You can't fault this one for not going far enough into the galaxy of untried cinematic experiences. Internet meets inner spirit in Mani Shankar's fascinating new age voyage into the Hindu epic Ramayana.
"Rudraksh" is a robust, sinuously shot study of morality. It is our own version of "Star Wars" (the scenes between Sanjay Dutt and his screen-father Kabir Bedi echo George Lucas' outer space odyssey), "Matrix" and "The Lord Of The Rings".
If audiences insist on dismissing Shankar's thesis on the eternal link between earthly life and the cosmos, then they must also stop raving like sycophants about sci-fantasy flicks of George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg or Peter Jackson.
"Rudraksh" compares surprisingly well with these tales of the cosmic dimension.
The script transforms the battle between good and evil into a fascinating character study. Bhuria (Suniel Shetty) is the modern day avatar of Ravan while Varun (Sanjay Dutt), a selfless cool-dude faith healer, is like Ram.
Their conflict, so old and yet so new-fangled in its context and treatment, takes the two characters through centuries of moral and spiritual battles fought over a landscape the director conceives almost like a video game.
There are constant changes in time and space, creating an eerie feeling in the viewer of being hurled into eternity, and being held back from plunging into the abyss just in time.
Mani Shankar cleverly links Ravan's Machiavellian ideology to the communal riots in Mumbai and then to a state of anarchy in the world.
International terrorism seems to be an abiding concern in Mani Shankar's cinema.
It's interesting to see the epic dimensions he's given the theme through computerised effects, first in "16 December" and now in "Rudraksh", where the protagonist and antagonist battle it out in computer-graphic glory.
In his endeavour to link the spiritual with the sumptuous, Mani goes all out to simulate the best special effects affordable to Indian cinema.
The film's biggest hurdle to a hefty mass appeal is its often-impenetrable references to Hindu philosophy. Shankar borrows liberally from ancient Hindu scriptures, combines it with cyber ideas and hurls the end product on screen.
You can watch "Rudraksh" both as a profound parable on morality and a traditional good versus evil yarn. But you cannot hope to absorb the film's multi-echoic philosophy as an easy-come-easy-go time-pass entertainment.
Some sections of the narration could've invited a more keen participation from the viewers. Throughout, Shankar keeps us detached. The characters never transcend their ideological positions to appeal as flesh-and-blood humans.
T. Surendra Reddy's cinematography and Shashi Preetam's background score are so well done you wonder why we ape Hollywood when our cinema has so much talent.
Evil has never been done with such ricocheting relish in a Hindi film. We feel its presence every time Shetty's Ravanna appears on screen with his mythical moll Lali (Isha Koppiker).
Their love scenes are desperately intense, lustful yet lyrical. Both Shetty and Koppiker are riveting in their sinful act and their tragic culmination. It's rare to see two actors put their body language and inner spirit to such positive advantage in negative roles.
The film is finally a triumph of good over evil. Sanjay Dutt as the techno-savvy spiritual guru exudes magnetic appeal. His long hair and the piercingly questioning eyes make him perfect for Ram's role.
In a rather interesting pivotal role as the self-serving US-returned research scientist exposing spiritual fraudulency, Bipasha Basu is exasperatingly bogus.
She seems more sold on an expose of another, less spiritual kind. Her facial expressions and body language are becoming exasperatingly repetitive.
She dresses for a dangerous archaeological and spiritual journey as though heading for a rave party. When Bipasha finally gets on the dance floor for the sizzling "Ishq Khudai" dance number (excellent choreography by Vaibhavi Merchant), she is out-rhythmed by starlet Nigar Khan.
To make things worse, there is a totally out of context sequence where Sanjay Dutt gives Bipasha an oil massage.