Film Review: ‘Ram-Leela’

'Ram-Leela,' distributed by Eros

The dance numbers are lusher than the emotions in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bollywood riff on 'Romeo and Juliet.'

A gorgeous, boisterous, ultimately ineffective new Bollywood adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Ram-Leela” does accomplish one thing quite unusual: It manages to keep you in suspense about the outcome almost to the last frame, not a bad trick for a retelling of one of the most familiar narratives in world literature. In fact, this points to a central weakness of writer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film, which for much of its length is such a brightly colored song-and-dance entertainment that audiences may wonder if it’s working toward a revised, happy Bollywood ending. (Some may even hope as much, as the movie doesn’t seem serious enough to merit a tragic one.) After a brief controversy over its title, the pic opened to strong local box office on Friday, with an opening-day gross in excess of $2.5 million.

Bhansali moves Shakespeare’s story to a Sicilian-style culture of violent clan conflict in small town Gujurat, in Northwestern India, with some additional sequences in the tourist-destination palaces of Rajasthan. The period is probably not worth trying to pin down: the characters talk constantly on cell phones and sell pirated DVDs, but they also drive dusty black 1940s cars. In truth, this is no region of the real world: it is a theme park fantasy version of O.G. Gujurat into which themes from Shakespeare have been stirred.

The impressively fit and charismatic young actor Ranveer Singh (“Lootera”) is Ram, a “brother” (Bhai) in a crime family whose businesses include gun running and pornography. Ram is an anomaly in this hair-trigger community because he would much rather chase women than the clan’s enemies. Rapidly rising star Deepika Padukone (“Chennai Express”) is Leela, staunchly resisting her family’s attempts to arrange a marriage with a dweeby Indian from London.

The most effective sequences the two stars have together are the large-scale dance numbers, which are beautifully and imaginatively staged. The film has five credited choreographers, which probably accounts for the fact that the styles of dancing vary significantly from scene. It helps that both performers are terrific, athletic dancers. As actors, however, they may simply to be too down to earth, too level headed, to be convincingly star-crossed. They never convey the required emotional depth and turmoil.

“Ram-Leela” is often a visually dazzling affair, which is pretty much the least we’ve come to expect from director Bhansali, one of Bollywood’s most devoted pictorialists. Best known internationally for his 2002 remake of the perennial Indian classic “Devdas,” he has also made lavish prestige films based on literary sources as unlikely as “The Miracle Worker” (2005’s “Black”) and Dostoyevsky’s “White Nights” (2007’s “Saawariya”). He’s an enthusiastic showman, although his style doesn’t always feel cinematic. He builds enormous sets that are perfect down to last detail, and then stages the action in front them, as if they were theatrical backdrops. Nor does Bhansali leave much to chance. On “Ram-Leela,” he is credited as writer, director, producer, editor and songwriter.

The movie came briefly into conflict with the law in India. Bhansali re-named his protagonists Ram and Leela and followed the Bollywood convention of gluing their names together to create a title. Ramlila, however, is also the name of key Hindu religious festival, a folk reenactment of Rama’s battle with many-head demon Ravana. (Bhansali exploits the double meaning in the film by staging some spectacular climactic scenes during the festival.) Some Hindus protested, and it was reported that the Delhi High Court had enjoined this week’s scheduled release. A spokesman for distributor Eros Intl. confirmed that the issue has been resolved, although the film is still being shown in some places under its placating interim title, “Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela,” or roughly, “Bullet-Dance Ram-Leela.”

Film Review: 'Ram-Leela'

Reviewed at AMC Burbank Town Center 8, Burbank, Nov. 15, 2013. (In Marrakech Film Festival.) Running-time: 150 MIN.

Production

(India) An Eros International release of an Eros International and SLB Films Pvt. Ltd. production. Produced by Kishore Lulla. Executive producer Chetan Deolekar.

Crew

Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Screenplay, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Garima, Siddharth, inspired by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Camera (color), S. Ravi Varman; editors, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rajesh Pandey; music, Sanjay Leela Bhansali; lyrics, Siddharth-Garima; background score, Monty Sharma; choreographers, Ganesh Acharya, Vishnu Deva, Terence Lewis, Sameer, Arsh Tanna; production designers, Wasiq Khan; costume designer, Maxima Basu, Anju Modi; special effects, Reliance MediaWorks.

With

Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Krishna Singh Bisht, Priyanka Chopra. (Hindi dialogue).

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  1. Pooja says:

    Bajirao Mastani was a better watch than Ram Leela.

  2. It seems like Bhansali was too busy setting up an opulent set and production designs. He picked up a very “beaten to death” love story and in the second half, the plot goes misfiring in various directions. Bhansali was too obsessed with creating a lavish set and dance numbers that he entrusted the storytelling to Siddharth & Garima who made a mess of a story, infusing it with irritating and cringeworthy dialogues with a mix of english and hindi which sounds odd coming from the mouths of village people. It’s high time that Bhansali realises that content is the king and visuals don’t matter at all!

  3. Eazy says:

    @RInku, did you call the 2 reader’s nasty chaps? It is you, who is the weirdo on this page. Who are you to decide who can comment what on a movie? Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I hope you know that Mam’
    Now let me get to the movie- Ram Leela is by far the worst Bollywood movie that I have ever seen. Okay wait, its the 2nd worst. The first being, Sanjay leela Bhansali’s sisters directional debut – Shirin Farhad ki toh Nikal Padi. What has happened to Sanjay Leela Bhansali? Has he lost it?
    What a below average movie with 2 of the freshest stars in the Indian Film Industry. I am a fan of Deepika. She is Gorgeous. And as for Ranveer, I admire his acing and hardwork. As for the movie : it is badly directed, the worst dialouges I’ve ever come across in a long long time. Sample this – ”Tu lover hai, Main Killer hoon” lol. Only thee sets and the colors in the movie are worth mentioning. But does that make a film good? Its high time Bhansali’s fans and Bhansali himself, stop defending him saying he is an Artist. Well off late he seems more like a set designer, than a Director..
    Rinku, we are talking about the movie here,collectively, not the performance of the stars.
    You must be enamored by them but I seriously doubt your taste and choice in general.
    This is a BAD FILM.!!!!! AS NITIN SAID IT – GO WATCH IT AND THEN COME BACK HERE AND RANT.

  4. Nitin says:

    This movie is worst movie i ever seen.
    Its show yhat how all review has been purchased by leeka bansali and making super flop movie into super hit.
    No story no sence. Its just crap. Go watch it and then do write ur comment honestly

  5. Danica says:

    Superb on all aspects: entertainment, art, acting, songs. The best thing was it did showed women at par with men, not feeling ashamed to display their emotions and feelings and possessing a lot of courage.

  6. rameshram says:

    and thus completely missing the point in the movie.

    (it is set in a very real place which looks somewhat like the milleu of the film, although the guns are a “broadway” style exaggeration. If you ever get to india, david, put Kutch and Ahmedpur / Mandvi on your tourist calender for sure).

  7. Laila says:

    good movie.. just sad ending.. wish it was different.

  8. Rinku says:

    Super movie, not sure what these 2 nasty chaps are complaining about, below. How can someone write such nasty comments. If you have nothing nice to say about someone, Please just refrain from saying anything. Do you have to express so much negativity, Live and let live my friend.

    Both Ranveer and Deepika are gorgeous. Deepika is a natural beauty, she has everything to be proud off. Ravveer is also incredible in this movie. Ranveer is also such a hottie. This movie kept you on your toes, till the last frame, a very well narrated movie. Great chemistry between Deepika and Ranveer. They truly make a beautiful couple who complement each other on screen. Great romantic movie of 2013. One of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. Music, dance etc, all great and appealing.
    Kudos to the whole team of RamLeela. More power to you guys.

  9. lovedit says:

    WOW Deepika truly is a superstar. I personally know that so many people went to watch Ram Leela just for her. No other current actress can pull the audience to the cinema the way Deepika can. She is a lethal combination of ethereal beauty and raw acting talent and that sort of package is impossible to find in Bollywood these days. Definitely the true queen of Bollywood! Absolutely loved the movie!

  10. Bollywood fan says:

    Bakwaas movie, cheap language and lot of violence. Don’t waste your time watching the movie. Lesson learnt- wait for the movie reviews before going to the theater

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