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Rang Rasiya review: A passionate but flawed ode

Rang Rasiya review: A passionate but flawed ode

Source: Sonia Chopra

By: Sonia Chopra

Critic's Rating: 17/5

Friday 7 November 2014

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Movie Title

Rang Rasiya

Director

Ketan Mehta

Star Cast

Randeep Hooda, Nandana Sen, Paresh Rawal

The film begins in present time where auction bids for Raja Ravi Varma's paintings are reaching multiple crores. When we flashback, it's in a courtroom in the nineteenth century, where the artist (Randeep Hooda) is being tried in an obscenity case filed by fundamentalists.

That this kind of intolerance, close-mindedness, and stuck-up morality still exists around us, is an alarming indicator of how little we've evolved in this sphere.

In the courtroom, Varma tells his tale, and we're transported to his childhood where his genius as an artist was already getting noticed. The film then takes us through various episodes in Varma's life - his marriage to a princess, his affairs with his muses, and his falling in love with Sugandha (Nandana Sen), who inspired his most famous work.

Then follows his ascend to riches, fame and influence. He retains Sugandha as his muse and lover, while also getting involved with a more sophisticated woman.

Through his journey, we see several landmark moments - the Lumiere Brothers screening their films in Watson Hotel. Varma's encouraging a young, eager boy who goes by the name of Dadasaheb Phalke, and the Nationalist Movement taking ground.

This was the nineteenth century and Varma was at the peak of his career, when the leader of a fundamentalist party filed a case against him labeling his art, several of it combining the erotic elements of Indian mythology with European technique, obscene.

By that time, Varma had started his chromolithograph press. Thousands of prints were possible from one painting, and soon his prints were adorning the walls of modest homes and shops. Untouchability was challenged, as people who weren't allowed to enter a temple, began praying to Varma's paintings as a symbol of divinity. That the muse for his goddess pictures was Sugandha, a prostitute was also something that was objected to.

The film, that tells us of the main episodes of Varma's life, sadly narrates it in an episodic manner. And so, the film feels disjointed, like different set pieces woven together haphazardly. As separates, several of these portions work and are memorable, but as a whole, the film is just not as effective as it could have been.

Some of the outstanding scenes include Varma traveling all over India to research the paintings he has been assigned to make. The portion where the artist makes his muse 'feel' like a goddess for her to pose as a deity. The one where common people are encouraged to witness his paintings in a one-of-a-kind open art exhibition. Then there is that lovemaking scene where Sugandha and Varma are covered in little else but paint. I suppose the makers wanted to retain this rebellious, lyrical, sensuous vibe, which gets lost in the rest of the film.

And that hyped bare-breasted scene is surprisingly tepid, with a painting that doesn't even justify the muse's exposure!

As the legendary painter and human being, who is often referred to by the film as a "sacha kalakaar", Randeep Hooda is reasonably good. His strong suits are the risque, rebellious scenes, and he seems inhibited in the pure emotive pieces like the courtroom monologue scene. Still, as the lead actor, Hooda makes us care for the character enough to stay in the story.

Nandana Sen is superb as Sugandha, bringing out the nuances of the character's naivety and sensuality expertly. It's quite difficult to imagine someone else cast in this role.

Writer-director Ketan Mehta gives us a film with a staccato recounting of the life of this legendary artist, with simplistic dialogue devoid of nuance. There is an attempt to include arresting visuals like that paint-soaked lovemaking scene and a bonfire near a waterfall, but not all of them have the desired effect.

What the film does have on its side are earnest actors who give reasonably competent performances, a string of engaging portions, and music that works beautifully for the most part.

Despite the film's faults and its weak handling of such pertinent matter, Rang Rasiya still holds immense value. And this dawned upon this writer post the film, as she walked by a local tea-cigarette shop with the worn-out walls adorned by a Raja Ravi Varma print - a multiple-handed goddess, amidst the smoke, as if somehow cleansing the space.

It is miraculous how his art is accessible to everyone from those willing to pay a premium to own an original, to someone willing to settle for a print that can be adorned in a modest shop.

For choosing to tell the story of this extraordinary artist and for standing up for artistic freedom, Rang Rasiya is recommended. That it could have been a far better film, is another story.

Rating: 3 stars

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