I’ve always found Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films to be incredibly frustrating, because they are so visually beautiful while at the same time totally lacking in emotional impact. It’s like he’s too busy designing elaborate sets and costumes to spend time crafting characters or drawing performances out of actors. I went into Ram-Leela feeling cautiously optimistic, because I knew SLB was working with new screenwriters, as opposed to his usual collaborators. And while Ram-Leela is less emotionally anaemic than his previous films it still, unfortunately, did not quite work for me.
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The first half stays quite close to the plot of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and I thought it was generally pretty good. But just before the Interval the plot veers off into new territory, and I thought it suffered because of it. I did enjoy the idea that Ram and Leela become, unwillingly, the heads of their respective feuding families. Perhaps if the first half had not been so close to Romeo and Juliet I would have enjoyed the second half more. Or, even better, having started the film as a faithful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, it should have continued that way. But as it is the first and second halves felt like they belonged to different movies.
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I’ve been a fan of Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone since their debut films and have always enjoyed their performances and Ram-Leela is no different. An SLB film is no place for subtlety and Ranveer chews the scenery with gusto. I particularly enjoyed his performance during the climactic Ramleela procession, in which he acts like an unhinged circus ringmaster and makes it seem natural. As I said I’ve always enjoyed Deepika but I think she gained a certain confidence to her acting post-Cocktail and it was on display again in Ram-Leela. Others worth noting include Supriya Pathak, as good as you would expect as Leela’s mother, house favourite Richa Chadda making the most out of a relatively small role as Leela’s sister-in-law, and television actress Barkha Bisht Sengupta making a very good impression in an even smaller role as Ram’s sister-in-law. I was also happy to see Gulshan Devaiah of That Girl in Yellow Boots and Peddlers in a more mainstream movie, I just wish his character hadn’t gotten so cartoonish by the end of the film (if he’d had a moustache, he would have twirled it).
I’ll just finish by saying that for me the best part of any SLB film are the songs, both music and picturizations, and in this Ram-Leela is no exception. Despite my reservations about the plot of the film, I would still recommend watching it, especially on the big screen, for the sets, the costumes, the pageantry and the songs. And we can only continue to wonder whether someday there will be an SLB film where the story lives up to the visuals.
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