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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Radhe Shyam, Review: Goodness gracious, how flirtatious!

Radhe Shyam, Review: Goodness gracious, how flirtatious!

At its core, Radhe Shyam rakes-up an interesting debate, between destiny and those exceptions who surmount their pre-ordained destiny, and, in some cases, defy it. For destiny, read ‘predictions based on palmistry’. And yet, it tilts the balance strongly in favour of destiny, putting forth emphatically the theory that 99% of us cannot escape what has been written on our palms. Had this been the track that the screenplay developed, we might have had an interesting film at hand. Sadly, however, Radhe Shyam pads the premise with so much of visual candy and stylish inanity that the movie lands up all over the place, literally, what with the globe-trotting hero. There is a lot of movement, by foot, in cars, on trains and on a ship, only the audience is unlikely to be moved.

Blind monk Paramhans Shankaracharya is revered nationally as a fail-safe palmist. A group of scientists consult him about a state project. The delegation that visits him includes one sceptic. But the monk insists that his disciple Vikramaditya is even better than him at the job. Vikramaditya had read the palm of the Prime Minister of India and made predictions about the internal emergency imposed by her, in 1975, and its implications, in 1976. The problem is that Vikramaditya left the country after that and now lives a nomadic life in Europe, though, later, it seems that he is based in Italy. A staunch believer in ‘flirtationships’ and not relationships, he declares that his palm has no love line. Yet, on their first meeting, he tries to hook on to Prerna.

Prerna, a doctor, is the daughter of Indian immigrants and her uncle is the Dean of a state-of-the-art hospital there. She gets a big thrill out of dangling out of running trains, and asking some man, or a group of men, to hold a thick, long scarf that is tied round her waist. Vikramaditya happens to be in her compartment on one such occasion, and, instead of holding on tight to the scarf, he wraps it around the rod and ties the other end to his own waist, thereby dangling directly opposite Prerna. An accident then brings him to Prerna’s hospital, where he is treated, and where, naturally, he meets Prerna again. After several encounters, Vikramaditya confesses his stand on relationships to her, but she still falls in love with him, although she has turned down a host of suitors. Vikramaditya writes a diary which, unlike conventional diaries, makes notes about future happenings too. One such entry, hidden away in the future pages, is directly related to his ‘affair’ with Prerna. So, he is hiding something! On her part, Prerna has not yet shared with him something that is an open secret among her family, friends and colleagues.

What begins as an examination of the science of palmistry, vis à vis the scientific approach to the future, suddenly becomes a picture post-card tour of Italy (the support from the Italian Government is acknowledged), and the run-of-the-mill boy meets girl, boy woos girl, girl does not like boy, girl begins to like boy’, tale, with a major exception, of course - the boy bluntly tells the girl that he is interested only in flirting. The script then introduces Vikramaditya’s mother as an Indian dance exponent and another man as his best friend, who, from what we see, does pretty much nothing, except habitually complain about the taste of food he is served at Vikramaditya’s home, where he, apparently, lives. We are clueless about the source of Vikramaditya’s high-end income, since he is never shown earning anything at all. Prerna’s father is shown several times in the film but is given barely two words to speak. There is no mention of when and how the two families settled in Italy. Though not mandatory, a little back-story always makes characters more credible.

