Why does the Sohni-Mahiwal or Heer Ranjha mythology get bypassed in favour of Romeo and Juliet, asks Laxmi Murthy
Love, romance or passion apart, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s heroine embodies lust. While the promos make much of it being an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, Bhansali’s Leela (Deepika Padukone) is bold, passionate and assertive, cast more in the ardent and determined Heer and Sohni mould than that of Shakespeare’s child-woman Juliet. Ram (Ranveer) however, is no brooding Ranjha or smouldering and intense Mahiwal. This object of Leela’s passion is rambunctious and raunchy, his machismo channelled into seducing the village girls, rather than stomping around with loaded guns like his trigger-happy clansmen. “Ask any girl about my virility, you’ll get a good report,” retorts Ram saucily when chastised by his father about his squeamishness about guns.
Violence is the leitmotif of the film, the ubiquitous bullet showers probably justifying the addition of “Goliyon ki Raasleela’ when there were objections to the ‘misuse’ of the title Ram-Leela because, the petitioners of the case argued, the film had nothing to do with the mythological god Ram. Religious and community sentiments being rather fragile in India, protests led to Bhansali being forced to change the community names Jadeja and Rabari to the fictitious titles of Saneda and Rajari. Following the release of the film with the title ‘Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela’ in mid-November, the Allahabad High Court on November 20 banned its release in Uttar Pradesh, on grounds of ‘hurting religious sentiments of Hindus’ and giving the. Hindus in the rest of India seemed to have more robust sentiments, it would appear, since the film grossed Rs. 68.58 crore in 3,500 screens across the country in just one week
Women on top
The lavish sets, catchy but strident music and exquisite but over-the-top costumes are but a background to showcase power. One hardly expects realism from Bhansali, but the opulence and attention to detail resemble a theatrical production in their precision. Surprisingly, it is woman power, in all its possibilities, problems and distortion that is fore-grounded on this stage. Even before most of them are literally shot out of the film the beer-sloshing, over-sexed and ludicrous male protagonists are no match for the strong female characters – from Rasila (Leela’s sister in law) and Kausar (Ram’s sister in law) to Dhankor Baa, the Don of the Saneda clan superbly played by the gifted Supriya Pathak, tongue firmly in cheek. Screen play writers Sidharth-Garima have given the women snappy one-liners (sometimes degenerating to tacky verse). And the women come out shining. Deepika is luscious, but she does more than stand around looking pretty. Her Leela is sexually assertive from the word go, audaciously planting a kiss on Ram’s mouth in the very first scene in which she appears. The feisty young woman pursues her intense attraction to Ram (I am loath to call it ‘love’), daring to sneak into the Rajari galli and even dance and make out in Ram’s sleazy video parlour. Defying her family, she cavorts around with her lover in her private quarters in a haveli complete with pet peacocks, plastic flowers and pond.
The relationship between Leela and her brother’s wife Rasila is refreshingly different. The solidarity between the two young women weathers the fact that Leela’s lover murders Rasila’s husband. Rasila, immensely sympathetic to Leela, conspires with her, braves the wrath of her mother-in-law the authoritarian Dhankor Baa and acts as a go-between, informing Ram of Leela’s impending wedding to a man chosen by Baa. For her pains, Rasila is attacked –almost raped– by Ram’s buddies, but still stands by Leela, quite unlike the treacherous sister-in-law (nanad) who betrays Sohni by exchanging the clay pitcher (ghara) she crosses the river on, with an unbaked one which leads to her death by drowning.
ਰਾਤ ਹਨੇਰੀ ਸਾਂ-ਸਾਂ ਕਰਦੀ ਸੋਹਣੀ ਕਦੇ ਨਾ ਡਰਦੀ
ਚੱਕ ਲਿਆ ਘੜਾ ਉਹਨੇ ਧਰਲਿਆ ਢਾਕ ‘ਤੇ, ਬੋਚ ਬੋਚ ਪੱਬ ਧਰਦੀ,
ਡੋਬੀ ਤੈਂ ਨਣਦੇ ਕੱਚੇ ਘੜੇ ‘ਤੇ ਤਰਦੀ, ਡੋਬੀ ਤੈਂ ਨਣਦੇ…
rat haneri saan-saan kardi Sohni kade na dardi
chakk liya ghara uhne dharliya dhhak te, boch boch pab dhardi,
dhobi tain nannde kacche ghade te tardi, dobi tain nannde … …
Sohni is not scared of the dark furious night, She walked quietly with a pitcher on her flank,
O sister-in-law I drowned, you made me swim on an unbaked pitcher…
O sister-in-law it’s because of you I drowned …
The relationship between Dhankor Baa, the gun toting Godmother who presides over her ‘business’ – smuggling, and various other underhand deals – and her rebellious daughter Leela is nuanced, especially in the latter half when Leela assumes the mantle of leadership after a murder attempt leaves Baa incapacitated. Indeed, Ram, who likewise has been anointed the Rajari leader (interestingly enough, he is deemed leader material after he takes a stand against rape being used as a weapon of war between the two clans), emerges less assured as the patriarch. He is less able to shed his frivolous lover boy image, and stomping around in boots does not render him more ferocious. In the end, it is their impatience that literally leads to their death. Even as Rasila thumps on the door with news that both clans have arrived at a truce, Ram and Leela complete their suicide pact with gunshot each, entwined in each others’ arms, their death scene crafted like one of passionate seduction. Bhansali pulls back from allowing the lovers even one night of lovemaking, a surprise, given the sheer sensuality and eroticism that permeate the film. Instead, Leela the reluctant virgin is penetrated only by a bullet seconds before her death.
Laxmi Murthy is the Director, Hri Institute and based in Bangalore
Hri © 2021 All rights reserved | Developed by: Silverline Technology Pvt. Ltd.