Rang Rasiya Movie Review
We were not sure what to expect from the biopic—there seem to be so many out lately—of the famous painter Raja Ravi Varma. Apart from grabbing headlines for stirring up the sensor board in Kerala, we knew next to nothing about this film except for hearing echoes of ‘Rang Rasiya’ sung by Sunidhi Chauhan, and a few quick peaks of actress Nandana Sen and Randeep Hooda. The trailer seemed inviting enough.
The movie was a welcome surprise. It depicted Raja Ravi Varma perfectly as he grew from a callous young man to a social visionary who truly believed in art for the masses and the importance of freedom of speech and expression.
Directed by Ketan Mehta, the film is based on Ranjit Desai’s biography of the painter. Built on the format of a three act play, the opening sequence of the film shows the attack of an art gallery, where Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings are getting auctioned.
Set in the late 19th century, the film reportedly took 6 years to make. Being a period film, this didn’t really matter. What’s awe-inspiring is how the director makes events of the time of Ravi Varma relevant even today. Yes, it might seem like we have progressed when it comes to the existence of religion, science and art, but our very empathy and complete understanding of the struggle of Ravi Varma make it plain that we still have a long way to go. This movie has the power to make any patron of the arts weep. the message is strong, clear, non preachy and sadly yet still relevant today.
Played by Randeep Hooda, Raja Ravi Varma is a youth married to a princess. But this is not the happy ending everyone pictures, rather the depressing beginning. Committed to art and painting, Raja turns into a rebel and flees his life of luxury. He is appointed by the king of Travancore; and after the king’s death moves on to the estate of Baroda.
During his patronage, the painter begins to paint Hindu gods and goddesses, making them available to anyone irrespective of their caste, especially important to those termed as untouchables. This is what he is remembered for even today. Of course, as expected, this act lands him in trouble in the court of law, where he is accused of profanity and blasphemy.
With the backdrop of a trial against the painter presided over by the magistrate played by Tom Alter, we dip in and out of Raja Ravi Verma’s life and his many affairs starting from Kerala and spreading to Bombay and Baroda.
The screenplay has been kept with simplicity in mind and this is great as there are no complicated subplots to deal with and the pace is suitable throughout.
Raja flirts his way throughout the movie with several love affairs, until he encounters leading lady Nandana Sen, playing the beautiful Sugandha. At first she hesitates, but then agrees to be the artist’s muse, eventually leading to the very controversial love-making scene with frontal nudity.
The film is not devoid of lighter elements—indeed, we can’t help but laugh when, during the trials, Lokmanya Tilak is busy delivering a speech, while Raja is airily flirting with pretty journalist Frenny played by Ferena Wazeir.
Probably his best performance till date, Randeep Hooda was the perfect cast for the role of Ravi Varma. He is passionate, intense, funny, unreliable, a fighter, selfless and all in all quirky and emerges as a great support for the film. Nandana Sen also was a perfect fit for her role, looking enticing yet not vulgar.
However, there are some obvious glitches like with some over the top dialogues and unconvincing acting by the secondary characters, especially the women that leave more to be desired. In a way, it was a good thing the movie took so long to finally see the light of day, as this allowed director Ketan to focus on the details and the theme of the movie that is about one of the country’s first custodians of freedom of expression.
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