of Death Note, Guilty Crown, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress and Attack on Titan, has always been in love with the impossible movement of the camera. The swinging, character-following cinematography of Bubbles owes a lot to Attack on Titan, yet it is distinct in its approach.
We feel very much like watching parkour professionals; the exhilaration is fantastic — as is the minimal story and the slow-moving screenplay by Gen Urobuchi.
For a film of fast-moving action to have a slow-paced screenplay is a contradiction, but the strange amalgamation suits the tenor of this very unique, yet simple film.
Produced by Wit Studio (Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song, Vinland Saga), the production quality is remarkable, and the soundtrack by Hiroyuki Sawano (Attack on Titan, The Seven Deadly Sins) tugs at your heart.
Like all anime, Bubbles will have polarising fanfare. You will either love it, or think it mediocre — but hate it, you can’t.
Radhe Shyam and Bubbles are streaming on Netflix. They’re family-friendly entertainment of different flavours for different audiences
Published in Dawn, ICON, May 22nd, 2022