Director: Om Raut
Cast: Prabhas, Kriti Sanon, Saif Ali Khan, Sunny Singh
"Why hasn't the Indian film industry been able to crack a franchise or even a standalone film that gives a fitting answer to the globally celebrated MCU entries, despite having a rich mythology and literature to source great stories from?" This is a question I'd often ask myself. When SS Rajamouli brought the best of both worlds—a universally appealing form and a soul strongly inspired by Amar Chitra Katha—together, he made history with Baahubali, encouraging filmmakers to think bigger and beyond the self-created horizon. Naturally, when Om Raut's adaptation of Ramayana, Adipurush, was announced in 2020, I was hopeful that we would be finally seeing an epic, made for the contemporary audience who have consumed the MCU/DC titles, told in the grandest way possible. Considering the names associated with the project, there would be no paucity of resources, I assumed. Oh boy, how wrong I was. Sure, the first trailer of the film helped tone our expectations down but no, Adipurush is still far from acceptable.
The problem with Adipurush is at a very fundamental level: lack of an original vision. The film is entirely shot on a green/blue screen, mandating excessive reliance on visual effects to create its world from scratch. The visual effects are embarrassingly bad but what if I say it's not even the biggest problem with the film? The conundrum here is that its aesthetic —both visuals and style — seems largely borrowed from Hollywood superhero films. In one of the many battles in the film, the camera circularly tracks Raghava, Lakshman, Bajrang, Sugriva and Jambavan as they prepare to battle Raavan's massive army of CG minions. It's impossible not to see the inspiration from the iconic Avengers (2012) shot. The creatures that attack Raghav early in the film look like haphazardly rendered death eaters from the Harry Potter films. The painfully tiring and long climax bears an uncanny resemblance to the final battle from Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 — from the dim lighting to the gloomy computer-generated structures of Lanka. Even the image of a one-on-one clash between Raghava and Raavan reminds you of the final Harry vs Voldemort showdown.
The climax, the film's most exhausting and bland part, feels like a pre-visualisation demo for a fantasy video game and the writing doesn't help either. Our team has to first take over Raavan's son Indrajith (who has hyper-speed abilities... like Flash) and then Kumbhakarna and then get to Raavan. There's no inventiveness in action here either; 45 minutes of Prabhas and other CG characters pretending to fight hordes of poor CG creatures and shoot CG arrows, is definitely not fun. In fact, it's a widely hated MCU cliche. The first half of the film packs in the majority of the story, leaving nothing but bloated, boring battle sequences for the second half. While Adipurush feels like an unrealised but nevertheless ambitious hotchpotch of superhero film ideas on a macro, ideation level, it's disheartening to see the film fail even on a micro, purely technical level. The audio of dialogues in the Telugu version in multiple scenes didn't sync with lip movement, if the distraction caused by the awful VFX wasn't enough. Likewise, the choice to go with Ravi Shankar's voice for Raavan comes across as yet another impediment because, by this point, the voice has become a boring standard for Telugu villains.
Adipurush is an upsetting mess on the creative front. The characters in the foreground and background environment are never in harmony, constantly diverting you from investing in the emotion of the scene, even if you try hard to focus. There are countless instances where the speed and smoothness of the characters don't match the movement of the objects in the background. For instance, the characters are operating at a normal speed while the birds in the background fly in slow motion. The lighting and masking make some characters look like PNG files overlayed on a stock, screen-saver background. Let's just say, the visuals are incredibly disappointing. Did I say that the visuals are poor?
So keeping the flawed visuals aside, how does the film do, on a story or drama level? There's little to no spark here too, with almost every sequence overstaying its welcome. The abduction of Janaki is a defining moment of Ramayana and of course, it should be treated with the importance it deserves, but the thrill in the sequence is undone because it never seems to end. For a brief moment, when Jathayu comes to save the immobile Janaki, who is tied to Raavan's Dragon-like bird, only to be slayed by the villain in one of the very few memorable moments from the film, I genuinely felt the film justifies its existence. Because for this brief moment, we see what Adipurush could have been. And should have been. But eventually, it wears you down once Raavan reaches Lanka and the scene keeps going on and on, with extensive slow-motion shots. This is only an example of such many overlong sequences in the film. There isn't an iota of thrill or magic to be experienced in what are supposed to be grand, rousing sequences.
There are very few noteworthy moments in the film. For instance, the scene where Raghav first prays to the god of seas, requesting him to allow his Vanara army to build the bridge to Lanka, only to be compelled to aim a Brahmastra at the seas is great, both visually and writing-wise, because we see this man's morals firsthand instead of just being told about them. Similarly, there is a brief moment Raavan shares with his wife, Mandodhari, who is clad in white, having accepted her husband's fate just as he is about to enter the battlefield. Such scenes make you wonder why there aren't more moments like these.
Another major problem with Adipurush is how characters are written and portrayed with zero depth. The way Raavan is presented as a massively built man with a peculiar gait, that looks like a child mimicking The Rock, is unintentionally funny. Sure, the idea to make his 10 heads, each with a different personality, converse with each other sounds interesting but it's overdone to a point where it becomes a gag, once again, an unintentional one. It's also baffling that in a three-hour-long film, Raghav barely interacts with his brother, Lakshman, or even Raavan. Sunny Singh's Lakshman merely exists to make questionable arguments, only for Raghav to correct him and exhibit his principles in the process. For a film titled Adipurush, it might be surprising that even Raghav himself makes his presence barely felt until the second half and every second shot being a low-angle one doesn't help in establishing his majestic presence, other than adding redundancy. Adipurush is a colossal mess as a product of visual storytelling. Once again, it's not just the bad VFX that taint the film, it's the lack of a strong, original vision. Ajay-Atul's inspiring score can only do so much to salvage the film.