Sunday, November 17, 2013

Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela: SLB's The Color Red.

I don’t think it’s taking anything away from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela aka Ram-Leela aka The Color Red if I say that the image which lingers, hours after I’ve seen the film, is of Ranveer Singh jiggling his oiled chest in Tattad Tattad. It’s a rare treat to see such a tour-de-force show of charisma and an even rarer treat to see it set in a good film. In fact, Priyanka Chopra’s heaving plastic bosom aside, the only major complaint I have with Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela is that no amount of whistling would make the projectionist replay “Tattad Tattad.”


Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela--shortened to Ram-Leela from here on--is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The Bhansali twist is that Ram/Romeo (Ranveer Singh) and Leela/Juliet (Deepika Padukone) aren’t young teenagers but twenty-somethings with family and other societal responsibilities. The action takes place in a small city in Gujarat where the Saneda family has been warring with the Rajadi family for generations. And if you know anything about Romeo and Juliet you can guess where the plot leads from here: Ram (a Rajadi) falls for Leela (a Saneda); all hell breaks loose; everybody dies.

Romeo and Juliet has developed a reputation for being “romantic” in that disgusting rom-com hearts, flowers, and chocolates way, which is unfortunate because the actual play has much more to offer than greeting card sentiments. Like death and destruction. Bhansali, to his great credit, skips the “wherefore art thou” and fairy wings, giving us a film that’s part Vishal Bhardwaj gangster-realism, part Telugu revenge drama, and all Bhansali emotion. Red is his color this time and plenty of red is spilled in gunshots and dismembering and rape but just as much red is present in the swirl of fabric in dance and in sindoor flung in the air for Holi. Red placed down a center part to mark a married woman--is it a tragedy or celebration? Or both?

Ranveer, as Ram, just drips animal magnetism from every pore. It’s easy to see why Leela would be drawn to him because everybody is drawn to him. Which means that Deepika, as Leela, actually has the harder role--she has to renounce Mr. Charming without coming off as a bitch or a shrew or any of the other nasty stereotypes that get lobbed at women who prioritize something else over returning a man’s affections. Leela isn’t a young teenager, she’s a woman and one who, at the beginning of the film, is chafing under the weight of her mother’s expectations.

Leela would thrive with even just a little of her Cocktail character Veronica’s freedom but she’s trapped, about to get married off to some dishrag of a man, never to leave her mother’s house ever. Is it any wonder she’d be drawn to Ram’s free and easy charms? Even more so when she realizes who he is? Sneaking over to the wrong side of town to see him is part of the appeal.

The second half of the film diverges from Romeo and Juliet to have Ram and Leela sucked into the family feuding in ways I won’t spoil. All the good intentions in the world won’t stand up against the power of mob justice. Ram and Leela do get to make their final choices in life on their own terms but there’s a lot of drama to wade through before they get there.

Besides Deepika, who really has come a long way since her Housefull days, and Ranveer (RANVEER!) there were a handful of other standouts in the film. Supriya Pathak sinks her teeth into the role of “Baa,” Leela’s mother, and never lets go. (Does talent just run in that family or what?) Baa is really the third major character in the drama. Ram-Leela-Baa. She’s tough as nails but Baa doesn’t wield power through physical force but through sheer force of will. There are some incredible confrontation scenes between Supriya and her musclely male co-stars. Ram may have just beaten off a slew of goondas but the power of Baa’s stare is enough to stop him in his tracks. It’s really a hell of a performance from Supriya and proof enough that we need more and meatier roles for over-40 actresses.

Gulshan Devaiah, one of a handful of Hindie actors slumming it in melodrama town, was quite enjoyable as Leela’s slimy cousin Bhavani. He has a weasley quality to his face that just makes you want to kick him down, something Leela and Baa do repeatedly, much to my delight. Richa Chadda, as Leela’s sister in law, and Barkha Bisht Sengupta, as Ram’s, were also quite good. There is one scene where Barkha is just booking it through the town that stood out to me. She has a lovely physicality, which probably explains why she’s apparently an item girl. And speaking of items, there is one in Ram-Leela and the only thing worth mentioning in it is the one dancer just over Priyanka’s right shoulder who put on a fierce performance.

