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Om Raut does to Ramayan, what Ekta Kapoor did to Mahabharat – Beyond Bollywood

Director Om Raut, T-Series’ much hyped, audacious 3D, live-action adaptation of the ancient Hindu epic is a disaster of epic proportions. Prabhas, Kriti Sanon, Devdatta G Nage, Saif Ali Khan fail to do justice to their legendary characters.

Rating: ⭐️ (1 / 5 )

By Mayur Lookhar

How do you review a mythological film today, when the word mythology itself is deemed disrespectful to the Gods. We can no longer call them as legends. From the time its teaser dropped, no Indian film has perhaps undergone so much scrutiny as Adipurush [2023]. The early heavy criticism saw producers T-Series, co-producers Retrophiles delay the film by a good five months. The trailer appeared better than the teaser, but doubts remained over the film.

Unfortunately, such is the impact of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan (1987 TV series) that Adipurush could never escape the comparisons. A gigantic hit in its times, Sagar’s Ramayan still had his odd, mostly urban critics who weren’t moved by the action. What the late Sagar had at his disposal were strong leads, artistes who had a fine grasp of the requisite language. Sanskrit was the language of the Treta Yuga, but Sagar’s actors convinced with their Sanskritised Hindi, intense body language.

For Hindi audiences, Sagar’s Ramayan became a cult representation of Lord Rama and his inspiring story. Many of us are still oblivious to other adaptations of the Hindu epic, especially in Southern India, where a moustache holds a cultural significance. A Prabhas playing Lord Ram in a moustache is essential for South Indian audiences, but Hindi-speaking viewers have long worshipped a clean-shaven Lord Ram.

How did the real Lord Ram look? 19th century painter Raja Ravi Varma gained fame for his oleographs on Hindu gods. Until then, Hindus perhaps had a different facial identity to their deities. Truth be told, no one really knows how the gods really looked? Varma’s works too is perhaps based on interpretations. Saint Valmiki wrote Ramayana, approximately around 200 B.C.E . Years later, Saint Tulsidas improvised it. Since then, there is said to be around 300 interpretations. So, a filmmaker is then entitled to have his own interpretation.

Unfortunately, when it comes to faith, sentiments of crores of devotees ought to be respected. The biggest challenge though for director Om Raut, dialogue writer-lyricist Manoj Muntashir is the language. Near 600 years of invasion, followed by six decades of secular rule. English is the business language in big metros. Has new India come too far down the road to reconnect with its ancient Vedic roots? Bollywood filmmakers, stars are perhaps more proficient in English. Is it a risk then to tell religious/ epic tales in their traditional format? The smart filmmakers tends to use the ethos of these epic in a contemporary setting.

Sanskrit is out of question, but majority citizens can’t quite claim to be connoisseurs of Hindi, which is naturally an Achilles Heel for the Telugu-speaking Prabhas. Adipurush is simultaneously shot in Telugu but it is primarily a Hindi film. Do we get to listen the Sanskritised Hindi in Adipurush? We’re afraid the answer is no. What we have here can best be described as Bollywoodised version of Ramayan.

Om Raut’s Ram rather Raghava [Prabhas] barely speaks. His Sita Maa rather Janaki [Kriti Sanon] sounds like a contemporary Bollywood heroine. His Hanuman, sorry Bajrang [Devdatta G. Nage] is the most curious of the lot. In his first dialogue, the tone is Suniel Shetty-like. Thereafter, it acquires Salman Khan-like flavour. Soon one is stunned with Bajrang’s language that is more befitting of a Mumbai ruffian than Lord Hanuman. The conversation between Ravan’s son Indrajeet and Hanuman before Lanka dahan will leave you stunned.

Indrajeet lights up Bajrang’s tail and then blurts, “Jali na? Jiski jalti hai, usko pata hai“. If that wasn’t shocking then wait till you hear Bajrang saying, “Kapda, tel tere baap ka, Aag bhi tere baap ki, toh jalegi toh tere hi baap ki.” When he comes back to report to Raghava, Bajrang proudly says, “Lanka laga dey“. Whoa, now that is some swag, tone by an ancient deity. It is too embarrassing to even translate the above sentences into English. It’s fine to leave the first seat empty for Lord Hanuman in theatres, but Om Raut’s representaiton of the much revered deity is utterly shocking.

