Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh's Raam Leela And Alia Bhatt-Randeep Hooda's Highway: Lockdown Blues-Chasers Part 33

Soak in gge grandeur of Ram Leela and get immersed in the highs of Highway to chase away your Lockdown Blues. Presenting Part 33 of Lockdown Blues-Chasers.

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Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh's Raam Leela And Alia Bhatt-Randeep Hooda's Highway: Lockdown Blues-Chasers Part 33
Goliyon Ki Raasleela Raam-Leela(2013):   Bhansali is Bhansali. His visual imagery in all his earlier films from Khamoshi: The Musical to Guzaarish is comparable with the best art from any field of aesthetics.You could say Bhansali’s cinema is the visual equivalent of Lata Mangeshkar’s singing.And you wouldn’t be wrong.

In terms of its free-flowing unmeasured operatic opulence Ram Leela(with or without the censorial pre-fix) comes closest to the  giddy high-pitched and yet miraculously controlled tempo and tenor of Bhansali’s Devdas. That too was a steeply sensuous cinematic adaptation from a literary source. Ram Leela goes to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and comes away with a marvel of a tale of love-at-first-sight.Bhansali  tilts his hat to mythology, folkore and the culture of  community clashes with a blend of spontaneity and brilliance that comes naturally to only this filmmaker, and no one else.

 Bhansali’s visuals remain as stunning and poetic as they were when he made his directorial debut . What he does to Shakespeare’s tumultuous saga of  sudden love between scions of two warring families is beyond the imagination of all other living filmmakers  of this country. The rigorous reworking of the Shakespearean classic required a certain sense of recklessness . Earlier this year we saw some of the same creative recklessness in two other Bollywood adaptations of Romeo & Juliet, namely Aanand Rai’s Raanjhanaa and Manish Tiwary’s Issaq.

 But Bhansali is Bhansali...Every image, every frame tells a story.Every shot in this brilliant film has a place in his cosmos. You won’t be left wondering for even a split second why you saw what you just did.

It’s all a part of a grand design.And yet so overflowing with an unrehearsed warmth and vivacity, so brimming with spontaneous joie de vivre, and celebration , you wonder if Shakespeare’s play was written for this day when Bhansali’s deconstruction of the material would give to us characters who are many many sizes larger than life.

 Yup, size matters. And in the case of Ram Leela you can say that with a wink. Bhansali’s Romeo and Juliet are unabashedly sexual in the body and verbal language. None of that traditional coyness and hesitation that characterizes traditional courtship when Ram and Leela discuss one another’s  vital statistics. He runs a porn video parlour. She comes from a family of gun-wielding criminals helmed by a steely matriarch(Supriya Pathak, brilliant). He comments on her ‘136 inch’ chest,she talks about his,er, trigger.They are in love and they know lust is an integral component of their relationship.

No two lovers derived from a classic romance have celebrated their mutual sexual desires so frankly and fearlessly.

 Gosh, these two are Romeo and Juliet on steroids! And this is as good a place as any to tell you that no other two actors could have done to Bhansali’s Romeo/Ram and Juliet-Leela what Ranveer and Deepika have done. They don’t play the two characters. The couple owns their characters. From the moment he spots her at a Holi bash, unholy thoughts begin to cross randy Ram’s mind. Ranveer plays Ram as a horny son-of-a-gun....and you can take that literally since there are more gun’s in Bhansali’s colourful Gujarati town than there were in Anurag Kashyap’s Wasseypur.

As for Deepika Padukone...if Shakespeare was alive(and in many ways this film does bring him  back to life) he would have penned a full-blooded sonnet on Deepika’s beauty and grace. When she expresses anger she is molten lava and when she dances she is the epitome of feline grace. If 2013 is the year of the bewilderingly beautiful Padukone then Ram Leela is her piece de resistance, and one that  impels a standing ovation for the actress and her director.Yup, she can show this one to her grandchildren with pride of ownership.

