When it’s Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Bollywood’s Maximum Man, rest assured that half measures are never an option. Unbridled cinematic hedonism is par for the course.
Ram-Leela has, on a court order, been rechristened Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. Quite a mouthful that and just as well.
The film doles out super large helpings of everything under its grandiose narrative canopy – be it the oft-repeated story of star-crossed lovers, the garish sets, the musical score, the choreography, the costumes, the pitch of the acting, the delineation of the principal characters or the saturated colour palette.
Even on the rare occasion where he gives minimalism an attempted shot, as when he lets the characters articulate themselves only through physical gestures and facial expressions, SLB does not pipe down one bit. He goes for broke every which way.
It all adds up to a somewhat disorienting sensory assault mounted by a filmmaker who believes that excess makes excellent sense.
Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela is composed of such a riot of colours that the hues often bleed into each other, leaving behind blobs and blurs.
The director, true to form, also plays around with shadows, silhouettes and blinding flashes of light, but does so far too self-consciously for his labour to be truly effective.
It is a bit of a miracle that the film doesn’t actually implode and disintegrate in a giant blaze like some explosives-laden Ravana effigy on a festive night.
That, in a nutshell, is Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela for you. It’s not all-out hogwash for sure. The film does have its moments.
But this is pure Bhansali all the way, a benumbing overload of visual razzle-dazzle and emotional flourishes deployed for the sole purpose of overwhelming the audience. Bet it does!
It’s the cinematic equivalent of a cluttered, over-festooned moveable tableau where all the ingredients seem to be jostling for attention in such a way that nothing ultimately rises to the surface.
If you are the kind that likes this brand of filmmaking, marked by intense hues, extravagant production design and appallingly trite contrivances, you might just find Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela worth the hard-earned rupees that you blow up on watching a hunky Ranveer Singh and a svelte Deepika Padukone sway vigorously to the whippy baton of a frenzied bandmaster.
But if you aren’t the sort of moviegoer who warms up all that easily to flashy, and splashy, narrative devices, heed this critic’s counsel and bide your time until Dussehra comes by next year.
The spectacle of a crumbling and crackling Ravana viewed from a safe distance is infinitely better than being subjected to an onslaught by a stumbling and rumbling overstuffed blockbuster in a darkened movie hall.
Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela is Bollywood’s third stab at ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a year and a half.
It’s violent and vicious Verona all over again; this time around the theatre of action is relocated to a village in the Rann of Kutch. In the bargain, the essential spirit of the Bard is left by the wayside.
If Bhansali’s film were to be compared with Ishaqzaade and Issaq, it is neither as controlled as the former nor as insufferable as the latter.
More insubstantial frizzle than genuine sizzle, it is an overblown take on a classic love story in which love is replaced by shallow amorous posturing and the story is driven into the ground on account of being relentlessly, and senselessly, stretched to snapping point.
Bhansali’s Romeo is Ram (Ranveer Singh), a rakish, hunky Lothario who believes that physical love is as essential as acts of violence are avoidable. Needless to say, he falls prey to both.
Juliet is Leela (Deepika Padukone), an epitome of feminine grace who thinks nothing of giving free rein to her sexuality.
Boy and girl are so smitten by each other that, after the initial moments of tentativeness, they aren’t sure where lust ends and love begins. But once passion blossoms, there is no stopping the duo.
But in their path are their respective families. One clan peddles guns, the other spreads terror.
Venom flows free, and so does blood. Bullets fly thick and fast and lives are snuffed out with a thought.
The young lovers have no choice but to turn their backs on their folks and elope.
Amid all the ballyhoo, the village manages to produce a newspaper of its own. It’s called Ranjhar Times. Wonder who has the time!
Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela is neither Romeo and Juliet nor your friendly neighbourhood Ram Lila, where the audience knows exactly what the outcome is going to be.
In Bhansali territory, it is a free for all. The tale plays out amid an overdose of song, dance and bloody brawls.
The outdoor sets are carnivalesque, and the interiors represent sprawling, ostentatious palaces.
The actors, in keeping with the no-holds-barred ambience that the film exudes, take recourse to grandly expansive gestures to express the minutest of emotions.
A film like Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela doesn’t allow for histrionic subtlety, so both Ranveer and Deepika plunge themselves into the overdrive of Bhansali’s storytelling style.
The film is obviously geared towards cashing in on the lead pair’s much-publicised off-screen chemistry. On screen, it simply doesn’t translate into something that leaves a lasting imprint.
Three performers do, however, stand out – Supriya Pathak Kapur as Leela’s mother, Richa Chadda as the heroine’s sis-in-law and Barkha Bisht Sengupta as the widow in the enemy camp.
Especially impressive is the way Chadda nails the local accent even as it fluctuates wildly all around her.
If you are drawn by the raw magnificence of the setting and the inevitable excitement of the occasion – after all an SLB offering cannot but be an event film – here’s sound advice: your travel agent could do a better job of getting you to Kutch.
Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela is all body and no soul.