Romeo and Juliet has been a staple for Bollywood adaptations, but Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela is by far the most artistically ambitious and evocative rendition of this timeless tale.
Theatre, histrionics, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's unique vision collide with Shakespeare to create a character-rich canvas that traverses the chasm between art house and commercial cinema, and only occasionally trips and falls.
The trigger-happy townsfolk of Ranjaar are caught in the crossfire of warring clans the Rajadis and the Saneras. Ram (Ranveer Singh) and Leela ( Deepika Padukone), the errant offspring of each family, fall instantly in love at the Holi celebration, defying their warring families to embark on a clandestine love affair. Faced with the wrath of their rival families after Ram kills Leela's brother in a fit of rage, the couple decide to elope. Their mantra to "love not hate" goes unheard as they become prey to the machiavellian machinations of their respective kinsman, forcing them to continue the 500-year enmity, forsaking love for family.
Transposed to a rustic Gujarati milieu, Goliyon Ka Raasleela- Ram Leela has all the melodrama, ribaldry and intensity of Shakespeare's tragic tale of star-crossed lovers, in a Bollywood incarnation with just a hint of Baz Luhrmann.
While the film is aesthetically beautiful, and Bhansali's reputation as a master of his craft is beyond question, there is just so much to take in that, despite being steeped in brilliance, it becomes an almost entirely overwhelming experience.
Singh gives his all in a startling display of histrionics far beyond his years. He is delightfully vulgar as the cocksure, cavalier lothario, and yet his vulnerability is indelibly etched in his eyes when tragedy first strikes. Lovelorn, he is stricken to near insanity. It's a performance that is at times exuberant, always impassioned and heralds Singh as an exceptional acting talent.
While Deepika Padukone's star rises with every release, here she seduces the audience as much as she does Ram. A lethal combination of grace, beauty and raw sensuality, her feisty wildcat ways engender an uninhibited performance that is utterly captivating.
If the unbridled, scorching chemistry between Singh and Padukone is the cornerstone for this film, the wry dialogue lies at its heart. Brilliantly capturing the essence of the Bard, the dialogue is smattered with rhyming couplets and witty innuendo, amid flashes of modernity. The balcony scene is beautifully interpreted, honouring the original text, but rendered through the filter of Bhansali's vision, making for a mesmerising moment in the film.
The side-characters and cohorts are well-constructed and Supriya Pathak is exceptional in her chilling portrayal of the Godmother, but her sudden volte-face is one of the jarring missteps of the film, as is the proclivity of the protagonists to forsake love-making for an ill-timed song and dance number. With a plotline that becomes convoluted, the relentless gun-toting is at times exhausting, as the romantic elements that are Bhansali's forte are eclipsed by the descent into violence.
There is nevertheless a satisfying conclusion, and Ram and Leela's final encounter assuages the memory of all the bloodletting that went before.
A riot of colour, dance, music and mayhem, the film is so compelling that you daren't take your eyes off the screen for a second, and yet at moments it's so overwhelming you yearn for some respite.
Ranveer Singh is a revelation, Deepika mesmerises, and the inter-play between the two is where the magic lies.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali's bittersweet tryst with Bollywood and the Bard is nevertheless a cinematic experience to be savoured.