By now, you know certain common traits to expect in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB) film. A world of its own, presented in a grand operatic manner with a high degree of visual spectacle and a natural flair for bringing about a high degree of emotions even in elaborately choreographed song picturizations. However, SLB also tends to often test your patience with some excessive high-pitched melodrama and deliberately heavy-handed laborious filmmaking that aims for the epic. In that sense, Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela adheres to much of this and there are those moments in the second half that simply leave you disengaged from the narrative. There's a limit to admittedly beautiful images or riots of colours on screen if the script isn't quite there.
Forget the Romeo and Juliet scenario, the uneasy mix of throwing in 'items' to try and make sure this film is a success after the tepid responses to Saawariya and Guzaarish is obvious. So it's like - take a safe subject of love against obstacles, throw in a flashback of some my most successful moments - a setting in Gujarat with a feisty rebel heroine like in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, recall Dhol Baaje or Aankhon ki Gustaaqiyaan and then add the commercial elements of my production Rowdy Rathore with the hero's entry in a Rajinikanth like manner followed by a solo song with a scraping-off-dandruff-from-the-hair step that hopefully becomes as popular as Bhai's collar shaking or belt shaking steps. Thus the film ends up in no man's land - neither quite the total masala entertainer nor quite the epic opera that marks SLB's signature work.
The other big problem with Bhansali's adaptation is that it ends up in not making you care for the protagonists or their love (or is it lust?) story. The Ishaqzaade like ending fails to give you that emotional wallop, say the way a West Side Story (1961), another adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (and one which is infinitely superior), does. Also, for a Romeo and Juliet adaptation to succeed, one has to be able to now give it a totally fresh perspective and outlook to the otherwise done to death scenario. As mentioned West Side Story, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version and Baz Luhrmann's 1996 version are amongst those that have succeeded. In Hindi cinema itself, Reshma aur Shera (1971) set amongst the desert of Rajasthan (in that sense a somewhat similar setting to this one) with infinitely superior performances coupled with an enchanting musical score by Jaidev, and Qayamat se Qayamat Tak (1988), set between two feuding Rajput clans, come off as far better adaptations. Ultimately the R-J story, with its broad plot points to be reached, ends up making the narrative and where it is going rather predictable while those bits where SLB moves away from the Bard - the two becoming heads of their people for instance - just appear bad contrivances that do not work.
Still, one has to admit SLB does score in some unexpected areas and in that sense for all its issues, the film does rise above Saawariya and Guzaarish. Rather than typical first flushes of innocent love, there is more of raw passion in the developing love story in the first half that is brought alive by Deepika and Ranveer Singh, and there are some unexpected moments of lightness and humour even in the most serious of situations not really associated with SLB even if these are scattered about with much of the other attempts coming off more like cheap and cheesy double-meaning entendres rather than some truly witty writing. And then, the heavy-handed second half puts paid to any such more innovative moments.
The performances, by and large, are another plus. For the first time, I can say I was truly impressed with Deepika Padukone. She is supremely confident and quite the life of the film. She rises way above the script truly creating a strong, feisty three dimensional character even if amongst all the female characters in both the orthodox communities, she of course, is the only one dressed to show cleavage and much of her back, while other women are properly covered. In fact, the film deserves a special mention if at all for the characterization of the female characters, who are fleshed out far better than their male counterparts. Supriya Pathak and Richa Chaddha (one would have liked to have seen more of her) do full justice to their roles. Pathak owns the screen whenever she is there even if her turn around is not at all convincing, and one has to say, one would like to see more of this great actress on the screen. The one downer for me among the actors was Ranveer Singh. He is just OK enough in the first half as the flirtatious lover but clearly finds the role beyond him as the more intense bits kick in, still having miles to go as an actor. And in sticking to the stereotype, the rival for Deepika's hand is more of an idiot rather than a properly fleshed out character to avoid any complexity whatsoever here. It does, however, produce a single wonderful moment with Pathak putting a gun into his shaking hand and welcoming him into the family!
Technically, the camerawork is grand, the production design pays great attention to detail but ends up being a double-edged sword as much of the frames of the film feel too cluttered and messy. The music goes well with the film while you are watching it but is not particularly memorable and the odd song is choreographed rather well too but no, not the Priyanka Chopra item number.
Finally, for all its visual and technical strengths and some fine performances, Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela fails to dig itself out of the hole it creates for itself by taking on an overtly familiar and hackneyed scenario and just not being able to do enough with it.