Thursday, March 27, 2014

Queen — Queen of Hearts


Early in Queen, Mrs. Dhingra when meeting Rani for the first time says to her, "Haaye kitni sweet hai." And then she says to her son, Vijay, "Tu mithai kha, hum gol gappe khate hai." Later, when the Italian restaurateur compliments her for making sumptuous gol gappas, he says, "Spicy but delicious." That was the entire purpose of the movie Queen — the transformation of Rani from being 'sweet' to 'spicy but delicious.' Again, it is no coincidence that both the scenes had a gol gappa reference. It is these wonderful details that make Queen a terrific film. It also helps that Kangana Ranaut who plays Rani gives one of her career best performances in the film. She is perfect as Queen and brings her own interpretation to Rani. Perhaps that explains why she was credited with additional dialogue in the opening credits.  

Queen is the story of Rani — a middle class girl who is about to get married in a day — and she is jilted by her fiancĂ© one day before their wedding. Heartbroken, she decides to go on her honeymoon all alone to Paris and Amsterdam. It is there when is she on her own for the first time in her life, she comes of age and learns to let go of her past and live her life. She makes friends who bring a change in her. She realizes that love is not the only thing in life and that she deserves much better. Queen is her journey towards empowerment and emancipation. It is one of the finest coming of age films that I have seen since Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and English Vinglish. What makes Queen a much different film from the typical coming of age films is that Rani does not require love to find herself. Aditya in Jab We Met found his passion for music through Geet. Rahul in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu needed Rianna to tell him that it is a great quality to be 'perfectly average.' Sid in Wake Up Sid needed Aisha to wake him up from his immature slumber. Arjun in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara needed Laila to slow him down and help him visualize that a parallel universe exists not only physically underneath the ocean but also metaphorically where people see the stars at night. In Queen, Rani finds life on her own — through observation, through courage, through experience, through guts — without losing her original charm and she has friends who help her do that. Love is not a necessary ingredient for her to find life. That's what makes Queen different. There are other coming of age films where someone finds life not through love. But they are few that I can recollect. Lakshya and Udaan seem to be on the top of that list.

One of the criticisms for English Vinglish was that it was not really a story of female empowerment as Shashi was already an empowered individual. She was an entrepreneur who made delicious laddoos. Just that she did not know English, she felt disrespected and powerless. A lot of people had said that she should have stood up to the conceit of her husband and her daughter. But Queen is truly a brilliant statement on women empowerment. In of the film's excellent scenes, we see that Rani's friend Sonal is walking on a treadmill and she says to her, "Tu Amsterdam ghoom teen laundon ke saath aur hum potty dhote hain yahan." That scene in some way was pointing to what could have been Rani's life if she had got married to Vijay. Being the male chauvinist that Vijay was, who had said to her that he did not want Rani to work after their wedding, it was very clear that Rani would end up with the same fate as her friend Sonal — having not even a few minutes to talk to your friend, not even having the time to go the gym and washing your kid's poo all day. There are women who would love to do that but it should be their choice not their husband's. That is the story of every girl as another scene showed. Rani got 80% marks in her Class 12th exams and she wanted to manage the accounts of her uncle's business. She said that her father said to ask Vijay if he wanted her to work after their wedding. Vijay asks her what her father wants. She has to work and who gets to make the decision — her father or her husband. In another brilliant scene, Rani talks about how girls are not even allowed to burp openly. Beneath the veneer of the scene's jocularity was a stark statement on the social mores that a girl is expected to follow. In another great scene, Rani drives the car all by herself without the constant jibes of anyone. These and the fact that the entire film is driven by one heroine prove that Queen was also a comment on the changing dynamics of a woman's position in our society. 

Not only female empowerment, Queen is a much more nuanced and complex film. In one of the film's another brilliant scene, Rani in her drunken stupor makes a profound statement. "Mera haal na Gupta Uncle ke jaisa ho gaya hai. Gupta Uncle ko na cancer ho gaya hai, unhone kabhi sharab nahi pi, cigarette nahi pi, phir bhi cancer ho gaya. Isse accha to pi lete. Apni mummy daddy ki har baat maani hai maine, teachers ki har baat maani hai maine, kabhi exam me cheating nahi ki, kabhi jhooth nahi bola, tu jiska naam lo uski har baat mani hai maine." There is a very famous quote that says — If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you're fooling yourself. That's like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn't eat him. Just because Rani has been an obedient girl all her life, it does not mean that life would be obedient to her. Because as they say, "Shit happens." So why not instead live life fully without worrying about the consequences or blaming your misfortunes on life, and simply move on. 


