Writer-director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (henceforth referred to by the shorter, original title used by most American theaters: Ram-Leela) is a fresh update on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story may be familiar, but Bhansali’s film offers plenty of surprises.
In this rendition, Romeo and Juliet are rechristened Ram Rajadi (Ranveer Singh) and Leela Sanera (Deepika Padukone). The youngest children in their respective warring clans, they want nothing to do with the centuries-long family feud. Ram serves as village peacemaker, defusing situations by distributing pornographic DVDs.
It’s love at first sight when Ram and Leela meet at a party. They are reckless in their courtship, until deaths in both families force them to realize that they will find no peace in town. Even their elopement is foiled by friends intent on perpetuating the feud.
In Bhansali’s version of Romeo and Juliet, the two leads are much older than the original characters, meaning they have more prominent positions in their family. Both Ram and Leela eventually assume leadership roles in their clans, proving the naiveté of their assumption that they could run off and leave their families behind. It makes for an interesting examination of the public aspect of romantic relationships.
Singh and Padukone are an extremely sexy pair. Had Ram-Leela been rated by the MPAA, it would’ve been rated PG-13 or R. Keep that in mind if you’re considering bringing your kids to the theater. Adults in the audience will appreciate the chemistry between the lead couple.
Singh’s Ram is initially more fun than a traditional Romeo, but he loses his spirit as the obstacles to his romance with Leela mount. By the end of the film, he’s mostly glum and passive.
Padukone is sensational as Leela, and the character is especially well-written. Leela evolves from a bratty princess into a force within her family. She’s sexually aggressive, initiating the couple’s first kiss and telling Ram, “I want you.”
In another refreshing update, the female characters are the power players in Ram-Leela. Both Leela’s and Ram’s sisters-in-law (played by Richa Chadda and Barkha Bisht, respectively) influence the destiny of the central romance and the town as a whole. The Sanera clan is led by Leela’s mother, Dhankor (Supriya Patak Kapur), who is ruthless and terrifying.
Like all of Bhansali’s films, Ram-Leela is great looking. Major plot points occur against the backdrops of colorful festivals. The garden at the Sanera palace — the setting for the famous balcony scene — is stunning.
Bhansali also composed the music for the film, and as a result, Ram-Leela features a lot of well-integrated dance numbers. The music and dancing (especially Padukone’s) is very good, and only the movie’s lone item number — starring Priyanka Chopra — feels out-of-place.
I appreciate Bhansali’s decision to re-imagine Romeo and Juliet as an all-out Bollywood spectacle, with sequences ranging from frequent dance breaks to a slow-mo fight scene in which body-slammed victims send up volcanic plumes of dust.
Ram-Leela is great for newcomers to Hindi films. It offers the full Bollywood experience, while presenting a familiar story. The crew responsible for the English subtitles made a smart decision to subtitle the first verse and chorus of each song, but not subsequent verses. It allows those who don’t understand Hindi to get the gist of the song’s subject matter, but then be able to focus on the dancing. This should become an industry standard.