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Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela
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by Jay Seaver

"West Side (of India) Story."
4 stars

The last time I wrote a review of an Indian movie, I got comments saying not to compare it to something else and to just enjoy it for what it is. That's actually good advice in general, although that's not going to happen here - the opening titles say flat out that "Goliyong Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela" is based on "Romeo and Juliet". But while its origins may be familiar, the story does go off in some interesting directions and the style is certainly pure Bollywood.

The action is transplanted to Ranjaar, a town in present-day Gujarat. The Sanada and Rajadi families have been feuding for five hundred years, with guns worn openly and brawls breaking out on a daily basis. Ram (Ranveer Singh), one of the Rajadi chief's sons, has just returned after being sent away as a child and wants no part of it, preferring to quietly run his adult video store and make love as opposed to war as often as possible. He and his friends sneak into the Sanada household during their Holi celebration, and that's where he meets Leela (Deepika Padukone), the impetuous daughter of a fearsome matriarch (Supriya Pathak). Leela's mother has arranged a marriage to a London milquetoast, but that stands no chance against this whirlwind romance. On the other hand, Ram's and Leela's defiance is the sort of thing that can make an already ugly situation explode.

For as beautifully tragic as the end of Romeo and Juliet is, it's also a bit of a silly bit of plotting, with plot-device catalepsy and suicides as the result of farcical misunderstandings. One of the interesting things writer/director Sanjay Leela Bhansali does with Ram-Leela is to compact much of the original story's plot into the first half of the movie, with the final hour or so exploring whether the star-crossed lovers making their escape would have led to a happily ever after (obviously not, as there's almost half a movie to fill). It's an idea maybe better in concept than reality; for as frantically as the action escalates, Bhansali and co-writers Siddarth & Garima often find themselves tripping over not just how their story splits Ram and Leela apart without giving either a co-star as good as each other, but how for the title characters are emotional and impulsive, they aren't stupid, even when the story requires foolishness. On the other hand, it does put a bit of a charge into the final few scenes - even when it looks like they're barreling toward an inevitable end, that Bhansali and company had flipped things around earlier keeps what's coming up in the air.

Bhansali, Siddarth, and Garima didn't just write the screenplay, but are credited on the songs as well. They're good, catchy tunes, and there seem to be more of them than in other recent Bollywood movies I've seen. They don't necessarily do a lot of direct storytelling - nothing seems missing even though the subtitles tended to disappear pretty quickly - but they do a great job of establishing character and emotion, especially in the first half. The numbers that introduce Ram and Leela do a great job of establishing who they are quickly, without a lot of discussion; even if they're big and flashy, they're songs with a purpose, not just there because the audience expects songs in that spot.

Those songs which introduce Ram and Leela are a good indication of how good Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone are going to be. Singh is kind of hammy at times, but makes for a charming romantic lead. Deepika Padukone is pretty great; it's easy to see why she's one of Bollywood's fastest-rising stars; she's just as genuinely funny as she is pretty, able to make the playful girl of the first half and the determined woman of the second as different sides of the same headstrong character. A lot of the other characters blur together somewhat, but Supriya Pathak certainly stands out as "Baa" Dhankor, a domineering mother of a crime boss.

The nice cast is set amidst a gorgeous movie - Bhansali sets the movie during a series of festivals and special events, from Holi to wedding preparations to Ramlila (the film's original title of "Ram-Leela" was changed at the last minute to avoid confusion and offense), with the end result being a riot of color. It's beautifully set-up and shot; Bhansali and cinematographer S. Ravi Varman do a really exemplary job of creating and using space on screen.

Put it together, and you don't get the best take on "Romeo and Juliet" ever made. Heck, maybe not even the best contemporary version with the Montagues and Capulets replaced by rival gangs. But it's certainly a feast for the senses tied to a well-proven story, and even when Bhansali and company veer from the template, it's almost always in an interesting way.

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originally posted: 11/20/13 15:12:42
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User Comments

8/07/19 Nazmus Sakib Excellent 5 stars
3/19/14 Foeemngd Irish stockbroker Merrion Stockbrokers analyst said the government -- the restrictions that 5 stars
11/27/13 Prateek Gosawi There was no need of filming so many downmarket smooching scenes. 4 stars
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