The lovers in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Ram Leela” are a bundle of contradictions. They speak of posting pictures on Twitter in the same breath as they speak of murder, blood and age-old rivalries. They have the mindset of urban Indian youth while living in Gujarat’s remote Kutch region in an environment where hate festers, people don’t think twice about shooting at a child and the rule of law doesn’t stand a chance. Meeting these people in the real world would be next to impossible.
Yet, they seem to fit right into the make-believe world built by Bhansali. There are gardens with peacocks flitting about, palatial houses, and breathtakingly beautiful costumes. Every scene, every song, every frame is lit up, awash with the inherent drama the film-maker brings to his projects when he’s at his best.
In “Ram Leela”, you might see snatches of “Devdas” and “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”, but this not a demure love story by any means. Unlike Bhansali’s earlier films, where love had spiritual tones, and was equated with sacrifice, this one is all physical and in the moment. Ram and Leela cannot keep their hands off each other, and the fact that they belong to feuding families seems to heighten their passion.
Set in a village that is home to rival clans, “Ram Leela” unfolds much like the layers of the embroidered skirts worn by the women in the film. Bhansali paints each frame painstakingly, filling it with just enough colours for it to look alive, but never garish. Ram (played by Ranveer Singh) is carefree and a flirt, and Leela (played by Deepika Padukone) is feisty and fearless. They fall in love, but know that their families would never permit it, especially after an incident that sharpens the rivalry. An attempt to elope fails, and the two lovers are kept apart by their families.
Leela’s mother, a ruthless matriarch (played brilliantly by Supriya Pathak) wants to get her daughter married, but Leela refuses, saying she is already married to Ram. But her lover is mired in the politics of his clan and seems unable to break out of it. At this point, the plot falters. There are too many incidents crammed into the second half, and it drags on. The misunderstandings between Ram and Leela seem contrived, and their motives are ambiguous at several points in the film.