Director: Abhishek Sharma
Starring: Akshay Kumar Jacqueline Fernandez Nushrratt Bharuccha
New Delhi: ‘Ram Setu’ is a consensus narrative. It is another film in the plethora of films which reinstate strong cultural, religious, socio-political beliefs which are held by the majority per se. This Akshay Kumar, Nushrratt Bharuccha, Jacqueline Fernandez starrer film is an action-adventure which has none of the action but most of the adventure to keep you hooked to your seat.
Note: ‘Ram Setu’ is loosely inspired from the Supreme Court case involving the then UPA and DMK government in 2008. Most arguments in the film bear close resemblance to those made during the proceedings of that case.
‘Ram Setu’ opens with the most uncommon, unexpected opening sequence in Afghanistan bringing back a collective memory of the Buddhas of Bamiyan explosion by the Taliban. The camera recording establishing an archival angle to an incident that occured for real is a great impression maker which is punctured moments later when Akshay Kumar enters the film with an over-exploited comic angle you wish was not there.
In fact, the entire film ‘Ram Setu’ is filled with such deliberate comic angles used in a way to lighten the feel of the text which really doesn’t need any kind of ‘lightening’.
15 minutes into the film, we have a revised scientific version of Akshay Kumar’s character from ‘OMG: Oh My God!’, ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa’ now with curly, gray hair making ‘blasphemous’ statements about the identity of Lord Ram and Ramayana in a religiously-politically charged country like ours.
Nushrratt Bharuccha plays a poorly-sketched role of a history professor, Akshay Kumar character’s wife while Jacqueline plays an environmentalist who helps Akshay Kumar prove that Ram Setu/Adam’s bridge is a man-made structure. A structure built under the direction of Lord Ram to rescue Goddess Sita from Sri Lanka 7000 years ago. All this is done to help quash a money-minded progress-maker which is ironically supported by the central government.
‘Ram Setu’ uses an interesting mix of camera movements like overlapping shots to interlace narratives, introduce key villain, a breezy interval card which is also the title card of the film and beautiful overhead shots of the Sri Lankan landscape which look no less than a Nat Geo trailer ( in the second half).
This helps in making the narrative, especially the first 30 minutes of the film, really engaging. Flat and predictable screenplay is lent depth with experiment in form. However, the cringe background score especially the ‘Jai Jai’ track every time someone Akshay’s character gets near Ram Setu is overused and manipulated to only reduce the intensity of faith/devotion.
This also brings one to consider another point. Some texts and art forms are honest enough to take sides, be blatantly ignorant or intelligent, or politically correct or not but with all honesty. And, then there are some narratives which are in the gray trying to make up their minds about what they stand for or what they are about. ‘Ram Setu’ is of the second kind, trying so hard to please the theatre audience that the shallowness really gets to you.
‘Ram Setu’ begins with Akshay Kumar challenging the ‘Ram Setu’ as a natural process ( not a man-made structure) and then having a change of heart after ‘scientifically’ gathering evidence that supports it was built by Lord Ram’s vanar sena.
While there is nothing wrong with the idea but the arguments, the dialogue penned to voice such an ideology and support it is rather banal and cliche. Throwing around words such as deep sea access and AMS technology, carbon dating and then using some really bad visual effects ( which remind you of cult shows like Shaktimaan, Shaka Laka Boom Boom) to prove a point are really bad.
The only thing which establishes a sense of awe and wonder is Akshay Kumar stating that ‘Ram Setu is nothing less than an engineering marvel’ and the accompanying music and some visuals. Other than that, the awe and the culturally-rich awe actually comes from the scenic beauty of Sri Lanka in the second half.
I don’t have a problem with the premise of the film or the way it has been shot but some homework in the water sequences would really have crafted a well-made film that ‘Ram Setu’ had the potential to become.
In the second half of the film, the divine angle of AP character (Satyadev Kancharana) is obvious. AP comes out of nowhere to help the drowning leading cast and continues to help them till they find substantial evidence about Ram Setu.
The mystery behind him is somewhat understandable and yet in the closing scene when his reality is revealed, it is a commendable closing move for ‘Ram Setu’.
Other than that, the second-half is riddled with parts unanswered for. A civil-worn torn Sri Lanka has no signs of a Civil War. In fact, even in the first half, some things are just left unexplained. For instance; how does Akshay land in Pakistan after a terrible Taliban bombing incident?
But such minute details can be given an excuse when things like action do not happen in an action-adventure film. The journey to find the lost Lanka of Ravana looks straight out of an Indiana Jones template but there is no good action anywhere.
The hero-heroine chase sequence followed by the last 40 minutes of the film look like they have been forced into this otherwise breezy ride. Formula elements such as these happen as does the court hearing climax for which the entire film has been building up with a well-intentioned disclaimer that runs at the bottom of the screen and a well-churned consensus narrative emerges.
In all honesty, the mythical Ram-Setu premise of the film is its standout and best feature which is undone and continually bombarded with justifications on religion, faith, cultural history etc etc. But, what I really like about the film is that despite being the ‘politically correct film it is, it initiates an intelligent conversation about religious history in today’s climate with an original template( Ram Setu).