With Ram Leela, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has gone the Ram Gopal Varma way – making his career-best movies at the beginning of his career, only to see the graph go southwards with every successive movie.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ramleela (renamed Goliyon Ki Rasleela, after a Delhi High Court objection) continues the declining graph of Bhansali’s movie-making adventures – the deterioration began with Sawariyaan (2007), and followed by Guzaarish (2010).
During this period, he managed to deliver some decent movies like My Friend Pinto (2011), Rowdy Rathore (2012) and Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (2012), but none of these movies could claim the legacy of masterpieces that the 50-year old producer-director delivered during his sunrise years – Khamoshi: The Musical (1996), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), Devdas (2002) and Black (2005).
After a litigation successfully brought a stay order on the release of the movie, by objecting to the title “Ramleela”, the movie was released by renaming it Goliyon Ki Rasleela, and rightfully so, as the movie is less about Ramleela (the story of righteous god Ram), and more about the rainfall of bullets that drenched two communities in blood.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s landmark work Romeo and Juliet, Ram Leela begins with a strong story line and ends with climatic conclusion.
What it lacks however is good execution of the story.
Very few moments in the movie bring the audience to the edge of their seats; rarely do the couple make audience cringe for similar love-interest; hardly does the cinematic excellence of Bhansali shine through the scenes.
Instead, we witness vulgar display of passion and lust between the lead couple – reducing love to physical adventure, magnified by lewd dialogues and loud songs.
The colourful costumes, larger-than-life backdrops and eye-soothing photography, struggle to make up for the distraction caused by the blunt delivery.
The lead characters are convincingly enacted by Ranvir Singh and Deepika Padukone, and Richa Chadda is memorable in a supporting role. However, with the main ingredient of quenching love missing, the movie fails to move the audience.
Deepika Padukone, on the other hand, has put another feather in her cap with her portrayal of Leela, a passionate lover and dancer with a strong will, sense of humour and stubbornness to fault.
Ranvir Kapoor’s Ram is a complex character that’s against violence and blood-shed, but plays on the popular themes of men around him – selling porn movies. He is very lovable in the role, someone who loves Leela but doesn’t have enough courage to go against his family.
A surprise package is Richa Chadda who manages to leave an impression through a shorter role.
So what is Bhansali up to? With every movie, Bhansali has assumed a greater role for himself, beginning as the writer and director of Khamoshi, and gradually becoming producer, and then music director (Saawariya, Guzaarish and Ram Leela). Very few directors have assumed such varied roles successfully.
Looking at Ramleela, one realises how difficult it is to manage so many departments; the last producer-director to achieve this successfully was Raj Kapoor. Not just with one movie, but with many blockbusters. No wonder he is such a legend of Bollywood.
While Bhansali has proved his story-telling skills and sensibility beyond doubt, he is getting in the zone that many people suffer from in the later part of their careers, the most notable being Ram Gopal Varma in recent years.
The creative freedom is a double-edged sword. If done rightly, it can produce eccentric work. Taken a bit too far, and it can be a torturous journey for the audience.
Bhansali’s work, this time, has gone too far.