Bollywood Review: Ram-Leela

336747,xcitefun-ram-leela-posterStarring: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Supriya Pathak, Richa Chaddha, Gulshan Devaiah, Abhimanyu Singh, Sharad Kelkar, Sveta Salve, Raza Murad

Directed by: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

The basic premise of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, two lovers from enemy families, has been used numerous times in Bollywood, whether filmmakers acknowledge the play or not. Even in the past couple of years we’ve had Issaq and Ishaqzaade, both essentially versions of Romeo & Juliet set in modern India, which is what Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest is as well, but while those two went for more gritty realist approach, SLB sticks to what he does best: grand, colourful, full-on musicals.

The Rajadi and Sanera families are sworn enemies based in the same fictitious village in Gujarat. Ram (Ranveer Singh), the son of the Rajadi Don sneaks into the Sanera’s holi celebrations, where he instantly falls in love with Leela (Deepika Padukone), the daughter of Dhankor (Supriya Pathak), the Sanera leader, who is planning Leela’s wedding to someone of her own choice. Ram and Leela plan to elope, however the war between their families grows, and their being together begins to seem less and less likely.

Bhansali uses the main plot points of the Shakespearian tragedy for his film, but adapts it to fit his setting, as well as borrowing fairly heavily from possibly the most famous Romeo & Juliet modern adaptation, West Side Story, including almost exactly copying the scene where Anita goes looking for Tony, and here where Rasila (Richa Chaddha), Leela’s sister-in-law goes looking for Ram. It is done well, and the scene is effective, and to be completely honest I have no issue with his using West Side Story for inspiration, as that is a brilliant adaptation of the play, however I do feel like the Broadway/Hollywood musical should have been acknowledge. Outright copying aside, Bhansali’s additions to the story of Romeo & Juliet are good, and deal with or eliminate the elements of Shakespeare’s story that would seem less plausible in contemporary India. It is fairly modern in its attitude towards to the love-at-first-sight element, giving focus to the physical element of their attraction, though of course it is Bollywood, and so when they meet, essentially to hook-up the second or third time they ever see each other, they instead break into song. I did appreciate, though fairly insignificant, that SLB referenced R&J’s full names, by giving Ram Rajadi the slight alliteration that Romeo Montague had, and the rhyme of Juliet Capulet in Leela Sanera.

Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone have incredible chemistry. One of the issues with the first half of Ram-Leela, and Romeo & Juliet as well, is the love-at-first-sight speediness with which they both fall for each other, and the way the two of them are together, while doesn’t necessarily make it believable, does make their initial scenes really enjoyable, and then the development of the character’s relationship in turn becomes more plausible. I didn’t find Ranveer Singh very easy to watch as Ram – there was something over the top about him which I personally didn’t like, but I think his performance was good. And I say this in every review I write for a film starring Deepika Padukone, that I am no big fan of hers, but I may finally have to admit there is something great about her. No one from her generation could have done Leela as well as she did. Maybe Aishwarya Rai had SLB made this right after Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, but not any of Padukone’s contemporaries. Priyanka Chopra could have done well, but the character would have come across differently. I dread to think what the film would have been had Kareena Kapoor not gotten married and been replaced. The supporting cast are all pretty good, especially Richa Chaddha and Supriya Pathak. The Sanera family members definitely had the better roles, and left the bigger impact.

The songs have been composed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali,  and the background score is by Monty Sharma, who composed the music of Saawariya. Visually, the songs, as with all SLB films, are beautiful, and I particularly enjoyed Lahu Muh Lag Gaya and Nagada Sang Dhol, both choreographed by Samir and Arsh Tanna. Vishu Deva has choreographed both Ram Chahe Leela and Ishqyaun Dishqyaun, though the latter has slightly less peculiar dance moves. Ram Chahe Leela is Priyanka Chopra’s item song, which looks good, but I didn’t get what the point of the choreography was. Ganesh Acharya has done Tattad Tattad, Ranveer’s entry song, which is a little awkward enough to watch because of Ranveer anyway, without having to deal with strange choreography. I do miss the days when SLB would use Saroj Khan or Vaibhavi Merchant. You can find my opinion of the songs themselves in my music review for Ram-Leela.

SLB’s films always have vastly spacious and grand sets for the songs, giving his actors ample space to dance, but one thing I noticed with all of the songs in Ram-Leela, while the sets for songs seem grand, they’re incredibly busy, with too many extras, almost  to a claustrophobic extent. It doesn’t give the camera much opportunity to properly capture who it should be putting front and centre. The sets and production design, by Wasiq Khan, is otherwise excellent though, as one would expect, as are Deepika Padukone’s costumes, designed by Anju Modi.

This isn’t Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s best film. It is a very good film, and it is great to see him doing big budget and colourful again. He is a good storyteller, but some people don’t seem to appreciate the films where that’s what he focused on. I personally loved Saawariya and Guzaarish. I hope Ram-Leela does well, as it has all the right components, as well as Deepika’s large fan base, considering how well her other films do. I feel like we’ve had very few Hindi films this year that are actually great films, rather than good entertainment, and thankfully Ram-Leela is both.

Ram-Leela_Song
Ram-Leela (Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela) is out now.
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