Within a week of its release, the Ramayana-inspired ‘Adipurush’ has had the interest of the audience crash and nearly die down for a number of reasons.
To begin with, those who grew up following Hindu culture, whether or not they explicitly identify with the Ramayana-oriented belief system, are bound to raise eyebrows at this Om Raut misadventure touted to be an adaptation of the epic.
And those who are not from the community, but wish to know a thing or two about ‘Hindu culture’ by way of casually watching a movie, will be comically misguided if they go by what they see. Poor dialogues are only the tip of the iceberg.
Ravan was a great demon king — yes, great, because even though he was a demon, his merit was incontestable and even the gods acknowledged it.
His kingdom was situated in the tropical region of the Indian subcontinent and notwithstanding the vagaries of climate change, the Lanka of Ramayana would have been much greener than we can imagine — not black!
The details in the film, which could have been a mark of great cinematic finesse, are but a displeasing imitation of some iconic details from Hollywood films: the Harry Potteresqe death eaters that float about Lord Ram (Raghav); the Game Of Thrones-style gait of Ravan (who has uncharacteristically neatly cropped and gelled hair) and his dragon-like bat for a vehicle; a charcoal-finished Lanka looking like the evil twin of Thor’s Asgard, the Planet of The Apes-replica ‘vanar sena’, inclusive of a King Kong here and there; and costumes and hairdo of the villains that are just not Indian by any stretch of imagination.
These striking details were lifted without much effort to customise them to fit the context of Ramayan, which is not just an object of fancy but a deeply revered cultural heritage. Even Hollywood would have had exotic goblets, instead of those gold-streaked black wine glasses, knowing that it is a story from ancient times.
This Rs 500-crore film could have been otherwise justified for its visual effects, which were impressive but terribly misplaced in an incredibly wrong storyline that just rushed to conclude. This amounts to a mockery and an insult to our cultural heritage.
As far as common filmmaking goes, there may be no limit to imagination, but with regard to depicting an established piece of work, especially one that has religious sentiments attached to it, it becomes an obligation to accomplish such an undertaking much a sense of responsibility.
The inept recitation of a part of the Tandav Stotra by Ravan before Sita, when he says that he will climb on to Ram’s chest and do the Tandav, only betrays the embarrassing lack of research by the makers — Tandav is a dance form (the divine dance performed by Lord Shiva), and Tandav Stotra is a hymn composed by Ravan in praise of the god — it is not a victory jingle!
Even if a handful of research scholars and artists struggling for stable employment were hired for just Rs 500 a day, they would have furnished better research and illustrations that would have guided the filmmakers to represent the details of the age (the architecture and the artifacts) with some semblance of authenticity.
The series of blunders and misrepresentations simply don’t end. Several depictions are factually incorrect, apart from being exaggerated. Ravan, instead of immortality, earned the boon of invincibility and immunity from all gods, demons, heavenly spirits, serpents, and wild beasts from Brahma.
So, he died at the hands of a human — Lord Ram. But the film mixes up mythological characters from across scriptures and depicts Ravan enjoying the death-evading boon, which was actually granted to Hiranyakashyap, the demon king from the Pauranic texts, who was killed by Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha (half man, half lion) form.
Further, the occultist warrior prince Meghnad is nearly fictionalised with that ‘swarna jheel’ innovation. Treating Lakshman with what looked like a shallow neon Sanjeevani juice bath in the middle of a war at its turning point was going overboard without any care for common sense.
Even the very name of the film, ‘Adipurush’, is incorrect and utterly mindless. The word, literally meaning ‘the first man’, has no significance in the context of Ramayan. Adidev is a term that means ‘the first god’.
Among several Ramayan-associated actors who have come forth with their criticism, Arun Govil, who portrayed Lord Ram in Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Ramayan’ (the 1987 TV series), made a valid point when he said that the Lord and Ramayan are beyond “modernisation” and that there is no need to attempt that and disrespect people’s devotion.
Nonetheless, it remains the filmmaker’s responsibility to be mindful and respect the line between creative liberty and distortion.
It is said that in 1987, in villages and small towns, where a TV set was not a common possession, people gathered at a common place before one to watch Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Ramayan’ and when Ram appeared, they held their hands together and bowed in devotion. This is just a snippet of the audience’s sentiments associated with the epic and its popular depiction.
Away from the screens, various Hindu religious outfits and political parties have joined the chorus to ban the film. It is important to recall here that last October, monks from Ayodhya had raised objections to the “distortions” seen in the film’s trailer.
The head priest of Ram Janmabhoomi, Acharya Satyendra Das, said that despite protests, the filmmakers misrepresented the characters of Ramayana and “distorted” Hindu deities.
Mani Ram Das Chhavni Peeth, the most powerful body of Ayodhya saints, has also backed the demand that the film be banned.
No doubt, ‘Adipurush’ is a thoroughly disappointing misadventure, but one might wonder what is the point of such a film at all. Also, how did the Censor Board not feel the need to “regulate” its content?
When ‘Adipurush’ was not even released, there came the news of a ‘Ramayana’ being made by Nitesh Tiwari, starring Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor as Sita and Ram.
So, does the Indian audience not know Ramayana enough to be educated about it (or entertained) through commercial cinema? Or does it serve some other purpose by keeping people engaged in a circular discourse and have them enforce their Hindu identity on the pretext of Ramayana for reasons that warrant another discussion? Let us wait and watch!