Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela

ram-leela-poster

Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela* is mostly what I expected from Sanjay Leela Bhansali. It’s visually lush, with opulent sets, stunning landscapes, gorgeous costumes and lovely people to wear them. The movie opens with a looong stream of credits for Bhansali (producer, writer, director, editor, music director) including acknowledgement that Ram-Leela is inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Knowing the story and probable ending in advance raises the question – will the journey be worth it? Well, yes. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself entertained and interested most of the time.

Ram gives Ranveer Singh the opportunity to play both the prancing peacock and the traumatised young man who has been immersed in violence all his life. He makes a Rajnikanth-esque entrance, and springs straight into Tattad Tattad.

The choreography is disappointing – a friend calls it the Dandruff Song because of all the hairography. But based on audience reaction, they got the amount of shirtless shimmying about right. And his chest-oiler must have been working overtime, yet they were not named in the end credits which seems a sad oversight. Ram is obsessed with sex, with enjoying his life (especially sex) and has a cunning plan to take revenge on the enemy Sanedas (by having sex with their womenfolk). He admits that his thinking apparatus may be located in his pants. But Ram is also the one voice asking whether his side, the Rajadaris, should try to stop the cycle of killing. He is a mercurial creature, a natural leader but one with an unpopular message. I really liked Ranveer’s energy, his slightly self-mocking delivery of the deliberately cheesy lines, and his passionate sincerity when he confronted Leela.

Ram Leela Deepika

Deepika Padukone looks stunning and she has also crafted a good performance. This story is very familiar and requires logic suspension which means that the chemistry has to glide over any plotholes. I’ve often felt she struggled to show warmth with some co-stars, not so here. Sparks fly from Leela’s first sight of Ram in a rain of colours at Holi to the verbal sparring as they trade rhyming couplets. Leela is as interested in pursuing this relationship as he is, and she is not afraid to initiate intimacy or sort him out when he misbehaves. She also seems a bit smarter than Ram, and more cognisant of long term consequences. Deepika is convincing throughout, whether playing the giddy Leela falling in lust, dancing her heart out, or as the saddened serious young woman confined by the past.

The minor roles are interesting, especially the key female characters. Supriya Pathak is impressive as Baa, Leela’s mother and the leader of the Sanedas. Ultimately she is the one who will have to decide for the future, and she is a powerful, brooding presence. Richa Chadda plays another of her smart women in a regressive male dominated world (think Fukrey, Gangs of Wasseypur) and she is excellent as Leela’s sister-in-law Raseela. Barkha Bisht plays Ram’s sister-in-law Kesar, and she is equally good. The sisters-in-law give voice to the emotions of both sides. Both are widowed in the same stupid macho incident, and both women remain integral to the story long after their husbands are gone. Sharad Kelkar and Gulshan Devaiah round out the more significant male support roles. I was delighted to see Raza Murad as the Sarpanch even though his role was largely to provide ‘As you know Bob …” exposition. Abhimanyu Singh’s career mystifies me. He’s a terrible actor. He even overacts when he is supposed to be dead! And seeing Priyanka Chopra’s lacklustre item number made me grateful Deepika got the lead.

Ram-Leela Holi

The costumes are not just gorgeous, they reveal something about the characters. Leela wears a modern lehenga but the underskirt is a traditional patterned fabric. Kesar’s dark shawl signifies her position, but it’s lined with a light patterned fabric. Baa wears masses of ostentatiously heavy jewellery, showing her wealth and the strength to hold on to it.

ram leela guns everyhwere

Ram wears floral shirts edged with multi-coloured mini pom-poms and his holster is brightly embroidered. And there are guns EVERYWHERE. Like Leela, he carries his heritage with him. Many of the dances are garba style (showing off the excellent costumes) and most centre around religious celebrations (more colourful folkloric costumes). Everyone lives in old style houses but all the ladies whip out phones to film Ram strutting his stuff.  There is a sense of the ‘modern’ world invading this village where families have feuded for 500 years.

Ram Leela set design

Despite being less hidebound in their views, it doesn’t take much to make Ram and Leela each accuse each other of being a typical Rajadari or Saneda, just like ‘them’ as things turn sour. You don’t have to scratch the surface too hard to reach the inculcated mistrust and stereotypes. But after a cracking start, Bhansali loses control in the second half where the repetition of crisis and non-resolution becomes a little tedious.

I can’t help comparing this to Sunil Dutt’s stunning Reshma aur Shera and Baz Luhrmann’s excellent Romeo + Juliet, and while I like Ram Leela it comes up well short of both. Dutt expressed the tragedy and beauty of a doomed love in Rajasthan with fewer filmi tricks and greater emotional impact and maturity. Luhrmann stuck closely to Shakespeare and was still playful and original. Bhansali gestures towards Romeo and Juliet, mostly in the balcony scene which he recreated quite closely down to the dialogue. But he refers to iconic scenes in his own films as much as he does Shakespeare. He needs to curb the self-indulgence, and to edit with more eye to the story.

