1 Star (out of 4)
This is a review of the Hindi version of Adipurush streaming on Netflix.
Adipurush reaches for the stars and falls well short, resulting in a film that looks bad and feels slow.
I acknowledge that I am not the target audience for Adipurush. The film opens with an onscreen note explaining that it is a devotional work, with the Hindu faithful as the presumptive audience for this retelling of a portion of the epic Ramayana. I’m familiar with the tale of Sita’s abduction by Ravana and her rescue by Rama, but the version presented in Adipurush is told somewhat out of sequence, with the assumption that everyone watching already knows all the details about this story, as well as Hindu cosmology more generally. Also, all of the characters go by aliases in the film.
That said, my issues with Adipurush have to do with the film’s execution, and not a misunderstanding of the material.
Prabhas plays Raghava, a prince who lives in the jungle in exile with his wife Janaki (Kriti Sanon) and his brother Shesh (Sunny Singh). The demoness Shurpanakha (Tejaswini Pandit) is enamored of Raghava, but he spurns her. She returns to the kingdom of Lanka and convinces her brother Lankesh (Saif Ali Khan) — king of the demons and a giant with many heads — to kidnap Janaki. Lankesh succeeds through trickery, forcing Raghava to seek aid from a race of forest-dwelling ape-men called the Vanara in order to get Janaki back.
Stylistically, Adipurush is a mashup of Lord of the Rings, Baahubali, and the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy. Lanka and its castle look like Sauron’s fortress in Mordor, complete with trolls manning the gates. Fanciful elements like a swan boat call back to Baahubali. The Vanara look like they could be Caesar’s long-lost cousins.
But Adipurush doesn’t come close to matching the quality of the movies that serve as its inspiration. Writer-director Om Raut tries to execute his vision on such a grand scale that the visual effects can’t keep up. Instead of having dozens of creepy bats or specters that look cool, he opts for hundreds of bats and specters that look bad. Rather than ask his VFX team to animate hundreds of ape warriors with enough texture to look believable, he has them animate tens of thousands that look like low-budget cartoons.
The onscreen human actors don’t feel as though they are operating within a real physical environment, and practical effects are rarely used. There’s some kind of filter or post-production treatment done to Prabhas’s face that makes him look like a cartoon. It’s distracting because none of the other human actors are given such treatment (though it would be hard to tell with Shesh because Singh uses only one facial expression throughout the entire film).
Visual shortcomings might be overlooked if the story was told at a fast pace, but Raut loves slow motion. The characters often move in slow motion, giving the audience plenty of time to linger on the subpar visuals while being bored stiff. This pacing hinders what Prabhas can do with his performance. Same goes for Sanon, to a lesser degree. She does get a few good scenes with Khan, who takes advantage of the chance to play a larger-than-life villain and seems to enjoy himself.
Given that Adipurush presently ranks as one of the most expensive Indian movies of all time, the quality of the finished product is underwhelming. In order to execute his vision given whatever constraints he was working under, Raut would have been more successful making an animated movie. Better that than a live-action film that looks cartoonish.
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