There is another insightful point that Jai Arjun Singh makes about Queen. He says here that: Perhaps part of the point – a point running through the story – is that appearances are deceptive and that everyone contains multitudes. A trio of men sniggering together at a girl who is unknowingly examining a dildo can simply be having harmless fun. The sweet-looking boy who shows up on a scooter with dozens of red balloons for his girlfriend could become a domineering, iron-fisted husband. A jovial grandmother might casually, after decades, recall an old boyfriend from whom she was separated by Partition. A hooker who displays herself in a window in red-light Amsterdam might speak in refined Urdu outside her working hours. And a “simple” West Delhi girl who was in love with the idea of being married might return from a foreign trip and happily flaunt her “single” status on Facebook. The more I think about it, the more what Jai Arjun says seems to be true. This holds true for other people as well. Taka, her Japanese friend, who behaves like a child but deep inside he is compensating for the parental love that he used to get from his mother and father who died in the tsunami. Vijaylakshmi, at first she is the sultry waitress who has sex with strangers, but later we find that she is also a loving mom who calls her son 'jaan' and she is as thrilled by watching the Eiffel Tower as is Rani.  


Vikas Bahl brings many such layered nuances and vignettes to Queen. When Rani checks in at the hotel in Paris, her reservation is under the name of Mr. and Mrs. Dhingra. In Amsterdam, when she checks in at the hostel, her reservation is under her name. When she moves her luggage to her room in Paris, she is struggling to do so but when she takes the train to Amsterdam, she carries a backpack effortlessly. Both of these in a way a point to her metamorphosis to an independent girl with her own identity and who does not require her boyfriend or her father to hold her hand to cross the road. In the song Badra Bahar, she runs away from the Eiffel Tower and she could not escape it. Wherever she goes, she finds something or the other related to Eiffel Tower — the souvenirs, the road signs, the shadows on car — it creeps out like a monster. The more she tries to escape it, the more it follows her. She had wanted to visit the Eiffel with Vijay, and it reminded her of him. Later, she makes it a point to go to see the Eiffel with another Vijay (Vijaylakshmi) as if she has been able to confront her fears head on. She is not afraid of it anymore and rather than seeing it through the prism of her past, she takes it as an opportunity to get enthralled by the tower's spectacular beauty. 

When Vijay breaks up with Rani, it happens in a Cafe Coffee Day and the director shows us its tagline 'a lot can happen over coffee' as if making a statement that a lot did happen over coffee. In that excellent scene, Vijay breaks up with Rani, and we see that he clears the mehendi particles from the table that had fallen from Rani's pleading hands, giving us an indication of his haughty character. Such a fine attention to characterization accentuated the film's beauty. At another point, we get to know that the only thing he knows to cook is the instant maggi. He tries to woo her by offering her ice cream, and cold drink but eventually she agrees for the more simmered and hot sweet corn soup, bringing out the contrast in both of them by the choices of the food they prefer. Vijay was truly a male chauvinist pig. He asks her to make a tattoo of his name, but when she asks him to do the same, he makes some cheesy patronizing statement. She prefers Paris —  the city of love, and he prefers Amsterdam —  the city of sins. 


The West Delhi middle class life has become another genre in itself. Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Band Baaja Baaraat, and Do Dooni Chaar also did this excellently. So, in Queen, we see bottles of Roohafza, a cooler with khas, and Amul butter in Rani's house. There is an inverter as a back up for electricity. The bank teller sits in a cubicle that has iron grillings. The family has a Maruti car. The girls go and eat dal ke pakode in the market. Rani says that she is from Rajori, India and she does not use the word Delhi as if Rajori is altogether a different entity from Delhi. Vijay says often with a hard 't' just like the new trend it is now. The relatives she visits in Paris even after staying in France for years, convert Euros into Indian currency (11 Euros = 750 Rupees). Yes, they will show off too by saying from where they learnt French. Rani's brother brings a chowki for his dadi to sit when she speaks to Rani. Nobody knows what hing is called in English. But there was one scene which confused me a lot. At one point, Rani dreams about Vijay and she sees that Vijay is dressed as a mithaiwala in one scene and as a conductor in the second scene and he says to her, "Kyunki hamara status match nahi hota." Earlier, she when she was drunk, she had said about Vijay, "main Vijay se zyada good looking hun, meri dost Sonal use conductor bolti thi." I was nonplussed by the dream scene especially as to why was Vijay shown like that. Was it a realistic statement on the hypocrisy of the middle class bringing out the class divide where someone who is not good looking is perceived to be like a conductor, or was it a statement on Rani's anger that a man, who is clearly not as good as her, had the audacity to tell her that she is not of his stature? I don't know but it made me think a lot. My friend A gave me this explanation which I thinks makes complete sense. Rani complied to the guy's proposal as he pursued her till she said yes and she being a submissive person relented. She had said that she had wanted an arranged marriage and she being such a good-natured person could not break his heart. Though in her mind she wanted more, she never found him of her standard. Thus, when he broke off, she was angry at Vijay, that is why she saw him as a conductor because she saw herself to better than him.