And Sanjay Leela Bhansali. He mixes just the right amount of comedy, dance, melodrama, and action together. Plus, I was really pleased with all the song picturizations, especially the sex-substitute song which had Ram and Leela carvorting through the most phallic of locations and the aforementioned “Tattad Tattad.” The background music was well done, the red theme was never too overwhelming, nobody hammed too much, everybody looked great… it was Sanjay Leela Bhansali restraining his worst impulses and boosting all the things he’s loved for.

I have to admit, though, for all the blood shed in Ram-Leela, I think I was more emotionally moved by Krrish 3. It’s not that I didn’t care about Ram and Leela but, in the end, it was only Supriya Pathak who caused me to cry. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy but romance is inherently a selfish one. To die for love sounds romantic but love will die on its own if left long enough. The tragedy is wasted life, not star-crossed romance. Would Romeo and Juliet really have been happy if their plan to run off had worked? It’s impossible to say. Sanjay Leela Bhansali hints at no, but in the end, they never had to find out. Romeo and Juliet die but the romance lives forever.

What an end to 2013 for Bollywood--and more to come, too!

7 comments:

odadune said...

Sounds like you had a lot of fun between this and Sleeping Beauty. :)

As of the point that I learned it was following the original in terms of the ending, I pretty much lost interest in seeing it, but I'm glad it's been successful for SLB so far. Crazy director dude needed a hit, crazy self-absorbed but amusing dude needed a vehicle for his amusing self-absorption, and stodgy but talented gal needed a substantial role that would break her out of the stodginess. All three of them got it.

gulshan devaiah said...

I like what you said about me
Gulshan Devaiah

Filmi Girl said...

Not a fan of the tragic ending? I quite enjoyed it but then I love a good weepie. SLB does a nice little fake-out towards the end, too, where you THINK maybe but then, no.

I had a great time between this and Sleeping Beauty! I didn't know Sleeping Beauty was on DVD, too. I might have to get it--really lovely production!

And LOLLLING at your description of the film. It's quite accurate. XD

Filmi Girl said...

@Gulshan See, and they say nobody appreciates a good villain. It's hard to leave an impression on screen with somebody like Ranveer but you did it! Very good work, my friend! I hope you can do more fun roles like this one. :)

odadune said...

"men have died from time to time but not for love..."

I'm actually okay with unhappy endings in some cases, and there's at least two Bollywood films coming in 2014 where the protagonist dies in the source material and I think I would be okay with that in the Bollywood versions as well. But the R&J ending just bugs me for some reason.

Jess said...

I didn't find the ending tragic, I found it a relief. And I think the gut punch ending of the original play is lost by having Baa learn her lesson before it even happens. The film was ok, but I found it mostly disjointed. I also was kind of annoyed we got no Leela-before-she-meets-Ram scenes. No establishment of the person she was before all this happens.

Archee ologist said...

Isn't it freaky when a celebrity comments on a post about themselves??

@Gulshan Devaiah, at first I was disappointed that you were in the slimy role and not that of a leader. But then it was a good thing because we got to watch you throughout the movie. Please do more movies...!

I saw the film yesterday. SLB's movies have a quality that the images come back to you long after you leave the cinema. @Filmigirl, I do not think Ram-Leela consummated their marriage at all. They keep talking about a 'first night' right till the very end...?

While SLB's sense of aesthetics is AWESOME and one that agrees extremely well with mine (love the little details: the colours, the Raja Ravi Vermas in Leela's room reflecting her own femininity, the peacock reflecting the flamboyance of their love, the subtle changes in the way Ram starts to dress more ethnically as he becomes more entwined in local politics, the similarities between Leela and Nandini of HDDCS), the film could use some tighter editing. I felt as if the entire second half was a climax. And the music was not particularly good. Why did they choreograph PC's song like that? It was aweful! She is such a powerhouse otherwise...

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl