All the qualities — strong casting, well-structured script, evocative look — that made helmer Ketan Mehta’s previous costumer, “The Rising,” so powerful are in short supply in “Colors of Passion.” Biopic of late 19th-century Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma, whose modernist, sensual oils shocked conservative groups at the time, is a good-looking but dramatically stiff item whose various elements (art, politics, religion) never coalesce into a dramatic whole. Offshore biz looks limited.
Framed by a modern auction of one of his paintings that’s barracked by protestors, pic crosscuts between the trial of the femme-loving Varma (Randeep Hooda, cool) for obscenity and offense to Hindu religious sentiments, and his prior life as a rising artist. His portraits of goddesses were inspired by a woman, Sugandha (Nandana Sen, ripe), who became his muse and lover, though Varma was also a smart businessman, pioneering lithographs of his works, which reached ordinary Indians. Choppy narrative checks all the boxes but lacks a broad dramatic arc, and Varma comes across as an unsympathetic, self-centered character. Scene of Sen (chastely) baring a breast for one famous portrait has already generated headlines on home turf.