Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali || Produced by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Chetan Deolekar, Kishore Lulla, Sandeep Singh
Screenplay by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Siddarth-Garima || Starring: Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Supriya Pathak Kapur, Richa Chadda, Homi Wadia, Sharad Kelkar, Gulshan Devaiah, Barkha Bisht Sengupa, Abhimanyu Singh, Raza Murad
Music by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Hemu Gadhvi, Monty Sharma, Siddarth-Garima || Cinematography: Ravi Varman || Edited by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rajesh r. Pandey || Country: India || Language: Hindi
Running Time: 155 minutes
Given the increasing globalization of the movie business and increased scrutiny on Indian cinema plagiarism in recent years, Indian filmmakers have been turning to classic historical-fiction narratives in the public domain to find inspiration for their films. Popular source materials include the works of Shakespeare, whose recent Bollywood adaptations include a trilogy of works by writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj (Maqbool [2003, MacBeth], Omkara [2006, Othello], and 2014’s Haider [Hamlet]), as well as last year (2013’s) Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela (GKRRL, or RL, henceforth) by writer-producer-director Sanjay Bhansali.
Bhansali is a hard filmmaker not to like. He consistently makes visually appealing, musically strong operas that easily please the South Asian masses while also entertaining foreigners with hard-flaunted archetypal Indian spice. If you want a good summary of all the tropes, strengths, and cliches of Bollywood while also almost always being guaranteed a quality film, Bhansali’s your go-to guy for Indian blockbuster cinema. His films are very unadulterated “Bollywood” in that they are made first and foremost for native Indians and longtime industry converts, and as such, I wouldn’t recommend many (if any) of his works for a Westerner’s first introduction to the Hindi film diaspora (for that, you should try Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots ). Bhansali’s filmography has always maintained a distinctive native flair free from full indoctrination from outside sources, particularly Hollywood. Bhansali only “updates” his film with modern influences as necessary to evolve with the times, and as such, for better or worse I always associate him with vintage Bollywood. He’s not the best or the worst of the industry by any means, but in terms of synecdoche, or one part representing the whole (one artist representing the industry) and vice versa, Bhansali fits the label better than any other contemporary Bollywood filmmaker.
Continuing with that frame of logic, if you’ve seen most any Bhansali film, including and especially his most famous works (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam , Devdas ), you know what to expect from his latest film. Ram-Leela is vintage Bhansali and thus vintage Bollywood: There are lots of catchy, colorful songs, catchy and colorful costumes, a flashy item number, exaggerated emotions and over-the-top caricatures for characters, a passionate romance between two attractive lovers, and a completely unnecessary violent soap-opera ending. Nothing new to see here, folks.
The bottom line here is the same as always: If you like Bollywood musicals in general, you’ll probably like Ram-Leela, and if not, I suggest you best avoid it. As a fan of well-made Hindi blockbusters, there’s a lot I like in RL, especially the aforementioned musical numbers and colorful nature of the picture in general. Female lead Deepika Padukone has significantly more to do here than most Bollywood female leads given the nature of the source material (Romeo and Juliet), and her chemistry with male lead Ranveer Singh is commendable enough to make the romance float and carry the rest of the film. The rest of the characters are mostly forgettable stereotypes of Shakespearean cannon, Bollywood tropes, or some combination of the two. No one else is of much interest to the story besides providing the obligatory backdrop of family blood feud.
The songs are better than average by Hindi film standards but far from the best that Bhansali can do. Bhansali himself is musically talented, certainly more so than he is at screenwriting, but given the rather generic choreography of the dances, his well-written music can only go so far. As it stands, RL’s musical numbers do their job to adequately pace the story and provide perfectly flashy (but none too extraordinary) set-pieces and plenty of eye-candy for both sexes.
There’s little else to say about Ram-Leela. It’s perfectly serviceable as a Bollywood period picture and Hindi Shakespeare-adaptation, and thankfully it never tries to be an over-the-top Indian version of Hollywood action films (e.g. Ghajini , Dhoom 3 ). I stand by my statement that Bollywood is at its best when it sticks to its romantic melodrama staple, so long as the melodrama itself never becomes too excessive (e.g. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai ). 3 Idiots is really the lone extraordinary exception to the rule (the romance and musical numbers were mostly an afterthought in that movie), but other than that one big caveat, Hindi films are best when they sample other industry tropes, not break them down and copy their elements entirely. In that respect, Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela is a perfect Bollywood movie — it’s colorful, well made, well lit, it sounds good, and it keeps your interest in the nonsensical but cute romance the whole time.
Still nothing new to see here folks… let’s keep it that way!
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Just like you’d expect, the Shakespearean source material makes the perfect premise for a Bollywood melodrama and, for the most part, Bhansali takes advantage of the family blood feud and central romance that results from it. Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela is relatively well paced at a brisk (for Hindi films) two and a half hours, and it’s great color scheme and healthy music keep your attention from wandering.
— However… the dance choreography is none too special, and there’s nothing altogether very memorable about the romance and story as a whole. It’s vintage Bhansali and thus archetypal Bollywood. Take it or leave it.
—> ON THE FENCE; Ram-Leela boasts all the quintessential strengths of Bhansali’s filmography, but also most of its auteur’s shortcomings as well. If you find the 2002 Devdas an insult to the 1955 Bimal Roy classic, this isn’t for you.
? Is it just me, or did they not have to die at the end? At least Shah Rukh Khan’s melodramatic death at the end of Devdas had motivation behind it and made sense… Hello, anyone there?