Wednesday, November 20, 2013

[Goliyon Ki Rasleela] Ram-Leela

Another day, another visit to a romance a bit outside my usual comfort zone. This time, it's a Hindi-language film that's probably one of the most straightforward Bollywood films I've ever gone to. Not that it's necessarily conventional by indian standards, but I typically see the stuff that overlaps genre film territory, so a few song-and-dance numbers will typically be replaced with action sequences. So, it's a bit more of a straight musical than usual, although there is still a fair amount of Bollywood anything-goes atmosphere to it.

One thing I'm starting to wonder as I see more Indian movies is whether they're suffering much for being shown without an intermission at most American theaters. The last few I've seen (Krrish 3, Chennai Express, this) have spots where the break is marked, but just plow through, and that's usually where the biggest shift in the movie's tone happens. Ram-Leela, in particular, seems to become a very different movie in the second half, and I'm starting to wonder if not treating these movies as a sort of mini-double-feature is doing them a bit of a disservice. Sometimes movies have intermissions just to give the audience a chance to stretch their legs or hit the restroom, but there's value in having a bit of a mental reset, too - thinking of that point of the movie not just as middle, but end and beginning as well.

I'm also finding myself fairly fond of this movies lead actress Deepika Padukone. As much as India will throw ridiculously pretty stars at one without much in the way of pause, Padukone seems to have built a more impish screen persona than others, like her characters enjoy stirring things up as opposed to being sort of blandly Strong And Independent. This is probably the best movie I've seen her in, and her Juliet-proxy is a favorite.

As I finished the review up, I recalled that the eFilmCritic/Hollywood Bitch-Slap message boards had an occasional poster whose entire deal seemed to be that he loved West Side Story, and I idly wondered what that guy would think of this movie. As much as I got a little flack for noting the Krrish movies' releases near Superman pictures and the way they borrowed from American superheroes, you've got to admit that redoing Romeo and Juliet as a musical that reflects a rivalry between two gangs is not exactly a new idea.

Oh, one further aside: Indian films are so eager enough to not cause offense that they'll go a little nutty with the disclaimers (including on-screen warnings at any sight of tobacco smoke), a few of which passed by fairly quickly here. One discussed the name change ("Ram-Leela" alone was considered potentially disrespectful in a number of ways, although I tend to think that any faith that is hurt by a little bit of wordplay can't be on the most solid of ground), while another mentioned that all animal action was done with care and that Those Scenes with the peacocks were done via CGI. Which made me terribly worried whenever a peacock was seen or even mentioned on-screen, though it seemed to be much ado about nothing - I think there was one scene with a dead peacock that could have been a prop rather than any kind of elaborate effects work.

Although I must say - I don't think anything they could have show happening to the peacocks would have freaked me out more than the fact that those birds apparently meow like cats. That's just freaking unnatural.

[Goliyon Ki Rasleela] Ram-Leela

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 November 2013 at Regal Fenway #3 (first-run, DCP)

The last time I wrote a review of an Indian movie, I got comments saying not to compare it to something else and to just enjoy it for what it is. That's actually good advice in general, although that's not going to happen here - the opening titles say flat out that Goliyong Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela is based on Romeo and Juliet. But while its origins may be familiar, the story does go off in some interesting directions and the style is certainly pure Bollywood.

The action is transplanted to Ranjaar, a town in present-day Gujarat. The Sanada and Rajadi families have been feuding for five hundred years, with guns worn openly and brawls breaking out on a daily basis. Ram (Ranveer Singh), one of the Rajadi chief's sons, has just returned after being sent away as a child and wants no part of it, preferring to quietly run his adult video store and make love as opposed to war as often as possible. He and his friends sneak into the Sanada household during their Holi celebration, and that's where he meets Leela (Deepika Padukone), the impetuous daughter of a fearsome matriarch (Supriya Pathak). Leela's mother has arranged a marriage to a London milquetoast, but that stands no chance against this whirlwind romance. On the other hand, Ram's and Leela's defiance is the sort of thing that can make an already ugly situation explode.

For as beautifully tragic as the end of Romeo and Juliet is, it's also a bit of a silly bit of plotting, with plot-device catalepsy and suicides as the result of farcical misunderstandings. One of the interesting things writer/director Sanjay Leela Bhansali does with Ram-Leela is to compact much of the original story's plot into the first half of the movie, with the final hour or so exploring whether the star-crossed lovers making their escape would have led to a happily ever after (obviously not, as there's almost half a movie to fill). It's an idea maybe better in concept than reality; for as frantically as the action escalates, Bhansali and co-writers Siddarth & Garima often find themselves tripping over not just how their story splits Ram and Leela apart without giving either a co-star as good as each other, but for how the title characters are emotional and impulsive, they aren't stupid, even when the story requires foolishness. On the other hand, it does put a bit of a charge into the final few scenes - even when it looks like they're barreling toward an inevitable end, that Bhansali and company had flipped things around earlier keeps what's coming up in the air.

Full review at EFC.

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