That is why Queen was a much deeper film than it is made out to be. At another point in the film, when Rani is in the hostel in Amsterdam, she is shown wearing a sweatshirt on which it is written 'Alice in Wonderland meets the White Rabbit', as if she is Alice herself, who has fallen into the wonderland and is fascinated by the creatures she meets. Aiyya, another brilliant film with a superb performance by Rani Mukerji, had references of Alice in Wonderland. But I digress. The whole purpose of naming Lisa Haydon's character as Vijay had a symbolic purpose as she herself explains, "Vijay nahi, Vijaylakshmi to hai." Even though Vijay might not be there with there, she has other Vijays and therefore, she should just move on and eventually she would be victorious (vijay). 

The supporting cast in Queen is splendid. Rani's mother and father are played very nicely. When her mother says, "tune sweater kyun nahi pehna jab itni thand hai", I was instantly reminded me of my mom. Ab ghar ke andar thori thand hoti hai! Her brother is equally fantastic. Dadi is awesome, "yahan to adult picture chal rahi hai." Though in all honesty, I was slightly irritated by that gag. It appeared very pretentious and cliched. One scene was enough but every time Vijaylakshmi came, it was irritating. Lisa Haydon and Rajkumar Rao give excellent performances. But Queen is Kangana all the way. She brings a charming vulnerability to Rani — be it her mannerisms, her language, her emotions — it felt as is Kangana is Rani herself. That is mark of a great performance. The way Rani blushes and says 'lip to lip kiss' to herself when she sees Vijaylakshmi kissing a stranger, the way she makes pouting lip movements before she kisses the Italian guy, the innocence with which she calls a dominatrix belt as a normal costume belt and then later laughs it off as "foreigners find Lajpat Nagar very funny," the way she tells the non-veg Santa Banta jokes, the way she says, "aapka nature bahut jolly hai," or "mera na sense of humor bahut funny hai, dheere dheere aapko pata chala" — Kanga brings a resplendent verisimilitude to Rani. She is simply outstanding.


I was thrilled by the music. Amit Trivedi's music is so good. Badra Bahar reminded me so much of Nayan Tarse from Dev D. I loved Kinare and Harjaiyan. The lyrics of Harjaiyan are lovely — became my instant favorite like Lehrein from Aisha


Saaye saaye phirte hain jidhar mudoon,
Baithi hain ruswaaiyan bhi uske door,
Ho behla fusla ke khud ko nasihaten karun,
Jhooti muthi si, tuti-phuti si,
Ho dhundhali dhundhali si,
Main to idhar udhar phiroon

Queen also has perhaps one of the best ending credits of a Hindi film. Wonderful. I can watch the film again just for them. I did send an email to happyrani@yahoo.com to check if the mail account is active or not. The email did not bounce back, so maybe the account is real :)

My favorite part was the film's ultimate message — que sera sera — what will be, will be. When her dadi consoles Rani, she says, "Kaun kahan mil jata hai kisko kya pata, bas apni zindagi ji aaram se bilkul, jo milna hota hai na zindagi me, vo mil ke rehta hai, use koi nahi rok sakta; jo hua accha hi hua."  That was the film's teaching to us all. Rani was dejected and heartbroken when her wedding was called off, but it opened her to a totally new world. Would she have been able to do that if she had got married? That is why in the end, she comes and returns the wedding ring to Vijay, she hugs him and very gracefully thanks him. She does not hold a grudge against him because if he had not called off the wedding, she would miss so much in life. Even in that moving moment, she had the grace to go to his home and call it off, unlike what Vijay did to her when he did not have the courtesy to give her a single call. And as Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi says, "There is nothing more critical than to exercise the generosity to let something end with the grace it started with.” I do hope Rani finds the happiness she deserves. Queen made me care for her. It is a spectacular film that needs to be seen.


Hungama Ho Gaya

Dialogue of the day:
"French Toast..nahi yeh na sirf India me hi milta hai." 
— Rani, Queen

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ram Leela


After waiting in anticipation of Ram Leela for nearly six months, I finally got a chance to watch it a few days ago. Let me first make a confession. I am a big fan of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and I have loved every single film of his. From the resplendent radiance of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam to the golden grandeur of Devdas to the bewildering brilliance of Saawariya, each of his films has enthralled me in its own way. I have been accused of being hagiographic in my writings on films. I can accept that charge for other films given my ability to over analyze situations but I do not agree with the same for his films. And as B. Rangan says, "stop trying to figure out what the director intended, only he knows; besides, there’s no guarantee that what he wanted to make is actually what he’s ended up making and trust the tale, not the teller." The depth of Bhansali's films is so immense that I feel happy if I understand only a little portion of it. Of all the countless reviews of Ram Leela that I read after watching it, not one of them talked about the underlying theme of the movie. Without digressing further, let me talk about Ram Leela.