So much has been said about Bhansali’s visual sense. But not enough. The way he composes the shots to convey the passionate desperation of lovers who know they’re running out of time is a subject that textbooks can be written about.With a magician’s dexterity Bhansali weaves the characters into frames  with seamless splendour magically making space for the passionate and the tender.

In his quest for the most visually invigorating shots the director is here assisted amply by his cinematographer Ravi Varman.Varman, let me state, uses the camera like Ustad Amjad Ali Khan uses the Sarod. It’s an instrument to converse with divinity. Wasiq Khan’s art work too unfurls a  spiralling tapestry of kaleidoscopic colours that find a place in the hectic frames without jostling or crowding the canvas.

   Of the innumerable  imperishable images that emerge from Ram Leela’s tumultuous tale of overnight passion , elopement, estrangement and reunion, I’d single out two.The first shows Barkha Bisht as Ranveer’s widowed sister-im-law running away from a gang of  attackers. As she runs through the rugged hinterland her brass vessel tumbles down-slope with her.

The sequence, caught in a desperately dying light , is probably the most vivid image of impending doom I’ve seen in any recent film.

 The other unforgettable image features Deepika, her hand bloodied after an injury,lying on the wet ground in a streak of blood. It reminded me of Aishwarya Rai’s slashed wrist creating a pond of blood with her hand in Bhansali’s Hum...Dil De Chuke Sanan.

 Fire and blood are never far away from Bhansali’s vision.Though there is plenty of bloodied images in Ram Leela, the fire this time rages in the eyes of the characters.

 Ram Leela’s visual poetry is so eloquent you wonder at times if the filmmaker is a closet-painter. A closet-musician, Bhansali certainly is. His self-composed songs assisted my Monty Sharma’s evocative background score perfectly  capture the film’s impetuous mood .

The actors do the rest.Every performer surrenders to the tempestuous saga . While Supriya Pathak leads the supporting cast with a steallar performance, Richa Chadha , Abhimanyu Singh, Gulshan Devaiah and Sharad Kelkar are the portrait of pitch-perfect emoting.

Really, you’ve never seen anything quite like this before. Exhilarating,tumultuous, passionate, flamboyant, fluent and  quite simply fabulous....Sanjay Bhansali’s Gujju take on Romeo & Juliet would have surely made Shakespeare giddy wth joy. Brimming with exuberance and energy Ram Leela’s exalted aesthetics  and powerhouse narration once again prove Bhansali to be an incomparable storyteller. As for the Ranveer-Deepika pair, I finally know what on-screen chemistry means.Their frankly erotic togetherness is comparable with Raj Kapoor and Nargis  in Awara.

 Are they really in love? Who cares! Their on-screen collaboration would far out-distance anything that they would share together or apart in  real life.

Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela (phew!)is the most vital romantic musical in the last five years. To experience it is to serenade the divine. To miss it would be a  crime.

Highway(2013):  Being in the world that this enchanting film inhabits is like being in state of a waking dream. The world is flawed—fatally flawed. But it’s also beautiful in spite of the deep flaws, or maybe because of them?

Imtiaz Ali’s new intriguing work takes us into the heartland of India, much in the same way that Jab We Met and to a lesser extent Rockstar, did. Yup, Imtiaz loves his India. With all its gigantic contradictions, anomalies and aberrations.

And Veera the arresting protagonist of Highway is an anomaly herself. A misfit , akin to the one that Parineeti Chopra played so aptly two weeks ago in Hasee Toh Phasee. Alia’s performs nails Veera with a persuasiveness that belies her 2-film old history. Veera is a girl ridden with complexities and contradictions.Wealthy and spoilt,in a superbly staged highway drama, she is kidnapped on the eve of her wedding by a hood played with his habitual clenched intensity by Hooda.

 The rest of the narrative is pretty much in character with what we expect in a film that constructs its wistful fable out of the harsh reality of the ailment known as the Stockholm Syndrome. Going by the book of ‘How To Fall In Love With Your Kidnapper’ Veera promptly falls for her scowling kidnapper whose associates(played effectively) conveniently fall off the plot’s radar to leave the lovers alone.

