When Dashrath putra Ram displays his strength and King Janak offers him his daughter Sita in marriage, the groom stands tall (and dimpled) to declare that the right to say ‘Yes’ has to be the woman’s. And, until Sita narrates all the goodness that she saw and loved in Ram, the garland exchange can wait.
It sets the tone for director Kunal Kohli’s new-age retelling of the Ramayan which has Ram (Diganth Manchale) and his bare-bodied brothers flaunting gym-toned abs and natty contemporary haircuts. Sita (Aishwarya Ojha) even wears well-fitted lingerie and walks like she’s on a treadmill.
Told in a non-linear fashion with flashbacks and voice overs by Vishwamitra (Dalip Tahil), Kunal’s attempt at an opulent recreation of the Ramayan is like the characters of Ram and Ravan – good and bad.
The good is that it is concisely told in eight episodes. There are several lectures all around which have no time barriers. When Ravan’s sister Surpanaka is enamoured of Ram and tells him she’s a far more attractive package than his wife, he gives her a lecture on fidelity.
Sita’s kidnap after she steps out of the Lakshman Rekha drawn by her brother-in-law to protect her, has her musing aloud on how one should never step out of one’s boundaries.
Ram co-opts the army of monkeys (vanar sena) to help him wage war on Ravan’s Lanka with a little discourse on how nature, flora and fauna should be respected.
The importance of building bridges and looking at difficulties as opportunities and not as problems, comes from Ram before they figure out how to cross the sea to Lanka. Another mini-lecture: that prayas (effort) is in our hands, not the parinam (result).
The meeting between Sita and Ravan’s wife Mandodari has the Lankan lady mourn that she failed as a woman to keep her man by her side. Only to be told by Sita that it’s the failure of her husband for straying.
The lectures are straight without subtlety. In an episode where it’s suggested that Ram should think like Ravan to beat him and Ravan is told to take Ram’s form before Sita, the qualities of both men are spelt out with intercuts.
All in easy Sanskritised Hindi.
That Bharat will always by ravaged by dharm and conflict is foretold. That Ravan is not one person but a terror who’ll be around in some avatar is countered by the thought that every yug will have its Ram. And that the women of Bharat have always been strong and will one day slay Ravan too, pumps the air once again for the gender.
Ravan (Kabir Duhan Singh) has a background score all to himself where ‘Shaktishali Ravan’ is hoarsely whispered whenever he appears. And he has a grand grey palace with touches of gold which is more today’s colour. While it’s effective, what really stays is Amitabh Bachchan’s well-rendered ‘Jai Hanuman’ with Zakir Hussain’s tabla, composed by Rahul Sharma.
Now for the Ravan-like flaws of the series.
Abbas Ali Moghul’s action sequences lack excitement or novelty, the hand-to-hand combats looking like schoolboy skirmishes. And the tacky special effects don’t impress either.
Ram and Sita are like an outdated Hindi movie couple, darting stereotyped glances at each other and looking lovelorn. Really filmi.
For all the talk about how strong she is, Sita ultimately does nothing to save herself or show her strength in any way. Unless purity is her only strength.
Also, a story like the Ramayan upholding women so loftily falls flat when it comes to the agni pareeksha where a kidnapped woman has to prove that she has remained untouched.
But the real failure is the cast. From Ram-Sita to Ravan and Hanuman (Vivaan Bhatena), everybody’s stagey with the lead cast really effete. A final word is that a series like this will always elicit the sneer that the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chant pays obeisance to Hindutva. But if one can get over the political or religious prejudice, Kunal Kohli’s Ramyug tries hard to promote gender equality more than an ideology.
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