Along the way, Vikramaditya meets a bunch of travellers on a train, and all of them want their palms read. It dawns upon him, after he alights, that all of them had only half a life-line, and their being together must spell sure death for them all. Suspending disbelief completely for a while, your heart beats for him as he makes a valiant, even superhuman attempt, to stop the train and save their lives. What happens next only reinforces his conviction that palmistry is a 100% perfect science, a stand with which his Guru differs, albeit marginally. Gurujee says that it is only 99% perfect and that the 1% who do not fall victims to destiny are the ones who really shape the world. Holding steadfast to his beliefs, he refuses to write the preface to his Gurujee’s book on Palmistry, because it is titled ‘A 99% Science”. And Gurujee has travelled half the world to come and get this preface written! These are some of the redeeming features of the screenplay. This same screenplay shows an entire, mansion-house like hospital, with a giant-size operation theatre being run by Indians and several of the men and women who appear briefly in the film are all Indian, speaking Hindi. There is a captain of a ship, who suffers from a condition which prompts him to remain admitted to the elite hospital, and demand treatment and operations, although all his reports are clear. As a result, he clowns around the ICU! Regarding the premise of destiny and whether we can change it, one finds inspiration from at least four Hindi films: Latt Saheb, Karm, Kudrat and Haathon Ki Lakeeren. Dialogue by Abbas Dalal and Hussain Dalal fluctuates, from the mundane to the occasionally inspired.

Riding twin ships is Radha Krishna Kumar, credited with both the script and direction. While the parent ships move at a steady pace, there are several life-boats that move in different directions, distracting the viewer. And as captain of the two ships, he must take the blame for the digressions. He is unable to curb the urge to show his leading man as a super-hero, but since this is not a super-hero film, he decides to depict him as a man who fights all odds and remains calm, even distanced, in trying circumstances. In one scene, the age of Prerna is mentioned as 20. Nobody can become a doctor at 20, that too one who is shown handling serious cases, unless Italy has an education system that provides such scope. A young woman dangling from a scarf almost every day, as is implied, would not go unnoticed and unpunished. Once is all that she should be shown getting away with. The clown of a captain is shown on active duty at a later stage, providing great leadership, and exhibiting none of his idiosyncrasies.

With a franchise like Bahubali behind him, 42 year-old Uppalapati Venkata Suryanarayana ‘Prabhas’ Raju, walks like a giant, almost in slow motion. He speaks his own Hindi (no dubbing), which is a brave effort, but does not convince anybody that he is a native speaker of the language. Seeing him at the mercy of destiny is a welcome paradigm shift, for we expect him to be battling demons and devils. Something is lacking in the pairing, which does not inspire Prabhas to match-up with Pooja Hegde, as a couple. There is a quiet intensity about him, which is well-tapped, though Radhe Shyam will not rank among his best performances. Pooja Hegde comes off a little better. Perhaps in awe of Prabhas, she is, however, unable to generate the requisite chemistry for the role, which is, to be sure, a two-way process. She looks good, and confident too, but is a captive to the role. Bhagyashree as Prabhas’s mother has maintained her figure and impresses in a short role. When we first see Sathyaraj as Paramhansa, he looks like a version of Sunny Deol, but that impression is soon dissipated. A good bit of casting, for a very brief role. Murali Sharma as Prerna’s father is a total waste. Flora Jacob as Indira Gandhi (she was known to have Godmen as advisors) looks the fleeting part. Sachin Khedekar as the Dean and Prerna’s Chachu is introduced as a terror, but turns out to be a very rational man. He goes beyond the confines of the role and makes a dignified impact. Others in the cast are Priyadarshi, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Riddhi Kumar, Sathyan, Jayaram, Sasha Chettri, Nabeel Ahmed, Sunil Beniwal, Mahati Bhikshu, Sharik Khan, Mandava Sai Kumar and Riddhi Kumar.

VFX and the cinematography by Manoj Paramahansa are of a very high order. Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao does a reasonable job of the editing. One cannot really blame him for the tedium that sets in very soon, and the arduous task of sitting through 142 minutes. Mention must be made of the music by Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara, and the vocals by Mithoon, Amaal Mallik and Manan Bharadwaj. Lyric writing by Manoj Muntashir avoids the stereo-typical imagery. Most songs are melodious.

Radhe Shyam is neither about Radhe nor about Shyam, notwithstanding the songs and references to the legendary lovers that suddenly erupt towards the end. It does draw from Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, though, in a couple of scenes.

There are better ways of spending your time and money than watching this film, but then it depends on whether you fall within the 99% majority or the 1% exception that proves the rule.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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