As you wait for the lights to go off and the reels of Ramji Londonwaley to unfold, you don't really expect much from the film. The reasons being: [i] There's practically no hype for the film, [ii] The lead man -- although a sought-after name in South -- has yet to find a foothold in Mumbai, [iii] The director, a first-timer, was associated with LAGAAN as an apprentice, but has nothing to his credit, [iv] The music has been released barely a week ago; obviously, it hasn't caught the fancy of the listeners yet...
So many factors that wouldn't really compel you to watch the film, on face-value at least!
But the viewer of today yearns for a good story at the end of the day and in this case, it's the story that does the talking. Ramji Londonwaley grips you slowly and steadily. If the first hour is bas theek hain type, it's the second half that changes the fortunes of not just Ramji, but also the film.
The story of a simpleton has been narrated with utmost simplicity and care. There's no effort to resort to clichés or formula, no unwanted songs, no attempt by the director to make you gulp something you didn't want to.
Kamal Haasan's story, Sanjay Dayma's screenplay and direction, Madhavan's performance and a heady mix of light and dramatic moments are the USPs of this enterprise. To sum up, the outcome is as invigorating as a hot coffee on a rainy day.
Remake of the Tamil hit Nala Damayanthi, which also starred Madhavan as a cook [in the Tamil version, Ramji heads for Australia], Ramji Londonwaley succeeds in bringing a smile on your face and a tear in your eye.
Ramji [Madhavan], a cook from Bihar, leaves for London to earn money and dole out the promised dowry for his sister's marriage.
After a hilarious air travel, he lands in London to find that his U.K.-based employer is dead. Things go from bad to worse when Ramji loses his belongings, including his passport, and is virtually on the streets, completely clueless about what to do next.
But hope comes in the form of an Indian [Harsh Chhaya] and his wife, who employ him as a chef in their Indian restaurant. But the immigration department swoops on Ramji and the only way out is to get into a marriage of convenience with Sameera [Samita Bangargi], a U.K. national. However, she is already into a steady relationship [Raj Zutshi], but agrees for this marriage since her fiancé compels her to take this step.
The rest of the film is about the immigration authorities getting on Ramji's trail and how the simpleton triumphs in every situation despite obstacles and barriers.
Post Lagaan, there has been an effort to narrate stories based in the heartland of India. Ashutosh Gowariker and his apprentices, first Apoorva Lakhia [Mumbai Se Aaya Mere Dost] and now Sanjay Dayma, traverse a similar path, although Dayma's film starts in Bihar, shifts to London and returns to Bihar again.
The interesting part of the film is the strong identification with the characters. Ramji is like any one of us, who lands up in situations that aren't easy to entangle. Right from the age-old evil called dowry to the problems an individual might encounter if he/she has lost his papers in a foreign country to the cultural divide, Dayma makes it a point to present the tribulations with a dash of humor, not painting a grim picture at all.
If the writing is very much controlled and almost flawless and the direction is proficient, there's one department where you feel the captain of the ship [the director] should've exercised his power: Editing.
The same story narrated with the same conviction could've easily done with a concise length. While the pacing in the first half is alright, the film does drag towards the second half and the editor could've easily chopped off 10-15 minutes [especially the 'Dhuan' track] to make things crisp and fast-paced.
Nevertheless, Dayma's execution in the post-interval portions, when Ramji's problems escalate, has been handled with élan. A number of sequences stand out in this half --
- The sequence when Samita learns the truth about Zutshi's marriage, right till the slap on his face in a restaurant.
- Zutshi's ugly confrontation in the night with the entire clan and his estranged wife stepping in to give him a piece of her mind.
- The separate interviews conducted by the immigration authorities in the pre-climax.
- The sequence at the airport, when Ramji decides to return to his village.
Dayma also succeeds in striking the right balance between humor and melodrama. The brand of humor is not the David Dhawan kind, yet it manages to makes you laugh at the right places. The toilet paper part as also the sequences involving the undergarments are humorous.
Vishal Bharadwaj's music is okay, partly because the songs haven't been promoted to the optimum. Cinematography [Ravi Varman] is eye-catching, especially the aerial view of London. Dialogues [Madhavan, Sanjay Dayma] give the film that extra sheen.
Ramji Londonwaley belongs to Madhavan completely. It's a master stroke from the accomplished actor yet again. He conveys so much through his expressive face and eyes and that's where the actor triumphs. Samita Bangargi is a revelation. If the actor looked completely at sea in her earlier outings, she gets it right this time around. She leaves a strong impression in the latter half of the film, handling the dramatic moments like a seasoned performer.
The film has a number of characters, but the ones who stand out are Raj Zutshi, Aditya Lakhia, Harsh Chhaya, Dayashanker Pandey and Akhilendra Mishra. Raj Zutshi is first-rate in a role that offers him ample scope to change colors like a chameleon. Aditya Lakhia may have a miniscule role, but his eyes convey a lot. Satish Shah steers away from his funny man image and proves his versatility in a different role. The lady playing the role of Zutshi's estranged wife is excellent. Amitabh Bachchan stages an entry in the last sequence and is sure to appeal to the die-hard Bachchan fans.
On the whole, Ramji Londonwaley is a feel-good entertainer that gives you a positive feeling at the conclusion of the show. At the box-office, its future will rest on a strong word of mouth kind, although the clash of multiple films in a week and also the fact that No Entry continues to be the first choice of moviegoers, will affect the business of Ramji Londonwaley to an extent. An enjoyable film nonetheless!
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