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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Adipurush: Ode To Spirituality Or Opportunism For Box-Office?

Adipurush by Om Raut is based on the Hindu scripture, Ramayana. The movie’s premise takes place during Lord Rama’s exile. For a while, this picture has been the talk of the town. Perhaps and very sadly, not for the right reasons. During the first few glimpses, the teaser was panned due to the shabby VFX execution and the ‘disrespectful’ portrayal of principal characters. Shockingly, the budget of ₹500 crore (US$63 million), is similar to that of RRR.

A few sequences are gripping, like the ones when Raavan (Saif Ali Khan) abducts Sita Ma  (Janaki in the film, played by Kriti Sanon) and the pre-interval part when Ram Ji (known as Raghav, played by Prabhas) builds the Setu (bridge). Even the background score by Sanchit and Ankit Balhara is epic, entirely celebrating the triumph of good over evil and the essence of Ramayana. Similar appreciation for Ajay-Atul and Sachet-Parampara’s soundtrack as they encompass divinity. Hence, it is great to see Indian cinema gain strength and confidence in creating magnum-opuses of such a nature.

Unfortunately, the biggest issue here seems to be the intention behind creating the picture. A revered scripture, which has the most insightful life lessons are reduced to crude dialogues. Meghananda (known as Indrajit in the film, Ravan’s son played by Vatsal Seth). Who confronts Hanuman Ji (called Bajrang in the movie) in Lanka and says (along the lines of): “Yeh teri bua ka bageecha nahin hai” (This is not your aunt’s garden). He then lights up the tail and Bajrang retorts: “Kapda tere baap ka. Tel tere baap ka. Aag bhi tere baap ki. Toh jalegi bhi tere baap ki” (The clothes, oil and fire are your father’s. So your father too will burn).

It is absolutely flabbergasting how Manoj Muntashir has come up with such lines when he claims to be a spiritual and devout Hindu. Even though there are sacred moments like the one with Shabri, a devotee of Rama. The exchange here encompasses holiness, but such sequences are far less than deserved to be included. Furthermore, there is no issue in presenting Hindu history in an upgraded and decorative way. I wish experienced and knowledgeable writers like K Vijayendra Prasad to write the lines for this. It would’ve added the magical appeal of faith.

Every filmmaker is entitled to their vision and perspective, but the artistic liberties taken here can be deemed as problematic. Prior to his embracing arrogant virtues, Raavan was spiritually powerful and had a strong connection with Lord Shiva. He got a boon from Brahma which makes him invincible to all the creations of Brahma, except for humans. But he eventually gained sinister intentions and transformed into a dark being. However, a shocking scene showcases him feeding massive chunks of meat to his pet vehicle. Such sequences can be dangerous as it propagates and normalises the idea that you can be a flesh-eating devotee of Shiva.

Another such liberty is taken in the first confrontation scene between Lord Rama’s Vanar Sena and Lanka. Raavan’s spy is disguised as a Sita and her neck is slit to instil fear and dominate power. At a time like this when victims are gruesomely beheaded in religious killings, such depictions can be terrifying and inappropriate. Where in the Ramayana is it written that incidents like this even took place?

The beauty of Ramanand Sagar’s 1987 series and Yugo Saka’s 1992 Japanese animation, is that they fused visual aesthetics with the divinity of the scripture. Here, the VFX substitutes for profound morals. Even if we look at the serial, to date we perceive Arun Govil and Deepika Chikhalia as Rama and Sita. Even now if we watch the show, it soothes the soul. There is purity. It provides a sense of comfort and warmth. Why? Perhaps due to the passion for storytelling. The direct intention did not seem to mint money. On the contrary, it was there for the passion of faith and Aastha. It was a way for a collective connection to the divine and supreme being.

Of course, the intention is not something which is always tangible, but viewers can feel it very strongly. In Adipurush‘s case, there are several aspects which make one question the film’s sincerity. Especially the casting. Prabhas, who was formidable in Baahubali, lacks the saintly aura and gallantry of Lord Rama. He is flat and limited when it comes to expressions/dialogue delivery. While Kriti Sanon adds grace as Janaki, she is let down by a faulty screenplay and lacklustre chemistry with Prabhas. Sunny Singh as Laxman seems lost. Devdatta Nage too endeavours hard to play Bajrang. Perhaps, the only saving grace in terms of experienced performances is Saif. He comes across natural as Raavan and plays it confidently. Though it definitely seems similar to Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat.

It begs attention as to how ‘Jai Shree Ram’ is constantly marketed and dialogues referencing ‘Bhagwa Dhwaj’ (saffron flag) are majorly highlighted. Such ploys seem to be bait. Trying to lure audiences to the theatres. This makes one question, is it genuinely celebrating our cultural heritage and roots? Or is it capitalising on India’s current geo-political climate? Hinduism and faith are much bigger than gimmicks, but belief is a very strong emotion. Resorting to an insipid approach is a huge blow to millions of devotees. It is humiliating to see a precious opportunity like this wasted on greed for monetary profits. Infuriating how our Hanuman Ji and so many other animal deities like Jambavan suffer a horrible visual creation.

On the whole, Ramayana is not just a religious text, but a way of life. For many years, it has been a huge guide in understanding life and ourselves through spirituality. The beauty of Hinduism is that it evolves with time. Principles and theories can be adapted to every era and circumstance. A film like Brahmastra proved that avant-garde visual effects combined with bhakti (devotion) in a modern-day story can make trailblazing cinema. I was hopeful Adipurush too would also upgrade yet honour our spiritual legacy.

Alas, I leave feeling distraught and disappointed. This might be their Ramayana. Certainly not ours.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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