When I first saw the trailer for this big budget Bollywood adventure film, I knew I had to watch it. Based on the Ramayana, one of the most important Hindu epics, it tells the story of Raghava, who must rescue his wife, Janaki, after she’s kidnapped by the demon king, Lankesh. Despite its ambitious goals, I think a lot of things in this movie fell short. From clunky, awkward dialogues to the visuals, it’s easy to see why some Indian talking heads have gone as far as to say that ‘history will never forgive’ director Om Raut for disrespecting such a sacred text. Despite me wanting to like this film as much as I did RRR (2022) or Brahmāstra: Part one—Shiva (2022), I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments where the ticket price was the only thing keeping me from leaving the theater.
This is one of those reviews where there are so many things wrong I don’t know where to start, but the visuals are weighing heaviest on my mind. I’ve never been one to demand hyper-sleek CGI—in fact, I think there are instances where having a less-than-perfect aesthetic can add a lot as far as the movie-watching experience goes. That being said, this was not one of those movies. There are some moments where the film looks like something you’d play on a PS3, which really detracted from the gravity of huge battle scenes that had the potential to blow us away. I also wonder if Lankesh’s kingdom of Lanka had to be designed and lit the way it was. Often described as ‘the golden land,’ I couldn’t help but wonder why so much of it was covered in dark, heavy shadows and brutalist architecture—perhaps to reinforce the idea of good vs evil, but it’s worth noting a review in The Indian Express lamented this shoehorned binary, saying Lankesh’s character in the Ramayana was more complex than the cartoonishly evil villain we get in this adaptation, which brings me to the writing.
It’s fair to point out that I could only read subtitles, and that the film was shot simultaneously in Hindi and Telugu, so the issue could completely be a matter of translation; but from my perspective, the writing here was atrocious. It was over-plotted to the point where I feel like this three-hour movie could’ve easily been at least half that length. Raghava has a giant monkey friend who can and does fly directly into Lankesh’s territory, destroys his entire armory, and even delivers a message to Janaki; but she refuses to fly to safety because she wants to see Raghava destroy the evil Lankesh himself. It’s kind of ridiculous. Too ridiculous. I feel like this film was full of these overcomplications, leading to its bloated runtime. I don’t want to go too hard on its gender politics, because it’s from a completely different cultural context, and is based on a holy text that was written in 200 B.C.E., but something about the hypermasculine hero rescuing the helpless damsel in distress didn’t sit right with me either. Boring, predictable, etc. Also, as a slight nitpick, I have to say that a fifteen-minute intermission in the middle of the film is NOT warranted—it’s three hours, for god’s sake, not six. By that logic, Across the Spider-Verse (2023) should’ve also had an intermission! What does it say about society that we can’t sit in a theater for a mere three hours? That being said, maybe they understood how stilted the dialogue was, and wanted to give us a break, in which case they should be celebrated as heroes.
I can at least say that the acting here was decent. Prabhas showed great range and commitment in his line deliveries, and Saif Ali Khan did what he could with what they gave him, as did Kriti Sanon. None of these performances will blow you away, but they definitely did more than what we see in the typical American action film (don’t believe me? Just watch Expendables 4 in September). I really do wish I could tell you to watch this movie in a theater near you, but even with matinee ticket prices, three hours of your time is too heavy a price to pay. In an era where movies like The Flash and Transformers are underperforming at the box-office, there’s never been more opportunity to fill that blockbuster void, but this is nowhere close. Thankfully, Asteroid City releases this weekend! Look out for my review of that coming soon. If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!