Ram Leela is an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - a tale of the romance of two lovers from two feuding families. Bhansali's Romeo is Ram and his Juliet is Leela (which is also his real life mother's name). The film is set in rural Gujarat with the two families being called as Saneda and Rajadi. The film is the story of Ram and Leela caught in the melee of the warring clans who then eventually sacrifice themselves for peace between the two communities. The story's plot is a hackneyed one but as he does in other films, in Ram Leela too, Bhansali uses his deft and expansive imagination to give us a melange of colors that is sheer visual treat for the eyes. No one can use the camera with such accomplishment the way he does.   

Bhansali uses many recurring and vivid leitmotifs in Ram Leela. My favorite was the one on the peacock. In Hinduism, the peacock is associated with Lakshmi who is a deity representing benevolence, patience, kindness, compassion and good luck. The feather of peacock is also associated with Lord Krishna who was loved by his numerous gopis with whom he played Raas Leela. The peacock is a symbol of beauty, prosperity, royalty, love, compassion, soul and peace. In Buddhism, a peacock symbolizes purity and its feathers are used for purification ceremonies. In Bhansali's world, the peacock is a metaphor for love. His hero Ram is the peacock who spreads the message of love everywhere as at one point he says, "make love, not war." I lost the count of the times I saw something or the other related to a peacock in the movie. In fact, I felt this film was a tribute to the peacock. In the beginning title credits of the movie, Bhansali writes an eulogy for Late Jhaverchand Meghani for using his song Mor Bani Thangat Kare in the film. The films begins with that song which is a lyrical melody that signifies the happiness of the human heart in dancing like a peacock.


The movie opens and in the first scene we see a group of women. In the background, we hear the screaming of a peacock.  From there till the end, Bhansali adorns Ram Leela with the peacocks. When Ram meets Leela in the Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired balcony scene, a peacock is there right beside her which flies away when Ram enters. Later, when Ram enters Leela's rooms, the conversation they have is filled with peacock-related metaphors. Ram says, "mor ko bhi vohi chahiye jo humein chahiye"; to which Leela replies, "mor apna pankh kholte hai aur bas dance karte hai." Ram says, "karne se pehle hum kapde kholte hai vo pankh kholte hai." Then Raseela knocks on the door and says, "tera mor nikla nahi abhi tak", confirming that Ram is the peacock. The cushions and the pillows in Leela's room are all of peacock color. Again, the song Mor Bani Thangat Kare plays in the background.


Peacock


Peacock Cushions

At one point in the movie, Raseela says to Leela, "main sab samajhti hun main tere kamre se kaunse more ka shor aata hai." In another scene, Ram comes to visit Leela again, we see that while going back to her room, Leela uses a tree and Ram also joins her. I mean when she has the stairs available to go back why will she climb the tree? Because like peacocks and peahens climb the trees, they both do too as they are the embodiment of the love represented by the peacock.


Climbing trees like peacocks

Later in the movie, when Leela is forced to come back to her place, she recites a number of messages and one of them reads, "morni bina mor kis kaam ka, yeh sindur hai Ram naam ka." At another point in the movie, when Dhankor invites Ram to her place, she sends a dead peacock to Ram and says, "humare beech me mor bahut bolne lage the, lekin ab dushmani no more." Again, this unambiguously was referring to the fact that she is going to kill him as lately some peacocks (love) were speaking among them.


Morni bina mor kis kaam ka, yeh sindur hai Ram naam ka


Dead peacock

After Dhankor cuts Leela's finger and she is lying in her bed, Ram comes and puts a blood-stained mark on her window as if he has cut his finger too as he wants to go through the same pain Leela is going through. When she wakes up and goes out to the balcony, a peacock is seen fluttering its winds symbolizing that Ram is the peacock that came to visit her. This was my favorite scene in the movie.




