Ram Setu takes you on a 144-minute-long journey to prove that religion redeems you, and in the film’s case, it is Hinduism, albeit through near-death experiences. The main lead, Akshay Kumar, plays a 40-something atheist archaeologist Aryan Kulshreshtha who is out to prove that Ram Setu predates Ramayana, only to become a hard-core believer in God.
The film is conveniently set in 2007 when the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government was in power. It shows that the Indian government has teamed up with a private dredging company to demolish the Ram Setu bridge between India and Sri Lanka to build a shipping canal. The government tries to prove that Ramayana represents a set of beliefs, and that the bridge’s divine origins are a myth. Indrakant (played by Nassar) funds his own expedition to prove that the government’s version is right. And to ensure his project proceeds without glitches, he hires Aryan.
Abhishek Sharma’s screenplay is based loosely on Pushkar Bhatnagar’s Dating the Era of Lord Rama. Director of Samrat Prithviraj, Chandrapraksh Dwivedi is a consultant and dialogue writer of Ram Setu. Dwivedi had asserted that he ‘fact-checked’ the screenplay of Samrat Prithviraj, when it wasn’t based on historical events but on Prithviraj Raso, a poem. That sets the tone for Ram Setu as well.
Indiana Jones, actors as props
It does help matters that Akshay Kumar doesn’t try to look or play the character of a 30-year-old for a change. He tries hard to be a Benjamin Franklin Gates of National Treasure or a Dr Henry Walton of Indiana Jones. But he doesn’t feel convincing at any moment.
The character of Aryan says things like “Dharm bas logo ko batta hai, Sanskriti sabko jodti hai” (Religion divides people and culture unites them)” only to make a complete U-turn in the second half of the film.
A film about a bridge, that involves Sri Lanka, decides that the best use of Jacqueline Fernandez, who is half-Sri Lankan, is to give her the character of a Goan environmental scientist. Nushrratt Bharuccha plays a religion-abiding professor and wife of Aryan. Like most Akshay Kumar films, Ram Setu also uses women as props.
However, other actors in the film are less disappointing. Nassar is effective as the evil businessman, and so is Satyadev Kancharana as the helpful fisherman, despite a terrible accent. Pravesh Rana as Bali, Inderkant’s henchman is also appropriately menacing.
Dressed in thrill and VFX failures
The film relies heavily on invoking Ramayana, especially in the scene where Akshay and Satyadev Kancharana teamed up to resemble the Ram-Hanuman relationship.
Taking cues from movies like Baahubali or even RRR, the film adds Hindutva ideology, history and myth to the tried and tested methods, and peppers it with appropriate thrill.
Every high-octane moment in the film that is underwater has chants of ‘Ram, Ram’. But the background score is in tandem with the action and is impactful.
If you can get past the obvious, Ram Setu is a thrilling film. The VFX and CGI falter, except for the underwater visuals, which are stunning.
The action kicks in for a while in the second half of the film. The film’s business might get a push because it essentially does what Dhoom 2 did earlier—when Bollywood tastefully adapted Hollywood films. And when executed well, Indians do love to watch a desi take.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)