I’d definitely recommend seeing this in a cinema for the beauty and visual impact. The songs alone are worth a look and I had fun guessing which choreographer did which. I expected this to look great, and often that is all I get from Bhansali films as I just don’t connect with them. I didn’t expect Ram-Leela to be quite so entertaining and engaging.

*None of the marketing material or cinema listings here in Australia seem to have been changed so the film is still listed as Ram Leela. 

What? You want to see the colourful embroidery and outfits in detail? Here you go. Because I care.

Ram Leela everyone needs a smartphone

Heather says: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. Sure, I knew it would be beautiful and I’ve been enjoying the soundtrack, but the performances from all the actors put this a notch above the usual SLB film.  Deepika in particular was a revelation and she seems to have been steadily improving with each film.  I used to find her wooden and somewhat tedious, but she really sparkles here in a role that gives her scope to show a number of different emotions as well as the smoking hot chemistry with Ranveer that Temple has mentioned. Phew!  I’ve only seen Ranveer once before and from his initial appearance in  Tattad Tattad I was expecting him to be woeful, but such is not the case.  He rises to the occasion (cough, cough) and is so much better than the 70′s porn star outfits suggest.  His swagger and bravado are just part of his persona and his Ram is full of passion and joy. Best of all though are the support female characters played by Supriya Pathak, Barkha Bisht and Richa Chadda.  As Temple has described, all had meaty roles that allowed them to be real people with varying emotions and motivations which gave more layers to the film.

However, as with every SLB film I’ve seen, Ram Leela could have done with a heavier hand with editing and the last hour had moments where it really did start to drag.  Still – the costumes are sumptuous, the scenery is beautiful and the performances were of a high enough standard that I completely agree with Temple that this is one to see on the big screen.  Ram Leela was much more entertaining than I expected and I thoroughly recommend it as one of the better Hindi films I’ve seen this year.

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6 thoughts on “Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela

  1. Sure it was beautiful…and in the first half I began to think that the old SLB was back, but I should have known that he’d fall into his predictable trap….give him a new toy and he’ll use it to excess and ruin it for me. What is it with boys with their guns? In the first half, I was overjoyed to see the old school gorgeous overkill a la Devdas, but SLB can’t just have a normal number of firearms. No, not He. He had to give us oceans and monsoons of guns, typhoons of shattering glass and storms of bullets and blood. I felt like he’d been locked in a room with a repeating loop of Gangajaal and Shakti. Everything was just way too violent for me to enjoy the second half. Oh well…

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    • Hi Jenny. I’m not all that fond of the Old SLB but I do agree he needs someone to curb his self-indulgence. I was more put off by his tributes to himself than the guns though. One of my friends worked for an NGO in one of the ‘stans and his photos are amazing – firearms for days and kids cheerfully posing with rocket launchers and who knows what, all in the local marketplace. So the frontier village feel didn’t seem so far-fetched. I was actually thinking that the second half wasn’t anywhere near as gory as it could have been :) The gun related violence was mostly loud noises and the occasional person falling down, and the up close and personal assaults were largely implied or at least not too graphic. I was actually relieved when Ram turned samurai and went nuts with a sword as it made a nice change from all the gunshots! Maybe I’ve got increased tolerance from all the South Indian films I watch …

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  2. I too thought the second half was a let down, the ending in particular (the most emotional part of Romeo+Juliet) was pretty emotionally empty. I was honestly relieved when it was over because I was so confused by all the character motivations apart from the dude who tried to usurp Baa. The other bit that was frustrating was the lack of Leela’s backstory. We don’t see her at all until she meets Ram, there was no establishing of her character outside of the love story. For being so pretty, it’s too bad it’s such a mediocre story.

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    • Hi Jess – nice to see you here :) It is a shame that the second half got bogged down as I thought the film had a pretty good start. Maybe it’s because I knew this was based on R&J, but I didn’t feel the lack of backstory for Leela. I knew who she was and what was likely to become of her. Plus I didn’t expect much in the way of character development from SLB. The potential was there to make this much better but at least it wasn’t as pointless (and badly acted) as Saawariya or as self-important as Black. Cheers, Temple

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  3. Hi Temple & Heather, I am not a SLB fan I admit but I like to watch the films for the sheer visual poetry. I was re-watching the songs of Devdas recently, and was amazed again at how much of a visual feast he provides. Now, if only I could ignore the stories :) I will probably buy this CD just to see the colours but after reading your review, maybe I will fast forward the second half!
    BTW Its funny you referred Tattad Tattad as the Dandruff song, that’s what I have been calling it to myself since I saw it first on youtube :) I confess that I am old fashioned enough to be offended by the hip-thrusting, shirtless prancing being connected anyway with Ram Leela (as a religious thing, not the name of the film) with blue-skinned Ramas and Hanumans dancing the chorus line. OFFENSIVE! Cheers. Suja

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    • Hi Suja – Happy New Year :) That sounds like a sensible approach! The dandruff song is a perfect introduction for the character but yes it does play fast and loose with using icons of religion and tradition. If it helps any, the song is set in the, um, entertainment district and some of the dancers looked to be off duty actors still in costume who joined the chorus. Otherwise, just focus on the ‘hip-thrusting, shirtless prancing’ until it’s all over :) Cheers, Temple

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