Starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh
Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Just when you think you have seen it all, there comes a film that reminds you of how far the cinematic medium has come…And how far it can go in the right hands. And let’s face it. Bhansali is Bhansali. His visual imagery in all his earlier films from Khamoshi: The Musical to Guzaarish is comparable with the best art from any field of aesthetics.
You could say Bhansali’s cinema is the visual equivalent of Lata Mangeshkar’s singing. And you wouldn’t be wrong.
In terms of its free-flowing unmeasured operatic opulence Ram-Leela (with or without the censorial pre-fix) comes closest to the giddy high-pitched and yet miraculously controlled tempo and tenor of Bhansali’s Devdas. That too was a steeply sensuous cinematic adaptation from a literary source. Ram Leela goes to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and comes away with a marvel of a tale of love-at-first-sight. Bhansali tilts his hat to mythology, folklore and the culture of community clashes with a blend of spontaneity and brilliance that comes naturally to only this filmmaker, and no one else.
Bhansali’s visuals remain as stunning and poetic as they were when he made his directorial debut. What he does to Shakespeare’s tumultuous saga of sudden love between scions of two warring families is beyond the imagination of all other living filmmakers of this country. The rigorous reworking of the Shakespearean classic required a certain sense of recklessness. Earlier this year we saw some of the same creative recklessness in two other Bollywood adaptations of Romeo & Juliet, namely Aanand Rai’s Raanjhanaa and Manish Tiwary’s Issaq.
But Bhansali is Bhansali…Every image, every frame tells a story. Every shot in this brilliant film has a place in his cosmos. You won’t be left wondering for even a split second why you saw what you just did.
It’s all a part of a grand design. And yet so overflowing with an unrehearsed warmth and vivacity, so brimming with spontaneous joie de vivre (exhilaration), and celebration, you wonder if Shakespeare’s play was written for this day when Bhansali’s deconstruction of the material would give to us characters who are many many sizes larger than life.
Yup, size matters. And in the case of Ram-Leela you can say that with a wink. Bhansali’s Romeo and Juliet are unabashedly sexual in the body and verbal language. None of that traditional coyness and hesitation that characterizes traditional courtship when Ram and Leela discuss one another’s vital statistics. He runs a porn video parlour. She comes from a family of gun-wielding criminals helmed by a steely matriarch (Supriya Pathak, brilliant). He comments on her ‘136 inch’ chest, she talks about his,er, trigger. They are in love and they know lust is an integral component of their relationship.
Gosh, these two are Romeo and Juliet on steroids! And this is as good a place as any to tell you that no other two actors could have done to Bhansali’s Romeo/Ram and Juliet-Leela what Ranveer and Deepika have done. They don’t play the two characters. The couple owns their characters. From the moment he spots her at a Holi bash, unholy thoughts begin to cross randy Ram’s mind. Ranveer plays Ram as a horny son-of-a-gun….and you can take that literally since there are more gun’s in Bhansali’s colorful Gujarati town than there were in Anurag Kashyap’s Wasseypur.
As for Deepika Padukone…if Shakespeare was alive (and in many ways this film does bring him back to life) he would have penned a full-blooded sonnet on Deepika’s beauty and grace. When she expresses anger she is molten lava and when she dances she is the epitome of feline grace. If 2013 is the year of the bewilderingly beautiful Padukone then Ram-Leela is her piece de resistance, and one that impels a standing ovation for the actress and her director. Yup, she can show this one to her grandchildren with pride of ownership.
So much has been said about Bhansali’s visual sense. But not enough. The way he composes the shots to convey the passionate desperation of lovers who know they’re running out of time is a subject that textbooks can be written about. With a magician’s dexterity Bhansali weaves the characters into frames with seamless splendor magically making space for the passionate and the tender.
In his quest for the most visually invigorating shots the director is here assisted amply by his cinematographer Ravi Varman. Varman, let me state, uses the camera like Ustad Amjad Ali Khan uses the Sarod. It’s an instrument to converse with divinity. Wasiq Khan’s art work too unfurls a spiralling tapestry of kaleidoscopic colours that find a place in the hectic frames without jostling or crowding the canvas.
Of the innumerable imperishable images that emerge from Ram-Leela’s tumultuous tale of overnight passion , elopement, estrangement and reunion, I’d single out two. The first shows Barkha Bisht as Ranveer’s widowed sister-in-law running away from a gang of attackers. As she runs through the rugged hinterland her brass vessel tumbles down-slope with her.
The sequence, caught in a desperately dying light, is probably the most vivid image of impending doom I’ve seen in any recent film.
The other unforgettable image features Deepika, her hand bloodied after an injury, lying on the wet ground in a streak of blood. It reminded me of Aishwarya Rai’s slashed wrist creating a pond of blood with her hand in Bhansali’s Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam.
Fire and blood are never far away from Bhansali’s vision. Though there is plenty of bloodied images in Ram-Leela, the fire this time rages in the eyes of the characters.
Ram-Leela’s visual poetry is so eloquent you wonder at times if the filmmaker is a closet-painter. A closet-musician, Bhansali certainly is. His self-composed songs assisted my Monty Sharma’s evocative background score perfectly capture the film’s impetuous mood .
The actors do the rest. Every performer surrenders to the tempestuous saga. While Supriya Pathak leads the supporting cast with a stellar performance, Richa Chadha, Abhimanyu Singh, Gulshan Devaiah and Sharad Kelkar are the portrait of pitch-perfect emoting.
Really, you’ve never seen anything quite like this before. Exhilarating, tumultuous, passionate, flamboyant, fluent and quite simply fabulous…Sanjay Bhansali’s Gujju take on Romeo & Juliet would have surely made Shakespeare giddy with joy. Brimming with exuberance and energy Ram-Leela’s exalted aesthetics and powerhouse narration once again prove Bhansali to be an incomparable storyteller. As for the Ranveer-Deepika pair, I finally know what on-screen chemistry means. Their frankly erotic togetherness is comparable with Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Awara.
Are they really in love? Who cares! Their on-screen collaboration would far outdistance anything that they would share together or apart in real life.
Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela (phew!) is the most vital romantic musical in the last five years. To experience it is to serenade the divine. To miss it would be a crime.