RAM LEELA: When I first heard of "Rowdy Rathore," I wondered what on earth Bhansali was doing producing a film like this. The answer, evidently, was gearing up for the wretched "Ram Leela," a Romeo and Juliet story that seems quite uninterested in romance, preferring the "goliyon ki raasleela," that is to say, the IDEA of a place where people shoot up shit at the drop of a hat. Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh keep talking about love and lust, but they suggest about as much heat as ice cream (the fact that in some way shape or form, this is the umpteenth film in which Padukone plays the supposedly liberated woman, does also detract from the novelty; she might have begun wanting to bust some cliches, but Padukone risks becoming one herself: the juvenile male's fantasy of the kick-ass babe). And then there are the various references to the Ramayana, each one more forced and absurd than the last one -- or perhaps they only seemed that way to me because the script and characterisation were so thin and inconsistent (especially of Ranveer in the second half; Deepika's character is pretty consistent, even as her lover suddenly turns passive and embraces the very system he has been fighting in what can only be termed a sulk). The music is not just mediocre but odd -- it has a very 1990s sort of badness, although it is at least devoid of the completely unjustified sense of self-importance that so pervaded more than one older Bhansali film album. Perhaps all of this would be forgivable, were the film not so tonally inconsistent: completely "straight" sequences are followed by farcical ones (eg. the "dishaaon dishaaon" song), Bhansali is clunky and awkward handling the dialog's cruder portions (precious is his forte, not earthy), and the result is the sort of mess that made me miss the purity of the vision that brought us "Saawariya". Certainly, Bhansali's latest is nowhere near as boring a film as that one, but it is also more empty. Skip this, and re-visit the far superior Ishaqzaade.
Aside: Abhimanyu Singh was excellent as Ranveer's elder brother, but his role was far too small (someone get this guy more films, please!).
BULLET RAJA is proof that not everyone can make a masala film. Tigmanshu Dhulia, the man behind the very enjoyable Haasil, and the atmospheric Saahib, Biwi, aur Gangster, has made a turkey, a film that checks off a number of the masala movie boxes -- friendship, love, tragedy, item number, revenge -- but does so in a way that lacks all conviction and drama (oh, and the item number is simply wretched). Stated differently, people simply do things in this film, nothing impels them to that end (and more often than not, a declamation substitutes for any plot development or cinematic moment), and, as with Gangs of Wasseypur (as my fiancée pointed out), because anything can happen at any point, it is hard to take seriously the particular moment when the hero does decide to take the bad guy out. That isn't to say there was no potential: but that was drained away by some loose editing, contributing to my experience of the film as rather "flat," and continuing to drone on and on. The bhaiyya-setting -- that is to say, a representation of U.P. and Bihar as India's Wild West, where people think nothing of massacring people and firing with gay abandon just about anywhere, and comically sprinkle their speech with mispronounced English -- has become pretty stale by the time we get to this film, and not all of Saif's pretend Brahmin bad-assery can make up for it, especially because at least this viewer was deeply resentful at the way in which Jimmy Shergill was wasted. Saif is simply not a convincing enough screen presence and actor to pull this role off, there was no villain as good as Dhulia himself was in Gangs of Wasseypur... And what the hell was Vidyut Jamwal doing here?! Ah, that "R...Rajkumar" trailer after the interval (in a theatre that was depressingly empty for a first weekend show) never looked better. But never fear, because Bullet Raja does serve one purpose: it reminds us all that we could do worse than watch Ram Leela.