Director: Radha Krishna Kumar
Writer: Radha Krishna Kumar
Cast: Prabhas, Pooja Hegde, Sachin Khedekar, Bhagyashree, Kunal Roy Kapur, Sathyan, Priyadarshi, Murli Sharma, Sasha Chettri, Riddhi Kumar
Cinematographer: Manoj Paramahamsa
Editor: Kotagiri Venkateswar Rao
There is a fine line that separates swooning romance from unintentional comedy. Radhe Shyam is a masterclass in what happens when you cross it. The deliciously silly line – I just want flirtationship – perfectly encapsulates the many problems with the film.
Radhe Shyam, written and directed by Radha Krishna Kumar, wants to be many things, like a Yash Chopra-esque fairy tale that takes place in stunning European locations. Much of the action is set in Rome. The film also wants to work as a profound meditation on the tussle between free will and destiny – is everything already written or are we in fact, masters of our own fate with the ability to shape our future? And of course, Radhe Shyam is also an unabashed love letter to its leading man – superstar Prabhas. The screenplay ensures that he gets ample opportunity to be a lover boy, a style icon – a character looks at him and asks, 'Aakhir kaun hai yeh good looking bad fellow?' – a mama's boy, a wanderer with such a large heart that in the freezing cold, he gives his own shoes to a homeless person and then lies shivering on a bench, and also the last action hero. Twice in the film, he gets gravely injured but manages to walk to the hospital himself. Not unlike that other superhero – Veer Sooryavanshi, who did this with a bullet wound.
The story takes place in 1976. Aditya, a world class palmist, who is known as India ka Nostradamus, is backpacking through Europe. Sometime before this, he read Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's hand and told her that she would declare an Emergency. Yes, Aditya is capable of these miracles. When he looks at the lines on someone's hand and runs his thumb vertically across his forehead, he gets visions of what's going to happen. His predictions have never been wrong. Which is why he is convinced that he will never fall in love since his palm has no love line. But one day, he sees Prerna and then his struggle against his own science begins.
Every film requires a suspension of disbelief but the leap of faith that Radhe Shyam asks us to take is so steep that it's almost vertical. Consider the casting of Bhagyashree as Aditya's mother. The actress is, according to the internet, 53, while Prabhas is 42. I'm still trying to figure out how this casting decision was made. Often in the film, Prabhas, looking dapper in polo necks and narrow, fitted pants walks through long corridors carrying a Louis Vuitton briefcase. He lives in an expansive house and drives these funky convertible cars. But he doesn't seem to work a lot and in fact seems exhausted with telling the future. Stranger still is Prerna, a doctor, whose hobby is leaning dangerously out of trains. Basically, she stands at the open door of a moving train. When she sees a stranger, she asks: Mujhe sambhal paoge? Then with one end of a scarf tied to her waist and the other in the stranger's hand, she leans out. Prerna, I think, needs a psychiatrist.
These two immaculately dressed individuals romance each other in cafes, trains, boats, ballrooms. There is a La La Land-inspired scene in which both are sitting on a bench overlooking the city. The climax is an unsuccessful homage to James Cameron's Titanic. Radha consistently uses slow motion and diffused light to evoke romance but the lazy writing undermines the grandiose visuals at every step. The relationship saga is interrupted by scenes of poorly written comedy. It's one big muddle and then a tsunami arrives.
Prabhas has a nice, laid-back presence but his dialogue delivery in Hindi is clumsy. Pooja Hegde, giving a whole new life to winged eyeliner, looks stunning but with the utter lack of any emotional shading, it's impossible to take any of this seriously. The only one who comes off looking good is production designer Raveendar, who was the art director of SS Rajamouli's Magadheera – the locations and sets are gorgeous. Even a doctor's office looks like some sort of gothic leftover set from a Harry Potter movie.
Radhe Shyam ends with Amitabh Bachchan's voice over telling us that eventually our actions shape our future, not the lines on our hand. On hearing this, a young man in the audience in the show I was in, groaned and said: Yeh pehle hi bata dete.
My sentiments exactly. You can watch Radhe Shyam at a theatre near you. Don't forget to wear a mask.