 Whether Veera genuinely feels a love or whether that love is born out of defiant rejection of the life of luxury and affluence, we will never know.As played majestically by Alia Bhatt, Veera appears to be a bundle of snarled contradictions, some compelling ,others purely annoying.At times we feel she is doing what she doing and behaving in that gratingly headstrong manner only to get even with the life that she wants to leave behind.

     Highway is riddled with ironies, not necessarily intentional. Veera falls in love with Mahabir’s angst-laden past but is aware she has no future ahead with him. So the tragic  ending, when it comes,is no surprise. A responsible director can’t be accused of glorifying a life of crime . Hence in the end the entire premise of  the love story, constructed with painstaking intensity, falls apart all of a sudden, leaving us with a sense of emptied-out expectations.

 But the journey, while it lasts, is exhilarating even inspiring. No Bollywood filmmaker shoots the Indian heartland with the aesthetic affection of Imtiaz Ali.On this occasion  he has cinematographer Anil Mehta to capture the sand and the snow, the angst and the ecstasy in enrapturing welters.Mehta is the magician behind the film’s textured feel.

 Many passages in this voyage through North India are sheer poetry.Alia shoots the breeze and embraces the outdoors with a greedy grandiosity that belies her greenhorn status in Indian cinema. Is she really just two films old? No other actress could have played Veera with such infectious passion. Alia breathes fire and life into every moment of her screen time.Luckily she is there almost across the entire length and breadth of the narrative imbuing the canvas with tender glory and slender strength.

 A lot of the film’s blemishes—for example, the predictability of the plot and the rather strained attempts to introduce an element of  grim social realism—are covered up by the sheer spontaneity of the main performance. Matching Alia’s fearless portrayal is the director who steals up into her darkest secrets and then allows the character to smell  the air freedom in a world where the stench of decadence is a given.You can’t escape corruption and violation except when thrown together with someone who is as violated as you are. This is what Veera’s tale of road romance seems to say.

 In some vital ways Highway resembles Gyan Correa’s Gujarati masterpiece The Good Road.One sequence where the kidnap victim helps her kidnappers to escape detection by the police at a check-point on the highway is almost inter-changeable in the two films. In Correa’s film you could empathize with the child protagonist’s growing attachment to the truckers. In Highway it’s really hard to be one with the wayward Veera’s heart.

On many occasions I found myself  going along with Veera’s wildly romantic notions of freedom merely because Alia Bhatt infuses such a heartwarming earnestness into the character.

Randeep Hooda is in fine, if somewhat typecast, shape. Though his accent distracted from his performance the character’s pain made itself apparent through its mawkish mother-fixated past-history.

 It’s tough if not impossible to make a politically correct film about a rich girl falling in love with her kidnapper. To a very large extent Highway manages to travel a credible road, letting the sleeping dogs lie by simply believing in Veera’s truth(for whatever it may be worth).

Admirably, Imtiaz Ali is not afraid of silences. The sound design by Resul Pookutty is rich in the sounds of Nature.The bubble of the brook, the chirp of a bird , the groan of a tired soul and breaking of  a heart....are all tangible . Special mention must be made of the  texture of incidental noises on the soundtrack and the quality of the folk songs that play in the background as Veera and her kidnapper traverse a spectrum of cultures in search of ....what??? We really don’t know!

 At the end we are left with a deeply dissatisfying film whose very incompleteness lends a sense of beauty  to the narrative.Highway is a sprawling stretch of splendour, created by a  director who shoots every frame in a painter’s vein.Layered,luminous and  evocative this is a world that M.F Hussain would have created if he were a filmmaker.

   Is this really a film ? Or is it a poem that spills out metres of magnificence in  a road journey where you measure life’s worth not in years but in kilometers.

Image source: IMDb