Peacock flying away - symbol of Ram

Another scene that demonstrated Bhansali's creative ingenuity was the rape that never happened. After Raseela is assaulted by Rajadi men, Dhankor sanctions the same for Kesar. When Saneda men are running after Kesar, Bhansali creates an enthralling sequence like that of the prey and the predator - just like there are goats in that scene. Again, a peacock is seen fluttering its feathers on a tree. I was stumped by this scene as to what it meant. The peacock's presence in that particular scene was bewildering because the peacock represents Ram and why is he there? Then, I thought about it a lot and I think that peacock's presence in that scene was like Lord Krishna's in Mahabharata during Draupadi's cheer haran. As one might recall, Duryodhana had ordered the disrobement of Draupadi when the Pandavas lost the gamble and none of the adults raised a voice to stop that. Draupadi then prayed to Lord Krishna who protected her by providing her an endless piece of cloth. Think of the similarities here. Kesar's assault is ordered by Dhankor. Draupadi and Krishna were devar-bhabhi and the same holds for Kesar and Ram. The peacock's presence in that scene was perhaps referring to the notion that he will protect her just the way Lord Krishna did. At one point, Kesar's dupatta is picked up by Bhavani (like Dushasan) but eventually nothing happens to her. Ram was not only Ram but Krishna as well because in the song Ang Laga De, we seem Ram as Krishna. I take the liberty of the Mahabharata reference because at one point in the movie, there is a line in the film that says, "pet se Abhimanyu bhi seekh ke aya tha, lekin chakravyuh se vo bhi bahar nahi nikla."


Lord Krishna saving Draupadi


There are peacock-related items everywhere. Be it a brass artifact or a showpiece in Leela's room. 


Brass statue on the table is a peacock


Peacock pen holder

Now, let me talk about the songs and the choreography which I loved like anything. The music has actually been composed by Bhansali himself and it is so good that it makes me wonder if there is anything that he cannot do it. I was amazed by the spiritual connections in every song of the film.

When I had first heard and watched the song Tattad Tattad, I was indifferent to it but when I watched it in the context of the movie, I was thrilled by its brilliance. The song is an introductory sequence of Bhansali's eponymous hero, Ram. With this song, Bhansali shows us that not only is Ram an avatar of Lord Rama but he also imbibes characteristic elements of other deities. There are pictures of Lord Rama everywhere. But there is also Lord Krishna in the song. The dancers with the blue bodies who are wearing peacock feathers in their heads symbolized Lord Krishna. At one point, some girls faint on seeing him as if they are Krishna's gopis. The song is shot in Hanuman Gali and there are some dancers dressed as Hanuman. There are shops and carts that are named Somnath and have a 'shivling' painted on them. Thus, Bhansali's hero Ram is an amalgamation of all these deities. He has Lord Rama's virtue, Krishna's playfulness, Shiva's power of destruction, and Hanuman's loyalty - which as we later see in the movie will fit him perfectly. Besides that, a number of other birds and animals are present in the song. There is a parrot which I think was symbolic of Kama Dev. The vehicle of Kam Dev is a parrot. Because at one point later in the movie, Ram's brother Megh had remarked, "dekho sakshat Kam Dev chale aa rahe hain." Not only was Kam Dev a symbol of the philandering nature of Ram, but also a reference to Brahma too because according to some legends Kam Dev is the son of Brahma. There is a big bird in the song which was a representation of Garuda who is the vehicle of Vishnu. There are many shops named after Lakshmi who is the wife of Vishnu. Thus, this song has the holy trinity in the song - Brahma, Vishnu (Lord Ram and Krishna are Vishnu's incarnations) and Mahesh (Shiv). Did I mention the numerous peacocks? :) Also, if you notice Ram's dance move especially the signature movement of hand behind the head is very symbolic of a peacock's dancing. I was convinced that Ram is the peacock from this song itself.


Lord Rama


Parrot - Kam Dev


Dancing like peacock


Lord Krishna and peacock feathers


Hanuman in Hanumna Gali


Garuda and Lakshmi


Somnath and shivling

The second song Lahu Munh Lag Gaya is another gorgeous piece of choreography in the film. Bhansali uses more peacocks in this song as well. The lamps that are being lit at the back have peacocks! Also, Ram's neck is peacock colored. Even Leela's earrings are in the shape of peacock wings. Beautiful lyrics and even more beautiful choreography.


Peacock lamps


Peacock colored neck

This song reminded me so much of Aankhon ki Gustaakhiyaan from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. The scene where Sameer burns his hand on the diya is exactly similar to the way Ram burns his hand on the diya. Also, the garba dance scenes are present in both the songs. 



Lamp

In the item song Ram Chahe Leela, there are more peacocks. The song begins with a peacock's painting. The curtains have peacocks. The lyrics have peacocks. The dancing has so many peacock-related steps. If these were not enough, even Priyanka's dress has peacocks!
Lage saare dushman
Dikhe sab mein chor
Teri balcony mein betha ek mor
Moron ki hai mistake
Ram-Leela badnaam


Peacock painting


Peacock curtains


Peacock on her top

Nagada Sang Dhol Baaje is another colorful and exquisitely choreographed song in the movie. There are some deep spiritual undertones to this song as well. This song reminded me of Dhol Baaje from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Nagada Sang is a tribute to Shabri from Ramayana. Shabri was a devotee of Lord Rama and she is singing to him. She is eagerly waiting for him and wants him to come to her and bless her. She has brought betels for him. She is asking Lord Rama to stay at her ashram as she wants to have the honor of serving him. But Lord Ram politely refuses and tells her that he can’t do that as his wife Sita is all alone at their hut and she is anticipating him and Lakshman, his brother. 

