Happy Nice Times Goes Bollywood: ‘Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela’ Movie Review

Back in the old days America had great movies, and India had whooping cough.  Our movies had wonderful song-and-dance numbers with elaborate costumes, and India had epidemics, because of their laughably inadequate “health care system.” Somewhere along the line, things changed. THANKS OBAMA. By the 70’s, the Mumbai film industry had surpassed Hollywood in total film production, mostly on the strength of romantic musicals with the sort of production numbers at which Hollywood had formerly excelled.

Seriously, look at that thing! In a competitive market, the musicals that were formerly cranked out cheaply have become increasingly intricate. This has drawn the attention of viewers and filmmakers worldwide, including Baz Luhrmann and Danny Boyle, who have both acknowledged their Bollywood influences.

Now it has come time for the Indians to colonize the West. They have come for our Shakespeare.  But do we really need another Romeo and Juliet? Having seen their names dragged through the mud (coughBAZLURHMANNcough) we might as well let the fellows from the subcontinent take a shot at it in “Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela.” Have your people call my people. Let’s make this happen.

Director Sanjay Leela Bansali sets his version of Romeo & Juliet in a sort of anachronistic Raj era that permits both awesome period costumes and iPhones.  And our Romeo is a literal romeo. Ram is a narcissistic preening peacock who can’t take part in his family’s battle because he is too busy dancing in an elaborate production number.  Since he’s banged every hot chick among his own Rajadi clan,  Ram decides to go to the big dance at the gym the rival Sanera clan’s Holi celebrations.

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Of course he meets Leela at the festival, and they fall in love at first sight. But she’s no passive Juliet because she is as much the pursuer as the pursued. There’s the obligatory balcony scene, and the whole warring clan/star crossed lover business that you remember from high school and “West Side Story.” Just when it’s about time for our heroes to die, the word INTERVAL flashes on screen. It’s only half-time! Director SLB attempts to improve Shakespeare with some completely unnecessary conspiracy plotting but, to be fair, two really good production numbers.

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Ranveer Singh makes a great over-the-top playboy Romeo, and he was also pretty good during the woe-is-me section. Deepika Padukone is a sexy take-no-bullshit Juliet. The real stars are the wardrobe people, the art department, and the choreographers. Hopefully one day Hollywood will catch up with the “developing world” and give us unironic song and dance numbers as good as the ones in this movie.

(And in case you’re wondering, yes, you can see it in ‘Merica. Check your local theaters.)

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  • Farb

    Bollywood? This >gack

  • I’m so old I remember back when we used to see movies at the movies. In the old neighborhood, sometime in the 1980’s maybe, the Deluxe Cinema in Jackson Heights started showing only Bollywood movies, but now even that has closed down.

  • Mahousu

    Writing this entire review without making a single “ram Leela” joke – that is a skill I do not possess. Bravo.

  • SierraCharlie01

    I am Indian and I love Bollywood Movies but I love Shakespeare’s plays even more. I have read his plays many times & studied his plays in detail as set texts & I’ve also taught his plays to students studying Literature. He is a literary genius and was way ahead of his times. I watched Ram Leela and I was heartbroken and annoyed at what this trashy Bollywood movie has portrayed Rome & Juliet to be. I watch a lot of Bollywood movies and may be to you as a foreigner you fell enamored by the song, dance, lavish & colorful sets and costumes. This is nothing new in Bollywood, and if you watch this directors previous movies, you’ll spot the same over the top sets and dances and music. In fact the songs, dances, costumes & music in Ram Leela are very similar to ones in ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ (1999) and Devdas (2002). Plus, this movie doesn’t take inspiration from the original play as claimed by the director in the starting titles. I found a lot of ideas taken from Baz Luhrmann’s own adaptation of Romeo & Juliet – the guns, gangs, illegal businesses, even the balcony scene, peacocks, the brightly colored shirts that Ram wears plus Leela wearing white (similar to Claire Danes) – it’s all from there. Bollywood movies are often copied from Hollywood – watch Krish 3 and you’ll characters plus the costumes straight from ‘Batman, Superman, X men, Dark Knight Rises’. I honestly had a headache after watching Ram Leela – many people walked out of the movie because of the violence and vulgarity. Ram is the ugliest Romeo I have ever seen and doesn’t match Shakespeare’s description of Romeo, in looks nor character. Had he spent time reading the original play, instead of pumping muscles in the gym, he might have understood the essence of Romeo’s character. Ram and Leela are both about lust and simply just can’t wait to ‘get it on’. There is no love here. Leela as pretty as she is, is also no Juliet in character. She is too aggressive and masculine while ironically Ram dances and speaks effeminately. This Leela tells Ram when he asks her what she would do if he left her, she answers ‘I’ll kill you’. Their romancing dialogues are so crude and vulgar, that it’s a mockery to Shakespeare that this movie will be known as an adaptation of his play. None of their dialogues have any love, poetry or adoration for the other. They flirt with lines full of sexual innuendo. The movie is not true to the original play and other characters who are in the play are not seen here and the way the original play unfolds, is not what you see in Bhansali’s movie. This is no Romeo & Juliet inspired movie – it has too much vulgarity, too many guns, too much violence, too many sub plots created by Bhansali and characters that are his own creation and belong no where in Romeo & Juliet. The dance done by Priyanka Chopra falls short of a strip tease and she is singing about Ram and Leela’s love while Ram is ogling at her. The ending is also not true to the play and the ending is very important as it really shows that Romeo & Juliet are star crossed. This is what we are told in the play’s prologue that two star crossed lovers will die. Romeo & Juliet die because of a misunderstanding/tragic twist of fate. Romeo thinks Juliet is dead but she is just in a temporary slumber. In the play we see how heartbroken Romeo & Juliet and really feel their pain. In Ram Leela, these two fight like cats and almost seem to relish killing each other. This is not the only Shakespeare adaptation in Bollywood. Vishal Bhardwaj who’s movies have been hailed by Indian Critics has made Maqbool (based on Macbeth) and Omkara (based on Othello). He is currently making Haider (based on Hamlet). I honestly wish, these Bollywood directors would stop tampering with Shakespeare’s work and degrading it. They have no intellectual appreciation of his plays and do not attempt to retain the sanctity and integrity of his work. There is always the skin show and scantily clad dance numbers, plus the dialogue is not a Hindi translation of what Shakespeare wrote (not that this is even possible to do). Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be acted out in the language he wrote them in. Acting them out in any other language defeats the purpose of his written word and it is not possible to convey the conflict of his characters simply through acting. His verses are loaded with meaning and diluting them to simplistic, crude Hindi form is just an insult to his work. The director who is making ‘Haider’ – will not feature Hamlet’s famed soliloquy ‘To be or not to be’, neither did his Macbeth feature the ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow’ speech because these movies are made in Hindi and also because none of these actors would be able to recite these lines properly and no one in India will go watch a movie which has the actors speaking in Shakespearean English. Watching a Hamlet adaptation without that speech is like watching a movie with no life or soul. It is a hollow and shallow and purported to be adaptation of Shakespeare play but in reality, it is just some confused creation of the director who has twisted the play to suit Hindi audiences likes. I hope Bollywood lets Shakespeare rest in peace and look elsewhere for inspiration.