Ram-Leela (2013) #SherylPuthur


Directed By: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Written By: Sanjay Leela Bhansali


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.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwaani (2013) #SherylPuthur


Directed By: Ayan Mukerji

Written By: Ayan Mukerji


Ranbir Kapoor – Kabir “Bunny” Thapar

Deepika Padukone – Naina Talwar

Aditya Roy Kapur – Avinash “Avi” Arora

Kalki Koechlin – Aditi Mehra

Kunaal Roy Kapur – Taran Saxena

Language: Hindi                      Genre: Coming-of-age; Romantic-Comedy

Ayan Mukerji’s next directorial venture Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwaani was announced under Dharma Productions and I was excited – a) it was Ayan Mukerji’s next after Wake Up Sid which I loved b) it had one-time couple Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor as the lead pair. Not that I thought they had a stunning chemistry in Bachna Ae Haseeno that I was dying to see them together rather that I wanted to see how they would deliver their onscreen romance after their rather public parting.

Then the media blitzkrieg started and the promotions (of which I saw a trailer and the song sequence Badtameez Dil) convinced me that the film was going to be a commercial potboiler not out of place in the Karan Johar repertoire and it didn’t disappoint. The film is Wake Up Sid meets Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham minus the excessive melodrama.

The film is very interior like Wake Up Sid and has some brilliant shots. The screenplay is well written and the cinematography is lovely. The film is peppered with songs and Pritam’s music is catchy and soulful – in one word, brilliant. The songs though well shot is like in any other Hindi film a music break. It adds to the story but should Ayan Mukerji have sought to remove it and put a scene, the song sequence wouldn’t have been missed.

The film is commercial and I thought it wouldn’t be able to recreate the magic of Wake Up Sid which did cater for a more niche audience but was nevertheless a mature film. However I enjoyed Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwaani because Ayan Mukerji manages to use clichés and spin something entirely different with it, giving viewers something new through the end.

The characters are well sketched out, resulting in some interesting performances by all involved including secondary characters. Though Dolly Ahluwalia who is in a blink and miss role could have been given more screen time and maybe more time on subplots would have made the film more memorable. All in all, a well cast film with the lead pair displaying wonderful chemistry though performance wise for me Deepika Padukone stood out.

Certain dialogues and scenes in the film just stood out for me, making them very memorable for me – Aditi’s private thoughts communicated to Kabir, Kabir’s conversation with his stepmom, Naina’s talk with Kabir where she changes the wording of his previously defensive statement making the meaning all the more poignant. So go catch the film, it is a light-hearted romance that is both fun and relatable, giving moments of hilarity and soul-searching.

I’ve stayed mum about this but for me the highlight of the film, when it started was seeing Madhuri Dixit….Dancing!

Aiyyaa (2012) #SherylPuthur


Directed By: Sachin Kudalkar

Written By: Sachin Kudalkar


Rani Mukerji – Meenakshi

Prithviraj – Surya

Subodh Bhave – Maadhav

Nirmiti Sawant – Mother

Language: Hindi                                                         Genre: Romantic-Comedy

So I did it. I finally watched Aiyyaa. I had two friends bulldozing me into watching it, for entirely different reasons. One had been pleasantly surprised with the film, developed a new actor crush (Prithviraj) and felt the film was badly marketed and was actually a good film. The other, couldn’t even finish watching the film and wanted me to see it to prove her point that it was utterly crappy.

So I watched it, forget without expectations, instead a certain amount of reluctance to put myself through it. But before I get into how much I did agree with my friends (and which one) I should say that though I thought I was going to expire on the spot with all that melodrama, my attention was piqued and I wanted to know what the film was about and what could prompt two respected Indian actors to do a film written definitely under the influence of some highly illegal substance (incidentally there are frequent references to illegal substances).

While the 80s-90s melodrama within the film took a toll on my sensibilities and I felt most parts of the movie could be divided into hoot-worthy and cringe-worthy, there was something about the film that got me through it and set me thinking.

Then it hit me. It’s about living in a world of dreams and finding fulfilment in it. And how real life is so different and people are not what we assume them to be. Love is as much a product of imagination as it is of emotions. It also reminded me of the Norwegian film Turn Me On, Dammit! While that was the story of a teenage girl’s sexual awakening and hence was far open in expressions of sexuality, Aiyyaa was peppered with sexual innuendoes (one that stands very vividly in my mind is the petrol bunk sequence). Meenakshi (Rani Mukerji) is an inexperienced girl who’s only recourse to fulfilment (read: sexual, psychological, emotional…) is through films and playing out her favourite actors, in that perfect world she finds an escape from her drab life. Surya (Prithviraj) balances out the drama by playing the understated intense artist who is unapproachable, and very masculine.

The feminine and masculine is in fact played out variously within the film through all the couples and make for an interesting reading into gender roles. Each couple is an exercise into understanding romance through different lenses. The understated Chasme Budoor romance, the Mills and Boon storyline, an S&M relationship….

It’s definitely a badly marketed film. The hilarious and cheesy Dreamum Wakeuppam song coupled with dialogue promo – Mujhe gore log nahi kale log pasand hai (I don’t like white-skinned people but prefer dark-skinned people) made the film out to be a south bashing exercise and left many trailer viewers disgruntled. It resulted in a lot of flak for Prithviraj, a south star who according to them dared do such an insulting film. I rather see it as a sign of his self-deprecating humour. And the film isn’t really anti-south and I actually liked the song – eye-popping costumes, sexplicit lyrics and all. And kudos to Rani Mukerji for picking up Tamil lines for her role.

So the film can be a satire on the marriage market, on gender roles, on deceptive appearances, and in it’s over the top melodrama, a satire on films. It is most of all a film that doesn’t take itself seriously and seems to play on the ‘is this reality or a dream’ logic (there is in fact a dialogue about that – very Brechtian).  A onetime watch (maybe), funny innuendo filled songs, catchy tunes, good choreography (Aga Bai) and yes, I loved the background music that plays when she’s thinking/in pursuit/dreaming of him. All in all, a garish and interesting surprise.