Ram-Leela (2013) #SherylPuthur

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Directed By: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Written By: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Cast:

Ranveer Singh – Ram

Deepika Padukone – Leela

Richa Chadda – Rasila

Supriya Pathak – Dhankor Baa

Gulshan Devaiah – Bhavani

Language: Hindi                                                             Genre: Romance; Drama

Ram-Leela set out to be the quintessential Indian romance but something stops it from making the mark. It had everything one expects from a Bhansali film – the grandeur of cinema, a visual cornucopia, a romance, beautiful music, great performances – but

And this three letter word ‘but’ peppers any reading of Ram-Leela. I’m going to borrow words from a director friend who described the film succinctly, ‘it is a beautiful film in a frame-by-frame shot – but – where (and this is my voice interrupting) is the logical continuity?

As I was watching I kept feeling that major portions of their romance got chopped up on the editing table because I couldn’t quite understand why they fell in love. The reason why Romeo and Juliet worked (on which this film is ostensibly based) is because of the innocence of the characters. They were too young and not yet jaded by life, so the idea that they loved each other was somehow believable. Ram and Leela are not that convincing.

At the outset it is established that the film is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and especially inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation (guns, modern settings yet culturally appropriate). What is really interesting to behold is that Bhansali has fused the storylines of popular sagas of star-crossed lovers into one narrative and oddly enough they flow well into each other. It is l suppose his tribute to every love saga written. Beginning with Heer-Ranjha, where the hero, a pampered younger son who is a lover of music and does not believe in fighting; to Romeo declaring his love in a garden of statues. It is also Layla-Majnun (Majnun means madman, referring to his madness when he loses her). There is even a nudge in the direction of West Side Story in the sexual assault on Rasila (Richa Chadda) when she takes a message from Leela (Deepika Padukone) to Ram (Ranveer Singh).

The film moves beyond the narrative of star-crossed lovers and I think tries to say something about India. The portrayal of women and the treatment meted out to them. How violence to women is a sport – the most telling incident being when Kesar (Barkha Bisht) is chased by Bhavani (Gulshan Devaiah) and his henchmen. It is set to music and is eerily reminiscent of Aishwarya Rai in the song sequence Man Mohini from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam racing to place the last tile and being chased by the other players.

Unlike Bhansali’s other films, the male protagonist has received a much bigger opening. In fact, the image of Ram dominates the film – the painting on the wall in the streets of the Rajaris, of him in his warrior pose. Is it that the Indian male fails to fit into the mould he created (ideal, just, pure, and kingly)? That they are just parodies who worry more about prowess and are unable to take a stand? Conversely then do ineffectual boyfriends make chauvinistic husbands? It is ironic then that the male protagonist is called Ram.

Or maybe like the recurrent motif of the film – the peacock, it is about the male of the species being showier than the female.

There is much being displayed about male and female power relations within the narrative. Dhankor Baa (Supriya Pathak) the matriarchal head of the Sanera family where the men toe the line and the daughter has a freer rein. But the daughter –in law wishes for more time with her husband but his hands are still knotted to his mother’s skirt. Even within the relationship of Ram and Leela, he encourages her initiative before marriage but then becomes controlling after marriage. And she knuckles under.

It speaks about female desire and here the women take up stronger initiative to fulfil their desire but the men seem to hold back from a real fulfilment and prefer a wish fulfilment hence the preponderance of reference to porn. The film is Indian machismo on display for us. It can be considered a move towards a different Indian sexuality in the uninhibited display of love between Ram and Leela.

As a romance the film does not entirely work for me but if I read further into it, and maybe even do an orientalist reading, I might reach somewhere.

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Celluloid (2013) #SherylPuthur

CELLULOID Malayalam Movie REVIEW

Directed By: Kamal

Written By: Kamal

Cast:

Prithviraj – J.C. Daniels

Sreenivasan – Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan

Mamta Mohandas – Janet

Chandni – Rosie

Language: Malayalam                                                            Genre: Biopic

Malayalam cinema is known for its mature handling of the medium and its introduction of themes ahead of their times. It then seems fitting that the Father of Malayalam cinema – J.C. Daniels would be a pioneer in this regard.

However, as forward as the themes of Malayalam cinema were and are it is balanced out by a rigidity of thought and caste prejudices. At present it may be slight in comparison to earlier times but it still exists and so the film functions simultaneously as a critique of Kerala society.

Celluloid follows the ill-fated career of J.C. Daniels (Prithiviraj) who has a dream to make the first Malayalam film. It follows his journey to erstwhile Bombay to meet with Dadasaheb Phalke (Nandu Madhav), who explains various aspects of film making. After a few delays, he manages to get hold of the equipment and a British cameraman, and begins his filming. Since he sold his land to finance the film, to keep costs low, he directed, acted, edited and also wrote the screenplay.

Unlike his contemporaries, his film Vigathakumaran was not based on mythology but was a social drama. Ironically, his own life resembled a social drama because when Bombay-based actor Lana proved difficult to work with he got Rosie (Chandni) a Dalit Christian (the term is ironic since the latter ought to cancel out the former but…) to act instead. She played a Nair lady but when the film was screened the orthodox upper-caste men took offence at the idea of a lower-caste woman playing a Nair woman and boycotted the film.

The film parallels J.C. Daniels life with the investigation of the journalist Chelangatt Gopalakrishnan (Sreenivasan) into the film career of this obscure dentist who was once known as J.C. Daniels, the director of Vigathakumaran.

The relationships portrayed in the film have been beautifully sketched out such as the love based in friendship shared by J.C. Daniels and his wife Janet (Mamta Mohandas). A strong woman who stands by her husband and remains the factor that keeps them knitted together. Her sisterly treatment of Rosie, ignoring the caste barriers makes for some of the most moving scenes within the film. A scene that stood out for me, for its poignancy, was decking Rosie in the attire of a Nair lady and her amazement at their ‘presumption’ that it was normal to treat her as equal.

A technically sound film, it uses film conventions to create symbolism within the film such as the shadow play on the whitewashed walls that eases with breathing. The narrative of the life continued in a closed carriage.

The film is about idealism, regret, apathy at the sight of continued failure and the slight flicker of hope that stays sometimes like a disease and sometimes like a blessing. It is also about the burning need to tell a story – to find expression.

Over and above, though it is a tribute to the first filmmaker in Malayalam. A technically sound film, its obvious use of technique is in itself a tribute to J.C. Daniels – whose first film in some sense set the base for the future of Malayalam cinema.