Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-leela is a picture postcard. Much like his earlier Devdas (a Cannes screener) and Saawariya, Ram-leela appears like a palate of myriad colours, bright enough to blind you, but, more importantly, to distract you.
In this whirlwind of hues (with Holi providing yet another reason to show off with colours) and innumerable songs as well dances, and with Gujaratis in their ornamental turbans and flowing lehengas, one forgets that this is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet retold.
The setting is a town that resembles Varanasi - especially when one sees the river and the little lamps floating on it – where even the slightest of provocation like a kid easing himself is good enough to start a gun duel. Call it the Indian Wild West. And yes, weapons are sold in the open, and even the prettiest of women carry them, though strangely, they seem to forget them when they are chased by rapists! But not to worry, the women sprint like Olympic runners in this Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh-starrer, leaving the evil pursuers far behind.
It is in a scenario like this that we have two warring clans, whose 500-year-old feud and the bitterness of it all, fails to stop Ram (essayed by Ranveer Singh) from wooing Leela (Deepika), belonging to the enemy camp. She does not play coy either, and plants a firm kiss on his mouth when he asks to be painted with colour during Holi – when he meets her for the first time.
Many battles and murders later, he elopes with Leela, only to be caught and separated. Finally, when they come together, it is the bullet that unites them. Ah, this is Romeo and Juliet, and it has to end only this way.
A careless script that makes the narrative so unconvincing (I could, for instance, never understand why Ram, that wild guy with multiple abs, goes down so tamely when he is being brought back after the elopement), the opulent artifice of the sets and the poor performance of Singh are such dampers that you would want to dump the movie half way through.
Padukone is passable, though her attraction in Ram-leela would appear to be in what she wears or does not wear. But Pathak is just brilliant as the Queen Mother, so to say, hard and unmerciful till the end. It is too late by then.
I cannot help comparing Ram-leela with Vishal Bharadwaj’s two Shakespearean adaptations -- Maqbool from Macbeth set in Mumbai’s underworld with Irrfan Khan portraying the lead character with panache (also wonderful performances by Pankaj Kapoor, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah) and Omkara from Othello, unfolding in central India with Saif Ali Khan giving us his career best as Ishwar Langda Tyagi (Iago in the original).
Bhardwaj’s recreations of the milieu and the mood were aptly imaginative, neatly weaving into the script the Bard’s letter and spirit. Treachery, deceit, jealousy, insecurity, love and lust slipped from Shakespeare’s Stratford into Bhardwaj’s badlands.
While Bharadwaj offered a truly restrained and authentic look at Shakespeare, Bhansali goes overboard with so much gloss and glitter that his film ends up as one without any soul. Surely, this is no Shakespeare. Surely, this is not even cinema. Rather, it is a string of photographs, capturing beautiful people in ethereal settings.