<Review by: Juthika Nagpal>
Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Supriya Pathak, Gulshan Devaiah, Richa Chadda, Sharad Kelkar, Abhimanyu Singh, Anshul Trivedi, Barkha Bisht
I must admit I have never actually liked the original story of Romeo and Juliet. It’s soppy, impractical, and doesn’t touch upon great depths of love and passion as one would expect from a timeless love story. Moreover, the idiocy of the assertions of love between Romeo and Juliet, based on nothing more than a stubborn juvenile crush, to be carried through to death, is just infuriating.
So it goes with Ram and Leela. At least to start with.
The first half of Ram Leela pretty much follows the plot of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The deliberately obvious sets, elaborate costumes, and overly dramatised scenes and dialogue was a mediocre attempt, at best, to replicate the Broadway musical effect. It was enjoyable for all of the first 20 minutes, and then proceeded to get unbearable by the minute until the interval.
Then something miraculous happens. It’s almost as if Mr. Bhansali realises: “Wait! This Shakespeare fellow just didn’t have enough substance in his story to pull off Bollywood drama. Let me show them how it’s done!” And the story spins into layer after layer of murderous plots, protests against patriarchy, a generational gang war complete with senseless bloodshed, and what not!
Key characters of Romeo and Juliet like Juliet’s nurse, Friar Lawrence and Capulet himself are simply non-existent in Ram Leela. Instead we have characters from the first half like Leela’s mother and household matriarch (Supriya Pathak), the villainous cousin Bhavani (Gulshan Devaiah), daughters in law of both families (Richa Chadda and Barkha Bisht) and Ram’s obnoxious friends and cousins who come in and change the plot altogether. Ironically, I felt the depth of the plot and the characters in the second half was so much more Shakespeare-esque than the first half. Throw in Merchant of Venice, Othello and then some.
I do wish the character of Leela’s conniving cousin, Bhavani, was given more consequence to start with, since he was quite monumental in fuelling the storyline of the latter half. A void in significant characters from Ram’s side of the family is also evident.
For some reason, the quality of acting, editing, dialogue and overall caliber of the film changes dramatically in the second half, making it halfway bearable if one was not so weary by then. It may have turned out better if SLB had not tried to pull off a Shakespeare adaptation, and gone with his ingenuity from the start.
We have a shabby, shallow Shakespeare romance to begin with, and a classic, intense Bollywood gang war movie to follow through. The contrast is almost deliberate. Whether it is by design or not, I cannot tell, but it just doesn’t come together in its entirety, and the audience definitely missed the satire if it was intended.
PS: Minority-Review’s take on Ram Leela was quoted in the prestigious The Inquisitr online magazine - Ram Leela: Movie Generates Controversy, Mixed Reviews From Critics