Leeli lemdi re,
Leelo nagarvel no chhod

Parbhu parodh na re

Maar gher uttaara karta jaao

Utaaro nahi karun re
Maar gher Sita juve vaat
Sita ekla re
Juve ram-lakhman ni vaat


In this song too, there are references to peacocks as one line talks about how the peacocks are singing in the gardens. The lamp that Leela lights has a peacock on it and even the bells have peacocks on them.

Baagon mein bola, bola re bola mor,
Badla re dil ka bhoogol

What was also fascinating was the presence of trimurti in this song too. The sculpture at the top of the building has a trimurti that is a replica of the one in Elephanta Caves in Mumbai. Dhankor prays to the pot that has water used to worship Ambe Maa. She becomes so lost in it as if the goddess' spirit has entered into her as we say 'mata ayi hai.' 


Peacock bells and trimurti



Peacock lamp


Wow!



Ambe Maa in Dhankor


Trimurti - Elephanta Caves

Another song that left me spellbound was Ang Laga De Re. The song begins when Leela lights a lamp and we see a painting of Radha and Krishna (with a peacock feather again!). Radha is Leela and Krishna is Ram. Leela is praying to Goddess Lakshmi, who as I mentioned earlier, is also associated with a peacock. She is trying to seduce Ram. The song is picturized  splendidly and is imbued with divine motifs, such as the gorgeous paintings of Raja Ravi Verma. Outside the window, we see some temples and a religious procession of a group of saints who in all likelihood are carrying a palki of Lord Krishna and Radha to get them married. In that precise moment, we hear the sound of the temple bells and the vedic chants as if the priests have blessed the wedding of not only Krishna and Radha but our own Ram and Leela. Ram puts sindoor on Leela's head at that very moment. Thereafter, Ram and Leela engage in passionate love making signifying their sacred union has been blessed by the gods. Beautifully conceptualized and executed. Loved it. 


Radha and Krishna - Ram and Leela



Praying to Raja Ravi Verma's Lakshmi


Spiritual motifs on the wall


Radha Krishna wedding outside


Like Ram and Leela wedding inside

Thus, in some way or the other, the songs of Ram Leela contained something or the other based on a peacock. I was just stunned by the beauty of the songs. My slight disappointment was that my favorite song from the film Laal Ishq was not there at all. It was there only in bits and pieces. I would have loved to see what Bhansali does with that lilting melody. I am sure he would have done it fabulously. But the one song I absolutely hated was Ishqiyaon Dhishkiyaon. After watching such masterpieces, I was confounded as to why exactly that song was there because it was so un-Bhansaliesque. The deep meaning of the songs is without doubt the best thing about Ram Leela. I have been watching them again and again and just can't get enough of them, teaching me something new every single time.

In the final scene of the film, when Ram and Leela are being carried away, we see a peacock on the terrace again symbolizing that in the end, their love triumphed to bring the peace between the two communities.


Peacock triumphs

The countless peacock references were not there at random. I think there was a definite reason to them or a method to the film's madness. In my earlier post, I had written about Bhansali's favorite film makers.  He had said the following were his favorite films.

  • Pakeezah: Because it is Kamal Amrohi and Meena Kumari’s film. Because of its beautifully expressed anguish. And it’s a great film.
  • Mirch Masala: The interpretation of a village girl and a beautifully made film by Ketan Mehta.
  • Mughal-E-Azam: Because it’s sheer genius. Every second of the film is excellent.
  • Do Ankhen Barah Haath: V Shantaram is my favorite filmmaker. I am most impressed, inspired and influenced by him.
  • 36 Chowrangee Lane: Aparna Sen’s best work and it will always be. It’s a beautiful film and Jennifer Kapoor has given a wonderful performance.
In Saawariya, he had paid a tribute to his favorite film maker V. Shantaram by using the song Ae Malik Tere Bande Hum from Do Aankhe Barah Haath. In Ram Leela, Bhansali again pays a tribute to his favorite film maker V. Shantaram. This whole peacock references were a tribute to V. Shnataram's Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje. I have not seen that film but when I did a search on V. Shantaram and peacock, it gave me results on the film. Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje had many references to peacock. Thus, Bhansali gives tribute to his favorite film maker again. His love for the peacock was his love for his favorite film maker. This is the first time when he has given such a homage to V. Shantaram. Also, I feel in Ram Leela, Bhansali also pays a tribute to Mirch Masala - his other favorite film by Ketan Mehta. Dhankor had a business of spices that was so reminiscent of Mirch Masala



Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje




Mirch Masala and Ram Leela

Now, let me come to my another favorite part of the movie. Not only is Ram Leela a tribute to peacocks, but this is Bhansali's love song for Raja Ravi Verma as well. His paintings are everywhere. Almost all of his paintings are used somewhere or the other. I was so fascinated by the paintings that I read about it them everywhere I could find. I had seen some of his paintings earlier but now after reading and seeing so many of them, I can say I am a big Ravi Verma fan. His paintings are charming and graceful. His portrayal of women characters is especially worth noting. Bhansali places these paintings strategically depending on the situation and the character. From Leela's rooms that have a picture of Shakuntala waiting for her Bharat to Dhankor's house where there is a painting of Maneka and her daughter Shakuntala to the lodge where Ram and Leela stayed that had paintings of a romantic couple to the gorgeous Ram Leela procession in the climax that had paitnings of Ram and Sita. These paintings simply accentuated the level of the film for me. 


Raja Ravi Verma Paintings


Raja Ravi Verma Paintings



Raja Ravi Verma Paintings


Raja Ravi Verma Paintings


Raja Ravi Varma's Shakuntala in the Forest


Raja Ravi Verma's Maneka and Shakuntala



Romantic Couple in the painting


Ramayana related Raja Ravi Verma paintings


Ramayana related Raja Ravi Verma paintings

Ramayana related Raja Ravi Verma paintings

Ramayana related Raja Ravi Verma paintings


And these are the some of the originals,










The final Ram Leela procession was simply amazing. So colorful. I loved it. I so wish I had seen them on the big screen.




Wow!



Bhansali creates wonderful characters in Leela and Dhankor. His Leela is impulsive, brave, and sexually liberated. She has the courage to kiss a stranger in front of many people without thinking of the consequences. She reads the raunchy Mills & Boon's The Duke's Cinderella Bride; she has bags of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn; she has paintings of Shakuntala in her room as she is herself waiting for her own Bharat. At one point, Ram says to her, "jitni tu sexy hai, utni danger hai." Without a doubt, she had a rebellious streak in her. That may be because of her dictatorial mother. Because at one point she says to Ram, "dushman hai tabhi to aankhen lad rahi thi baar baar tujhse?"


Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe bags


Mills & Boon's The Duke's Cinderella Bride

Dhankor is also a very powerful character. She is very strong from the exterior or at least she tries to be. There were spiritual shades to her character as well. When her son dies, she did not shed a tear and just recited a shlok from Geeta. Her house had walls on which shlokas were written. Even the curtains in her house had shlokas written on them.  

Nainam chindanti shastrani
Nainam dahati pavakah
Na chainam kledayanty apo
Na sosayati marutah


Shloka curtains


Shloka walls

Bhansali uses his own trademark styles in the narrative. Like in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Saawariya, the bridge played an important role, here also he gives us a similar device. So, when Bhavani comes and picks Leela from the lodge, Ram tries to swim to the other shore. There is no bridge here and at the end of the scene, he is left floating in the middle of the lake just like his love life himself. Neither can he get her and neither can he go back to his clan. He is left stranded in the middle with nowhere to go. He can not reach the shore just like he can't do that in his own life. He is left swimming all by himself.


Stranded in the middle

I also felt the scene where Bhavani takes Leela through the narrow alleys was symbolic of the extreme narrow-mindedness and the shallowness of the two communities. Bhansali aslo uses the weather as a metaphor for the situations. When Kanji and Megh die, it is raining. When Ram and Leela are in the beginning of their relationship, the sun is shining in the desert. When they are running away, the sky becomes grey symbolic of the troubles and the grey path that lies ahead for them. When Leela is snatched away from him, he is left in the desert that is dry and windy. When Leela is reading to her mother saying, "kal Ram Leela ka aakhri din", Bhansali already told us right ahead symbolically that they both are also going to die tomorrow.


Narrow alleys and narrow-mindedness


Grey skies - trouble lies ahead

In the end, when Ram and Leela are about to shoot each other, they end up in the exact same pose that they had first met during Holi. Their positions are now reversed and the color of Holi has turned into darkness of Dussehra. Bhansali is able to make tragedy look so beautiful.


Gorgeous


Gorgeous again

Also, Ram Leela has many references to Bhansali's earlier films. As mentioned earlier, the songs look very similar to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. The garden where Ram and Leela meet reminded of Devdas and Paro's meeting place in Devdas. The use of mirrors was so reminiscent of Saawariya. In Saawariya, we saw Mona Lisa curtains. Here we see a shop that is named Monaleesa. When I researched on Bhansali and Mona Lisa, a link cropped up that said Bhansali wanted Guzaarish's actress Monikangana Dutta to change her name to Mona Lisa. Does he then think himself of a painter like Leonardo da Vinci? I will keep that in mind for his future films :) The use of Bhavai in Ram Leela was also reminiscent of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Ladke vale London ke, aye kitne tan tan ke, noch noch ke rakh lenge, yahi daboch ke rakh lenge, ta taiyya taiyya taiyya thai.


