This is the problem with artists. They never tell you a story you want to hear. Their stories are always those THEY want you to see. you hate it , and like burning Raavan in a Raam Leela , you go and condemn them for making a film that wasn’t to your taste….even if the fucking movie is a bloody classic.
Art is a search for relevance. Artists constantly reframe classics for relevance to their peculiar times. If the work works with a contemporary audience, it becomes a pop classic. This film is looking for Pomo relevance in an age where European art is pretty much …copyright expired.
Bhansali makes a film based not only on the Shakespeare classic, but also inspired by both Sirk and fuller. (you gotta see it) for all the guns and the subtext. (men wear the Kuch skirts , women carry guns, often at crotch level) in a way that is Freudian. That’s new. When have I last seen a POMO film with a Freudian subtext ?
Its all even more interesting because the story teller brings all the voices in his head (including a creative reimagining of Satyajit ray’s Devi (the Goddess) to be relevant to the remake of the star crossed lovers theme in a way Indians all over the world can understand and appreciate. Some of us grew up on a diet of Ray Freud and Shakespeare. before the world went all pomo on us.
Bhansali’s search for relevance , therefore, is a reimagining of hum dil de chuke sanam with guns. Love , in this film kills, like a post war existential philosophy given to Godard. and more men kill men in this film in unrequited homosexual passion than I have ever seen in ever. there is more hatred (love) in those surma (eyeliner) lined eyes of men in Kutchi skirts than in every last world war II Samuel fuller film..
Having thus established engagement with fellow man Bhansali then tries to unite his sublimated gay-itude theme with the recent trend to hypermasculainize bollywood films into some form of campy south indian- bihari mass consumption film. Ranveer singh (an iconic performance by him as the jesus-van morrisson-priscillia figure at the center of this Raam Leela ) slips easily between macho southie-camp hero and barechested broadway show Icon. Deepika Pudukone plays his love interest in the film, and is almost never seen doing a love scene without a gun , stretched to her full height , in mock battle with her lover-wrestler.
As Bhansali films go, this is more Won kar wai than Zang yi mou. Gone is the Sanjay Bhansali who , in Devdas used his canvas to paint glorious projection of Bollywood…no..Indian cinema’s greatness.An effort that won him universal disdain in india but ALSO one that took india’s pulp film industry (and sanjay leela bhansali is no pulp film maker) to Cannes, and to Hollywood and beyond, like some shoestring budgeted mars orbiter that dared to dream interplanetary exploration….here, Bhansali is a Patriche Magnifique in his bombed out second world war cafe, with not much more than his irrelevant dreams, weaving stories even more compelling than before, from all that has transpired to kick Indian cinema back into irrelevance in the world…. mostly because everyone is irrelevant these days….specially the quest for relevance.
Ram leela is a compellingly pointless film made by the greatest filmmaker since Fellini. Thank you Sanjay.