Set in the village of Khakhar in Gujarat, ‘Bhavai’, a popular folk theatre form, provides the backdrop of this tragedy. The film is a layered tale of two star-crossed lovers who meet while performing the Ramlila in the Bhavai style.
It is when the travelling troupe of the Ramlila owned by Bhavar Singh comes to his village that Rajaram Joshi (Pratik Gandhi), son of the village pandit (Rajendra Gupta), realises that this is the opportunity for him to achieve his dream of becoming an actor. And with his perseverance and happenstance, he secures the role of Ravan.
During his stint with the troupe, Rajaram Joshi forms a bond with Rani (Aindrita Ray), who plays Sita in the Ramlila, and given the circumstances, they plan to elope. How the character, ‘Ravan’ of the Ramlila, defines Rajaram’s life, forms the crux of the narrative.
The film is minutely detailed and perfectly cast. What makes it stand out is Hardik Gajjar’s direction. He astutely manages to guide his team to deliver the best, be it in performances, music, or visuals. His writing, too, is commendable. The dialogues are down-to-earth, realistic and embellished with the right amount of local flavour.
The only issue is his script. The first act moves at a leisurely pace with an undertone of religious fervour fanning the narrative. The second and third acts simply seem rushed.
The performances by the characters are captivating. They all live their parts to perfection. Pratik Gandhi slips into Rajaram Joshi’s skin effortlessly. He steals the show with his boy-next-door looks and stardust in his eyes. His transformation from the ordinary village boy mouthing the Tandav Stotra to becoming Ravan is simply commendable. His sincerity touches the right emotional chords, but the script does not allow him to flourish.
Aindrita Ray is promising as the defiant Rani who embodies the confident Sita on stage with grace. Flora Saini as Urmi, the senior actress in the troupe, is staid.
Rajendra Gupta as Rajaram’s father Panditji is natural, so are Rakesh Sharma as Bhajrangi, Ankur Vikal as Bhurelal, who plays Ram, Ankur Bhatia, who plays Laxman, and Bhagyashree Mote as Rani’s friend Pyari. Their performances resonate with the right attitude, both as people and actors in the Ramlila. Gopal K. Singh as the local politician Ratan Singhji is wasted in a minuscule role. The others in supporting roles, too, are perfectly handpicked and deliver outstanding performances.
Visually, the film is aesthetically mounted. The high production values boosted by cinematographer Chirantan Das’ visual instincts, the stirring score by Prasad Sashte and Shabbir Ahmed, which include well-crafted songs, elevate Gajjar’s effort.
The last frame of the film – a quote by Buddha that states, “It is man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways” – for a moment flummoxes the viewers, but then you realise the quote is generic and is directed towards a society blinded by religion and culture. Overall, the film is a mild attempt to be an eye-opener.
–By Troy Ribeiro