Following the negative response to the teaser last October, T-Series, Om Raut showed a 3D trailer to many journalists in Mumbai. During the informal chat, we sensed a certain anger in Raut. “This is my film. I’m free to interpret it in my way. Tu troll tere ko kya?” Raut said something like this. The last words, and the tone, phew is someone being cocky? Does Bajrang’s Mumbai ruffian tone emanates from the director?

Among other things, Raut told us that the reason behind naming his three leading protagonists as Raghava [Ram, the descendent of Raghu], Janaki [Sita, daughter of King Janak], and Bajrang [Hanuman] was that you don’t address the God/Goddesses by their name. But can there be a Ramayan adaptation without hearing the pious names of Rama, Sita and Hanuman?

Today after the press show, we felt that maybe Om Raut’s Ram is such a maryada purushottam that he chose to leave behind even his royal name to honour the 14-year vanvas [forest stay] as ordered by his father. So, it’s fine to have a Raghav and Janaki but Hanuman had no such forest sentence.

Well, that’s the protagonists, but what about the antagonist Ravan? Lankesh is perhaps ruler of Lanka. Born as Dasagriva, he would overthrow his brother Kuber to take control of Lanka. The Islamic-style beard made many see red. Some VFX has enabled to trim the beard slightly, and also the spike hair,. but the color, costume, limping (Langda Ravan Tyagi?), feeding red meat to his enormous bat, and the general dark atmosphere in this Ravan’s [Saif Ali Khan] Lanka makes you question the motive behind Om Raut’s interpretation of the demon king?

Ravan’s ten heads symbolised the qualities [good and bad] that he possessed – Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Moha (delusion), Lobha (greed), Mada (pride), Maatsarya (envy), Buddhi (intellect), Manas (mind), Chitta (will) and Ahamkara (ego). The usual visual representation is that of a man with five heads to the left of the main head, and four to its right. Some swap the four and five. Raut’s Ravan has five heads on top and four complimenting the main head. Maybe such an arrangement comes with less headache, and easy on the shoulder. It didn’t make for great visual though.

The one eye catching thing about Ravan is his faith in Lord Shiva. After gaining the divine boons, the man isn’t afraid to equate himself with the God. ‘Yeh Tu Ki Main Hoon, Yeh Main Hoon Ki Tu, Kahaan Koyi Antar, Shivoham Shivoham‘. Ah such vanity. Then comes the critical moment before the final battle, Lankesh prays for his victory but is fine even if he loses as he would get to meet Lord Shiva. Legend has it that Ravan was cursed by the vanquished king Anarmay that he would be killed by a man of his lineage. The cocky Ravan didn’t flinch, in stead, he looked forward to be killed by Vishnu’s avatar [Ram], attain moksh [salvation] and be relieved of his demon form.

Though intriguing in his devotion, Saif Ali Khan largely disappoints as Lankesh. So does every male in his kingdom. They all wear black. and if we recall well, the Lankan women are largely dressed in white. The fancy hairdo, black costume, stylised beard makes Siddhant Kiran Karnick, Vatshal Sheth look like characters from Ekta Kapoor’s Mahabharat than Ramayan’s Vibhishan and Indrajeet, respectively. The popular Kumbhkaran character is grossly underutilised and demonised.

Sonal Chauhan as Mandodari, Tejaswini Pandit as Shurpanakha, have guest appearances. One look at the former and you wonder why pick her to play Mandodari and not Sita? Chauhan and Pandit have too small a role but they are fairly efficient. Veteran actor Asha Sharma looks fine as the lowborn Shabri, who offers fruits to Raghava. Though just a dialogue or two, the lady who plays Vibhishan’s wife Sarama is perhaps the most confident female artiste in the film.

We’ve spoken about Lanka but what about Raghava’s vanar army? Technology helps to give a fairly realistic portrayal, but they lack soul and are poorly voiced.

That Raghava, Janaki and Sesh find a late mention in this review is testitomy to the impact, rather the lack of it, from Prabhas, Kriti Sanon and Sunny Singh. Honestly, despite the gigantic success of Bahubali franchise, we always felt that Prabhas was the weakest link in the S.S. Rajamouli blockbusters. We haven’t seen any of his Telugu works, nor do we qualify to comment on it, but the subsequent dubs in Saaho [2019] and Radhey Shyam [2022] vindicates our view about Prabhas.

