Radhe Shyam movie review: Prabhas film is marred by gaudy sets, fake emotions and lousy acting
Radhe Shyam is some achievement, but it is not worth the trouble.
castPrabhas, Pooja Hegde, Bhagyashree
directorRadha Krishna Kumar
If you ask me why the film is named Radhe Shyam, I wouldn’t be able to answer your question. Neither would the filmmaker, which is why he expects the viewer to look for a justification in a stray classical tune with the two names in it. If the filmmaker does everything, what are we for anyway?
If you were to ask me what Radhe Shyam is about, I could tell you what it aimed to be. A story the pits free will against determinism. How Prerana's (Pooja Hegde) love manages to convince the Einstein of palmistry, Vikram Adithya, played by Prabhas, that destiny is not as pre-ordained as he thinks. Stars are pretty to look at, but his life is very much in his hands, pun intended. But the truth is Radhe Shyam never manages to convey any of this with clarity. Instead, it tries to offset the hollow writing with dramatic locations and lavish sets. For this reason, even if the film looks expensive, it isn’t worth the trouble.
Before I can get into everything, I have to say I am impressed by the filmmaker in Radha Krishna, who managed to juggle every department in a film as massive as this. It is only his second film as a director, and his inexperience never shows in the film's visual grammar. You know how songs like Butta Bomma from Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo are shot in sets that are exuberant dollhouses. Now, imagine a whole movie set in a world like that, where everything reminds you of Marie Antoinette and her cursed cake, and you have Radhe Shyam. Manoj Paramahamsa’s camera, too, does a great job capturing this universe in all its manufactured glory. Speaking of which, Raveendar, the production designer, and Gayatri Shinde and co, the art department, are the film’s heroes. It’s easy for a filmmaker to suggest a look and a viewer to be charmed or not charmed by it, but the team does a great job doing what is expected. If the sets look too ostentatious—even the blankets in the hospital have frills on them—it's because the writing never manages to sell the artifice.
The thing is, it all comes down to the writing. It always does. No matter how beautiful your film is to look at, the viewer expects that beauty to make way for meaning. The film does have a few tricks up its sleeve. The way the photo-booth scene signifies a mythical bond between the couple is interesting. The character of an archer, Tara, is well-written as well. She is the voice of reason in a film that tries to pass astrology as a science—only 99 percent, but still—and her scenes are potentially the most memorable (not just because of the awkward floating sleeve).
The central conceit—for a happy ending to come by, Adithya needs to be both right and wrong—has excellent dramatic possibility. But every moment is treated the same way. Every character is superlative—the richest, the greatest, the most prestigious and so on. The flatness makes it impossible for the viewer to register anything prominent. Take the climactic sequence at sea. Even if it is well-shot and created, you don't feel the rush because the writing is such that it doesn't merit emotional investment—the thoughtless detailing elsewhere only compounds the issue. If the briefcase is essential enough to warrant an introduction shot, then where is it, after a point? What is in it? What is the scene where Prerana writes her name on the medical supplies all about? If there is a callback, in the end, it's either cut or poorly established.
While on the subject of poor establishment, it should not take a viewer more than one scene to get that a character is blind. Is that on Krishnaama Raju or the filmmaker? I don't know, but I know that it is unintentionally funny. So is Prabhas bowing his head down, lest he hit his head on a rainbow. I mean, he is tall, but come on. Despite the number of times Adithya says the word "flirtation-ships", he is written as a gentleman who would leave his car with the woman instead of asking her to get down when she unnecessarily falls in love with him. Prabhas already played a variation of this character in Chakram, so he is capable. But that pain and the desperation to run away from it is absent in his body language. The same goes with Pooja as well. She isn't, anyway, an expressive actor, so all we get are mere suggestions of her emotional state. As a result, there is zero chemistry between the lead pair. Thaman’s BGM tries its best to hammer the point home, but loud isn't the same as profound. Justin's music, though, works wonderfully with the magical landscape.
The trailer begins with a quote, ‘It's written in the stars-Alexandria Bellefleur.’ Who is Alexandria Bellefleur? A writer of swoony, rom-com stories. Is she the one who came up with that sentence? No. It’s a misquote from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, where the intention is to say it's not written in the stars. But, this perfectly encapsulates Radhe Shyam because that is also the film's journey. From 'it's written' to 'umm, it's actually not.' It's also symbolic of the movie because it thinks it is a Shakespearean drama, but, in reality, it's just a flimsy retelling of the 'love conquers all' trope.
I don't have an issue with expensive films, provided that the story dictates the scale. Radhe Shyam is visibly reverse engineered. They wanted to make a big film; the story is a mere afterthought. It is grand for the sake of it. The story never justifies the opulence that comes with it. Gaudy sets, but fake emotions and lousy acting. Because of this, the whole film feels out of place. As if the crew stumbled upon an abandoned palace and decided to have fun. They probably did have fun, but I did not.
Rating: * *
Sankeertana Varma is an engineer who took a few years to realise that bringing two lovely things, movies and writing, together is as great as it sounds. Mainly writes about Telugu cinema.
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