ADIPURUSH : FILM REVIEW
3 STARS / 5 (GOOD)
DIRECTOR : OM RAUT
CAST : KRITI SANON, PRABHAS, SAIF ALI KHAN
HINDI (ENGLISH SUBTITLES AVAILABLE), RELEASE JUNE 2023
ANJANEYA-ERED FOR INDIAN BOX OFFICE
Adipurush, directed and written for the screen by Om Raut, knows its target audience and what it needs to do to satisfy them. At Rs.500 crore for production, India’s costliest ever film may have complex logistics but the master-plan is simple – get a major star, for the first time ever after all these years tell the live-action movie story of India’s hugely popular epic Ramayana with heaps of special effects, just keep the narration decent and avoid anything intellectual.
If you really stick to this plan, can you go wrong at the Indian box office? Nope, as evidenced by the over Rs.100 crore raked in on the first day. This flick was never targeted at a discerning audience – its strokes are broad and it does not sweat the small stuff – all dimensions are capaciously rough just like its coffers. The connoisseurs may not be pleased, but the movie, among other things, has furthered a valuable platform for India to build on special effects movies to mine a massive unexplored mythologic treasure-trove (the envelope was already vigorously pushed in 2010 by Shankar with ‘Enthiran’, with the mythological gauntlet flung further by Rajamouli with ‘Bahubali 2’). What Adipurush could not achieve, future Indian movies may climb on top of its shoulders to do so by holding it as a learning template.
The story of Ramayana, for those who do not know Indian mythology, is seemingly simple. King Dasharatha is suckered into banishing his coveted incarnated son Rama to the jungles. Lord Rama’s wife Sita is abducted by villainous king Ravana and taken to his island nation of Lanka. Rama along with his brother Lakshman, able devotee Hanuman and an army of apes lay siege to Lanka to in a bid to salvage some of this cluster-fig. Whether Rama is eventually re-united with Sita is for the newcomers to find out. ‘Adipurush’ pretty much ends there. Whether Rama, if he does actually get Sita back, goes ballistic with suspicion over smashed chastity and suchlike, has been covered in pics like ‘Raging Bull’, Ratnam’s under-rated master-take ‘Raavan’ and is well beyond Adipurush’s IQ, EQ, runtime to roil over.
Prabhas, the muscular and tall superstar, assumes the role of Lord Rama but is given the name ‘Raghava’. Sita is essayed by the also tall and beautiful Kriti Sanon, while the key role of Hanuman, the mystically powerful simian humanoid, is played by Devdatta Nage. Saif Ali Khan, one of Hindi cinema’s few actors who effectively play both hero and villain, glowers as Lankesh, the evil king with superpowers.
The initially puzzling matter of why the film-makers avoided the title of ‘Ramayana’, considering it is such a well-known title with automatic publicity appeal, becomes obvious after watching the movie. Director and screen-writer Om Raut never had a plan, one suspects, of distilling the deep and magnificent themes of Ramayana – the interplay between mortal and immortal, the pitting of virtue versus familial conniving, the epilogue's concerns of conjugal purity in an era where feminism was about as popular as transgender rights. As a honest-to-goodness Hollywood and HBO aficionado, he just wanted to cadge a bit of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, blend it into Ramayana, know deep in his soul why the hell bumpkins should care so much about high-quality special effects as long as you spray it all over the place, and especially since much of the second half is a long battle sequence, why risk getting more brickbats for ‘Ramayana’ when you could call it ‘Adipurush’ and get a lot more narrative licence?
Almost all major Indian publications have slammed the movie and while their contentions about clumsy special effects and paucity of emotional resonance hold water even as the audience has largely drowned these finer points, one particularly hard-to-please reviewer unhappily cited the movie’s ‘lack of religiosity’ – Om Raut would have been scratching his head wondering why he is being criticized for something which was decidedly outside his gameplan from the get-go.
Pic unwittingly hedges its bets with dodgy scenes admixed with good ones. The first major sequence starring scores of ghouls is ghoulishly lousy. But the abduction sequence on the hill-top ledge strikes every right chord from suspenseful edge to good VFX. It is promptly followed by an aerial chase whose bombast outbooms the nitty-gritties of high-quality action choreography. The ape fight of Sugriva Vs Vali is an special effects abomination as is the movie’s inability to effectively anthropomorphize the apes’ and a bear’s facial characteristics – this is what differentiates undergrad-level special effects from world-class levels.
But the story-tracks keep whirring without drag, there are sprinkled niceties like Lankesh getting a massage from a writhing mass of pythons, and the way a key character is mortally wounded is one of the movie’s few genuine special-effect triumphs – a significant upgrade on the old stuff. The long battle sequence to finish the movie in Lanka is competently handled – you don’t want the awards or eye-popping creativity here, just plain-old paisa vasool should suffice.
Karthik Palani’s camera when static is much better and picturesque – where he fails is in zooming dynamism, further hamstrung by the effects team. Lanka’s set design is rather neat – a black stone demi-monde with gold lines accentuating the art deco aesthetic, a modernistic upgrade on the old palaces. Thankfully this is one Indian flick where the background music is not over-boiled ; the few songs are pleasant though not memorable, and editing is another of the movie’s passable assets.
Prabhas as Raghava nee Rama has screen presence alright – what is more remarkable is how magnificently wooden he is. You’d need a hundred blows of axe to fell this oak and such durability enigmatically hauls Adipurush on sinewed shoulders if not thespian nuance. Kriti Sanon in exemplary wifely fashion follows her onscreen hubby and makes the cut – the script gives her little to chew on, and she makes no great distinction to sink the teeth further. Saif Ali Khan in his role as one of the greatest villains of Indian mythology, is gloweringly effective albeit two-dimensional. At the start of the film, he is granted superhuman wishes but he forgets to ask for the boon of being a top-tier Amrish Puri – he remains a synecdoche for this film’s lack of humour, dearth of nuance, and limited ambition. Who cares? Moolah atones.
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