Starring Pratik Gandhi and Aindrita Ray
Directed by Hardik Gajjar
Like a fulsome wholesome Gujarati thali, Bhavai(earlier entitled Raavan Leela which made a lot more sense) has a lot to offer us. It’s a surprisingly appetizing dish, pleasing to eye and the palate. And appealing to the mood of festivity that the Dussehra season awakens in all of us, whether we like it or not.
Set in the bustling drama of a Ram Leela troupe in a village in Gujarat(the last time we entered the heart of a nautanki team it was in Shailendra’s ill-fated classic Teesri Kasam) this is a flamboyant-yet-austere stark-yet-spicy film swirling and dancing in the tides of topicality and temporality.
If there is a quality of timelessness in the growing fondness between ‘Sita’ and ‘Raavan’(last explored in Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, though in an entirely different context) there is also a headlines twist in the tangy tale with the sudden invited appearance of radical Hindu elements jumping in to thwart the romance between ‘Raavan’ and ‘Sita’.
That’s against our sanskaar, you see. And never mind if the two people in love are only enacting the parts. Raavan and Sita are not really Raavan and Sita. They are two actors in the film named Raja and Rani played by Pratik Gandhi and Aindrita Ray who play Raavan and Sita and grow fond of each other backstage.
The way their growing mutual fondness impinges on their on-stage performance, is a delightfully achieved merger of myth and reality that can only obtained in a culture as paradoxical tangled and ambivalent as ours.
Writer-director Hardik Gajjar is not always successful in depicting that cultural dichotomy which makes us mistake the real and make-believe. An outraged village of Ram Leela fixated audiences can’t even contemplate the thought of ‘Raavan’ and ‘Sita’ being together in real life. It is against our tradition, they bellow, before taking the law into their own hands.
I wish this remarkably dense idea of the politics of religion and the religion of politics had been explored more keenly by the screenwriters. Sadly there is a sense of surface-level haste, an attitude of let’s-get-it-over-it which prevents Bhavai from being a more weighty work on the subversion of Hindu mythology by radical elements.
Barring a weak turn by Aindrita Ray as the on-stage Sita, the performers, specially Pratik Gandhi as the family wastrel(Rajendra Gupta is superb as his despairing father) who turns into Raavan on stage, achieve their leap of faith from rangmanch to reality with remarkable fluency. Abhimanyu Singh as Bhanwar, the lecherous theatre owner and Ankur Bhatia as the resident electrician who moonlights as Laxman and Ankur Vikal as the onstage Rama are terrific.
The film is handsomely shot by cinematographer Chirantan Das who captures Kutch as region of disarming innocence. The music and songs(by Prasad Shaste and Shabbir Ahmed) add tremendously to the festive flavor. Not since Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron have I seen a director have so much fun at the Ram Leela.
Cheeky, irreverent, topical and charming Bhavai is the best Dussehra gift you can give to yourself.