Monaleesa shops


Mona Lisa curtains


Mirrors


Mirrors


At one point in the movie, we see that Ram falls in water. I was instantly reminded of Lootera because both the scenes look so similar. Vikramaditya Motwane who is the director of Lootera was the assistant of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. It is as if like teacher, like student :)


Lootera


Ram Leela

There were a number of things which I failed to understand. I thought and researched a lot but just could not find the link. In the song Tattad Tattad, there is a poster of a Gujarati play that is shown in the background. The play is called  Preet Piyu N Parnetar. I tried really hard to search more about it but at best I could only find its poster. I was not able to find out what is it about.


Preet Piyu N Panetar


At one point in the movie, when Kesar is running to save herself from Saneda men, we see a rolling brass pot. I am very much sure it meant something by the way it was shot. I couldn't understand what was Bhansali trying to say. When I tried to find some Gujarati connection, I found a poster of the same play Preet Piyu N Parnetar with a woman having a brass pot in her hand. Are then these two linked in some way? I have no idea. May be talking to some Gujarati would help :)


Brass Pot


Preet Piyu N Panetar

And I just could not figure out what is written on Priyanka's waist and Leela's neck. It is Hindi but whatever is written is out of my comprehension.




Who is behind?

In the beginning credits, Bhansali pays a tribute to his parents Navin and Leela. His love for his mother is so strong that he has taken his middle name after her and named this film after her. And Lady Popo is his dog. Is this the first film by an Indian director dedicated to his dog? :)


My favorite dialogues:

"Ghurror me doobe samandar ko bhi kya pata tha ki vo ek din banjar ran ban jayega, jab uska guroor nahi tika to hum aur aap kya hai baap ji." – Ram

"Dushman se pyaar nibhana har kise ke bas ki baat nahi hai."
 – Ram

"Gusse me isne nafrat chunni, tu pyaar chun." – Raseela

"Green hai angoor, kela peela hai, kehdo saari duniya se sirf Raam ki Leela hai." – Leela

"Jab Ram naam ka raag lage to paani me bhi aa lage." – Leela

"Jaan bhi nikaal li, aur zindai bhi chhod diya." – Raseela

Performances are excellent. I loved Deepika and Supriya Pathak. Deepika is a star and she is getting stunning with every film. Ranveer is good but I felt his character was too over the top for my sensibilities. The supporting cast is excellent, especially Richa Chaddha and Barkha Bisht. A special mention for Ravi Varman's gorgeous cinemtography without which any Bhansali film is incomplete. Wasiq Khan's production design is fabulous. Loved his article in Live Mint: Wasiq Khan | How to blend in and stand out

My biggest problem, actually it is not a problem, just more of an opinion is that Ram Leela showed a very different Bhansali. He is not the Bhansali of Saawariya or the Bhansali of Black. Yes, there are shades of the Bhansali of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. This is a Bhansali that reminded me more of Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bharadwaj. The show of guns, the lyrics of Ishkiyaaon Dishkiyaaon, the rambunctiousness of his hero, the ephemeral nature of taking away someone's life - all these made me somewhat uncomfortable. I am an old school Bhansali fan. It was as if Bhansali was showing it to the world that yes, I too can make a film like the Kashyaps and this new breed of film makers. In fact, in that scene when Leela says to Ram, "tere to baal hi nahi hai", it was as if he is taking revenge on Anurag Kashyap for mocking his Devdas in Dev D. In a pre-coital scene in Dev D, Paro takes off Dev's shirt and says, "tere bade baal hai." Later, Anurag had used Bhansali's Devdas in his film. In Ram Leela, I felt Bhansali was giving it back to the world that I too can make such films. 


Chanda and Chandramukhi


Dev and Devdas

Also, the story of the film has been done to death, most recently in Ishaqzaade. I knew exactly how it is going to turn out. I was somewhat disappointed by the story line and this new Bhansali. But what I loved was the old Bhansali who instills spiritual undertones in the film, shows me the sheer resplendence of the colors, fascinates me with the gorgeousness of his heroines, enthralls me with the stupendousness of his imagination and forces me to peel the layers. I love this old Bhansali and I hope he will continue to treat us with his gems. Ram Leela might not be his best work but it gave me enough to gorge on. I will always be a Sanjay Leela Bhansali fan. I wish I could get to meet and learn from him someday. 

Dialogue of the day:



"Bada badtameez, besharam, khudgarz hota hai lekn pyaar to aisa hi hota hai." 
– Raseela