'Adipurush' movie review: Fumbles in search of spectacle, forfeits soul
Ramayana is about obsession and revenge and honour and heartbreak… But this adaptation is emotionally as vacant as Prabhas’ eyes.
My most favourite aspect of our epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, is how their complexity lends itself to interpretations, often conflicting. It’s why you can spend hours debating the smallest incidents in them. Was Lakshmana right to disfigure Surpanakha? Was Rama right to kill Vaali in the manner he did? Was Raavana right to seek vengeance? Was Raavana fundamentally evil?
Adipurush, rather disappointingly, has no take on the story. It steers completely clear of interpretations (which perhaps is the most fundamental joy in a story that is part of our individual and collective subconscious). The only interest it seems to have in Ramayana’s characters is in using their aliases. Rama is Raghav. Hanuman is Bajrang. Ravana is Lankeshwar. Lakshmana is Sesh.
The film is puerile in its simplicity. Ravana, who shows little kindness even towards his pet demon-bat (don’t even ask), is cartoonishly evil. He’s a jet-black character with an A-grade salon haircut; also black along with his soul, are his clothes, and all objects in his vicinity, including a glass he drinks out of. As for Rama and his friends, they are, naturally, resplendently white—like they all came fresh from a detergent advertisement. Their white clothes contain careful saffron touches, and the early portions capture Rama-Sita’s idyllic forest dwelling with an artificial, paradisical beauty (that belongs more in the CG world than in the real). In fact, at one point, when Rama talks of Sita suffering for him, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. People would pay lakhs to live like them, as shown in the film.
In this film just short of three hours, there are few minutes of visual joys and even fewer emotional payoffs. Ramayana is about obsession and revenge and honour and heartbreak… But this adaptation is emotionally as vacant as Prabhas’ eyes. There’s a strange emptiness about his performance in this film, and he seems horribly miscast as a god-king who’s noble and dutiful to a fault. His heartbreak never registers as it should (given that the whole story emerges from this suffering)—and as for Sita/Janaki, the only real desperation she might feel perhaps concerns wanting to do more in this film. She’s the most significant woman in this epic and is yet reduced to a mass film heroine whose chief duty is only to prop up the hero with forgettable dialogues. She’s mostly AWOL in the film, and in that final battle sequence that drags on for half an hour—even as unrelated CG creatures jump at each other and Rama looks fed up too—actor Kriti Sanon (who plays Sita) is simply throwing repetitive far-away glances of concern. In Adipurush, Ravana abducted Sita not so much for revenge but because his sister Surpanakha motivates him by pointing out that he has everything, except the perfect woman (apparently, she’s not a big fan of Mandodari for unspecified reasons). If Ravana saw this film, he would change his mind about risking his kingdom and life for Sita. Why bother with this woman who shows no personality? It’s perhaps why his advisor, Vibhishana, and wife Mandodari behave like they couldn’t care less.
For a brief period in the beginning, Saif’s Ravana seemed interesting and physically imposing, somewhat like our version of Thanos. However, for lack of layers to his personality and the repetitive use of his bizarre, floating heads and his strange walk—with arms held still a long distance away from his body—even the guttural scream that constitutes his theme music begins to feel like humour. It’s much like how the high-pitched, choral chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, without the backing of emotional payoffs, only come across as desperate pleas. It also doesn’t help the protagonist’s mass hero image in the film that actor Devdatta Nage (playing Bajrang) is made to look like a man whose mouth is overstuffed with food.
Since I have mentioned Thanos, we may as well speak about how many creatures in this film seem like Hollywood knockoffs. At some point, it seems that the makers, exposed to work like LoTR, GoT, the Marvel films… decided that there’s scope within the Ramayana for such execution. Perhaps that’s why
Ravana’s pushpaka vimana is reinterpreted as a demon-bat-dragon. Lanka itself looks like a dystopian habitat from some bad superhero film. Later, when Rama and friends stand ready to take on adversaries around them, the camera circles, as each of them pose with their weapons… like the Avengers.
Meanwhile, Sugriva and other ape friends feel like substandard attempts at recreating characters from the Planet of the Apes films. Occasionally, as Ravana is busy hammering iron and forging a weapon, he seems to be channelling his inner Thor. Finally, as Rama and Ravana unleash what seem like electrified beams at each other, it’s hard not to wonder why we are seeing some budget version of the Harry-Voldemort faceoff. Oh, and before I forget, Indrajit runs around like the Flash (who features in a film, this week), and while he does, the rather confounded Rama and friends too seem unprepared for this bizarre Valmiki-DC crossover.
I had the misfortune of watching this film in 3D (a format that I have almost entirely given up on) and finding it hard to focus on all the blurry movement. How is one to appreciate the spectacle if you can’t see clear visuals through your spectacles? As for all the VFX, the work oscillates between being quite decent to resembling video game footage. Occasionally, certain shots seemed well-designed (like a back shot of Ravana at the beginning or a shot of Rama-Sita from underwater), but really, these compliments are akin to Rama desperately hunting for Sita’s pearls in an endless forest.
If Adipurush were a better film, I might have been tempted to write about the barrage of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chants, the happy use of saffron, the eager vilification of Ravana and Lanka, the black-is-evil, white-is-pure interpretation, the refusal to cover complex events like the Agnipariksha… But really, this is a film with more fundamental issues. It’s a film without a single character to care about, without a single moment of genuine emotion. Who might ever have thought that this could be said of an adaptation of Ramayana? I read that the makers promised to keep aside a seat in each theatre, should Anjaneya come in person to see the film, but really, is it a good idea to incur his wrath?
Director: Om Raut
Cast: Prabhas, Kriti Sanon, Saif Ali Khan