Twitter is ablaze with opinions and reviews on Om Raut’s Adipurush. A handful of people are willing to give the makers the benefit of doubt for attempting to mount on the big screen a movie about Ramayana, the historical bedrock of the Hindu civilisation. They don’t really care about the glitches and the anomalies. For them, watching Shree Ram come to life, Pawanputra Hanuman do superhuman tasks with the tip of his little finger, feeling divinity embedded in Maa Sita’s face supersedes every complaint that one could have with the script and the execution of the larger-than-life Rs 600 crore project. But their rational to watch the film cannot withstand the deluge of brickbats the makers are being pummeled with. While the criticism began with the first trailer launch months ago, they have multiplied now even after the film went through changes following the initial backlash for shoddy VFX and distortion of the depiction of several characters.
Artistic freedom and license is one thing, but playing with sensitive religious sentiments is another. And, most importantly, Bollywood has spent an enormous amount of money to make a mockery of our revered Gods (which clearly must be multiple times more than what Ramanand Sagar spent to create Ramayana on Doordarshan, a show Indians continue to love). In a bid to create a magnum opus based on one of the most primal epics that nurture Hindu pride, they have created a royal mess that showcases Islamic intonations (the casting of Hanuman and the Allauddin Khiljiesque get up of Raavan, the gloomy setting of Lanka as well as how Maa Sita’s head is wrapped with a chador in an Iranian style, not to mention that she doesn’t wear a mangalsutra), crass dialogues (if this is Manoj Muntashir’s grasp with the Hindi language then we must surely judge his merit) that the writer justified as akin to contemporary tastes considering children are more accustomed to Marvel superheroes, terrible VFX and weird get ups and fetishes of principle characters. It also sexualises Sita Maa who is Devi Lakshmi for us.
We are not going into the massive copying done from Hollywood’s Maleficent and Planet of the Apes, among other films. Should we start on the casting, the enactment, costumes of Shree Ram? Well why waste words even! Historically speaking, he’s the world’s biggest superhero, apart from Hanuman. A warrior who fought, along with the Vaanar Sena, to quell adharma and establish the mores of Dharma for eternity! His mission was driven not just by love for his ardhangini but also by the tenets of royal responsibility as the Suryavanshi predecessor of the glorious Ishvaku dynasty. However, notice from the film rushes of how Raut envisioned this mighty ancestor of Hindus and you will find yourself squirming. Now the point is, can these be merely written off as misjudgements and bloopers? Shouldn’t Rs 600 crores merit deeper research and understanding of the subject and inclusion of a lot more Bhakti bhav than present a version of Ramayana that doesn’t carry a typical tacky Bollywood approach? If that bit is so, then is this really a wasted opportunity or a purported sabotage by the repeat offenders of the Hindi film industry to mislead movie lovers?
To give you some perspective let’s take the instance of Chandraprakash Dwidevi’s Samrat Prithviraj. It was a film the audience was excited about when announced. Understandably so, as it was based on Prithviraj Raso, a Braj language epic poem about one of the greatest Rajput kings from the Chahamana dynasty of Bharat. The historical character was always spoken about in mainstream discourse as being a swashbuckling young man who swept off his beloved Princess Samyukta off her feet in a swayamvar. This was the first film that would show him as a warrior king protecting his people against Islamic invaders. A winner script obviously. But the film didn’t do well at the box office. Why? Bad casting, patchy script and erroneous execution. Opinions swarmed in about Akshay Kumar being too old and jaded to play the young, gallant king and many scenes exposed his comical expressions during the war sequences. Manushi Chillar, playing Samyukta, didn’t cut much ice with the watchers, either. Again, can the mistakes be passed off as mere oversight or was there some sinister ploy to not make the film work, on purpose?
Films based on Hindu inspirational texts and subjects have hardly made it to the big screen because Bollywood has always largely focused on disparaging authentic Bharatiya history and glorifying invaders in larger-than-life dramas. This was the first time that the industry pumped in huge money in a film that they knew the majority populace would flock to watch. Then why did they ruin the experience? Is it to prove that such films don’t find takers despite the money spent in making them? Is the message being sent to other filmmakers to be skeptical about working with similar topics? What could be scarier to new entrants in the industry thinking of exploring Hindu history and Puranic texts for movie projects than showing them that such subjects don’t really sell? After all, no newbie would want to burn his fingers with failure right?
This is called indirect hijacking of ideas by fooling not just the audience by giving them a distorted, watered-down, faux Hindu work but also planting the seed of doubt in fresh minds who are raring to go! If questions are asked, promptly the producers would reply, “But, we got Manoj Muntashir to write the dialogues! It was about Shree Ram! We presented Ramayana in a slightly different, contemporary way! Yet, no one liked it!” These opportunistic frauds would never tell you the hidden agenda. To mock our religious texts, deride our Hindu itihaasa and guilt trip us into feeling what we had wasn’t glorious. The plan is to discourage such subjects amongst new directors by pointing the gun using the Hindu shoulder! The reviews of Adipurush are disappointing and scream that an opportunity has been wasted. But at what cost?
A great film should have a goal, move the story forward, and present an emotional shift. The key ingredients that make a movie worth it are when the acting, directing, writing, cinematography, and overall production value all come together to tell one cohesive, entertaining, and impactful story. SS Rajamouli’s RRR, Vishnu Sasi Shankar’s Mallikappuram and Chandoo Mondeti’s Karthikeya 2 could be good examples here. These fictional accounts derived strength from Bharatiya itihaasa as well as religious fervour to present tales that were gripping and convincing. The cinematography and sequences too, caught the movie-goer’s fancy. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was hardly a historical documentary. As the director himself asserted, and reviewers, religious leaders, and audience members agreed, the movie was designed to bring to vivid life the nature and magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice – an issue of theology rather than history.
This is where Adipurush grossly undermines filmmaking. Provided Raut is equipped to understand what the craft actually entails. For, firstly, the subject isn’t exactly a story. The legend of Ramayana is an irrefutable truth for millions that happened thousands of years ago. It’s about Rama and the magnitude of his personality, his character and his life that acts as guiding principles for us. Along with many other critical characters that play a role models in our society of what to be and what not to be. When you are working on such a subject and such ancient characters with gargantuan moral values, it’s all about theology more than history. You can’t destroy that fervour with distortion, mockery as well as imitation of Hollywood movies and techniques. And bad dialogues, Muntashir! You want our children, who haven’t read the original text or its derivatives, to think this was how our Shree Ram and his people spoke? Or to believe that Sone ki Lanka was this dark and depressing? The ridiculousness of character portrayals and cinematography would look like a laundry list if we start now!
Hindi filmmakers use a new toy called VFX increasingly these days. That’s great, but only when used to stunningly recreate the persona, the character, the environment and social aspect that millions believe and live by each day, and not some random third grade action focused gibberish. Artistic freedom and all is understandable and such projects must be explored frequently in India but not at the cost of abusing the soul of our immortals. Perhaps that was why love and adulation was showered on RRR, Malikappuram and Karthikeya 2. Because, they melded fiction, fantasy and history without disrespecting the core beliefs of Sanatan Dharma. In the absence of this basic tenet, any such cinematic work would end up becoming a caricature, a slug fest or a source for the continuous supply of ludicrous memes. Which Adipurush will soon become!