It’s not the moustache, but the lack of serious intensity, passion that disappoints. Kriti Sanon may have spotted the righteousness of Lord Ram in Prabhas’ eyes. That might be more in personal capacity, but the man simply hasn’t turned up in Adipurush. There’s this general lethargy to his face, poor body language and not an iota of intensity from Prabhas. Damn it, the guy can’t even run properly. Maybe Om Raut realised early that he has an uphill task and so we get to see a restrained Raghava. Poor Sharad Kelkar (voice over), too, has to bear the brunt of Prabhas’ shallow show. It is unwise to write off anyone, but only a brave man in Bollywood will consider picking Prabhas after his disastrous effort in Adipurush.

Kriti Sanon showed .promise in Panipat [2019], the historical drama helmed by Ashutosh Gowariker. We had watched The Legend of Hanuman – Disney + Hotstar’s acclaimed animated series. We saw shades of Kriti Sanon in their animated Sita. Adipurush wasn’t even announced then. We felt if anyone decides to make Ramayan, then Sanon could be an apt choice to play Sita.

Sadly, we are forced to backtrack from our observation after watching Adipurush. Janaki’s tone is so contemporary. She does show a steely resolve but the dialogue delivery, and the intensity is average. For all the rumoured Prabhas-Kriti affair, there is zero on-screen chemistry. In a film about Ramayan, you blunder with Ram and Sita’s casting and there is simply no coming back from here.

Om Raut erred in his choice of Ram, Sita, Hanuman, Raavan. How could he get his Sesh [Lakshman] right in Sunny Singh. Sesh uses the word fisaddi [laggard] to berate Ravan’s men. That one word describes Sunny Singh in Adipurush.

His principal protagonists/ antagonists all disappoint. The lone ray of hope could have been the special effects. Prasad Vasant Sutar was a founding partner in Ajay Devgn’s NY VFXWAALA. He’s since become a director in Rajesh Nair’s Retrophiles. Om Raut is listed as one of the the directors too. After the poor response to the teaser, Ajay Devgn’s NY VFXWAALA had to clarify that they didn’t do the VFX for Adipurush.

Given the many versions of Ramayana, it is natural to expect certain omissions in the film. However, what creativity, freshness has Om Raut brought to Adiprush? Whether it was the 2D or the 3D trailer, we were always jittery about the visual effects. No we’re not talking of the leather ware. The designers clearly struggled to hide that too. But there is hardly any innovative visual creativity on display. Bulk of the film has a dark hue to it. The shoddy VFX all the more made for a poor visual experience. It’s fine to show a Lanka in a dark background, but the few daylight moments featuring Raghava, Janaki look more like color grading in Rohit Shetty films. Ravana’s gigantic bat looks fine in 3D, but the dementor-like figures in the opening scene, and later Lanka’s imported Orc bodyguards are poor inspirations. The sea God creation and the big bat are fine, but the rest of the VFX are pretty pedestrian.

Phew, where does Adipurush then redeem itself? Honestly, it’s a tough task. Ramanand Sagar didn’t tinker much with the devotional Ram Chaupai. He was blessed to have singers like Ravindra Jain, Mahendra Kapoor. Om Raut has Sonu Nigam, Shreya Ghoshal, Sukhwinder Singh, Arijit Singh. The millenial singers are let down by Ajay-Atul, Sachet-Parampara’s average music, but more importantly by Manoj Muntashir’s average Hindi lyrics. Muntashir’s penned few good songs before, but with all due respect, he is no Irshad Kamil, Amitabh Bhattacharya or Anvita Dutt.

Muntashir is also the dialogue writer. As a strong advocate of Sanathan dharma, the Uttar Pradeshi Muntashir can’t get rid of the Urdu poet in him. It’s not the Urdu words but the average dialogues that hurts Adipurush the most. Was he hampered by his actors inability to speak in Sanskritised Hindi? Also, we’d been ken to know how did Muntashir, Om Raut call their film Adipurush? Based on our limited knowledge, the first man (Adipurush) as per Hinduism was Manu.

Duration is never an issue for an epic tale like Ramayana. Phew, but such poor writing, uninspiring performances, average music made it an an exhausting 179 minutes for us. Thank goodness, Indian cinemas have an interval. No joke, but this reviewer/devotee was briefly reduced to tears during the first half seeing how the revered Hindu deities, and the epic, was playing out. We hoped for a better second half but hope often ends in disappointment. Om Raut has done to Ramayan, what Ekta Kapoor did to Mahabharat. May the box-office Gods show mercy on team Adipurush.

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