There is nothing new about messing with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story of raw, star-crossed teenage love, primitive, clannish violence and a tragic climax have inspired film-makers everywhere. The newest interpretation in Hindi cinema, by Sanjay Leela Bhansali—who has co-written, co-edited and directed the film besides composing the music—is robust as well as random, riveting as well as tedious.

In the spirit of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Bhansali pulls off a melodrama in which there are cawing peacocks perched on tree branches and balconies, there is Twitter and a neon-lit porn film video parlour. He reimagines Indian exotica with abandon and skill in equal measure.

Padukone’s Leela is a character of melting loveliness and bristling wit and sensuality
Padukone’s Leela is a character of melting loveliness and bristling wit and sensuality

Bhansali’s cinema is grandiloquent, often with disastrous effects. When too much of consciously crafted visual beauty heightens an already melodramatic story, fiction turns phony. This film too is a frenetic, opulent hotchpotch, but for the first time perhaps, Bhansali delves into something primal, and he is acutely aware of the machinations of violence. There is no attempt at cosmetizing love or violence, or pummelling emotions with visual gimmicks. While the camera is brisk in scenes of conflict and violence, the scenes between the lovers are shot with elegant simplicity despite the over-populated frames.

The acting veers towards over-the-top, the humour is rowdy and the dialogues written to rhyme (eg., “You are lover, I am killer") sound ridiculous in parts. All this for a length of two and a half hours could have been an exhausting experience if not for Bhansali’s vision, which keeps the film spectacularly engaging until the end. He has devised the architecture of the story with a capacious imagination, and despite the flourishes and the excess, he has managed to retain its emotional gut and truth. You can’t miss the method to this madness. You can’t miss the work of cinematographer S. Ravi Varman and production designer Wasiq Khan.

The radiant pairing of Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone

The lead pair is played radiantly by Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone. Singh seems to fit neatly into the Bhansali scheme of histrionics. He hams through some scenes, but the vehemence and vibrancy of Ram, “fortune’s fool", which Singh portrays on screen, forces you to care about him.

Padukone’s Leela is a character of melting loveliness and bristling wit and sensuality. She can’t quite pull off the raunchiness of this love affair, but delivers an elegant performance. Supriya Pathak as the fiendish mother of Leela, Gulshan Devaiah, Richa Chadda and Abhimanyu Shekhar Singh pack in good performances in secondary roles. Pathak’s menace has some laughable excess, and is the most poorly resolved role in the film.

Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (the new title is perhaps the worst thing about the film) is an all out celebration of cinematic excess. Forget the tragedy, the Kutch landscape, its costumes, colours, expanses and details, are stuff of visual magic.

Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela released in theatres on Friday.

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