Though the dots connect at the end, but the Dulquer Salmaan, Mrunal Thakur-starrer period romantic drama fails to build adequate engagement.
Rating: 2 / 5
Year 1984. A UK-based Pakistani girl hates India so much that she burns down the car of an Indian diplomat in London. Afreen [Rashmika Mandanna] is the granddaughter of retired Pakistani Major Tariq [Sachin Khedekar]. To avoid jail and rustication, the collegian must apologise to the Indian or pay ten lakh Pakistani rupees as compensation. She heads back home to Karachi in the hope that her retired grand father would bail her out by arranging for the necessary funds.
The girl gets a rude shock as Major Tareq has passed away. Before dying, the Pakistani major had prepared his will, naming his granddaughter as his heir. However, to obtain his wealth and assets, the girl must complete one arduous task. She is to deliver a letter written by an Indian soldier Ram [Dulquer Salmaan] and addressed to one Sita Mahalakshmi [Mrunal Thakur].
A girl who wouldn’t even bear the sight of an Indian, now has to travel to enemy territory. But who is this Ram? Who is this Sita Mahalakshmi? Why would a dead Pakistani major assign such a task to his niece? Afreen has no answers to these questions? And for close to two hours, nor did we. The Sita Ramam  story comes across as a wishful ‘Aman Ki Asha’ dream. As bizarre as it is, but this is the story of writer-director Hanu Raghavapudi’s Sita Ramam .
Through the course of her journey in India, Afreen unveils the story of this Ram and Sita. Is there a Veer-Zaara  kind of saga here? Let’s just say Sita Ramam  has cross border tension. We leave it upon the viewers to discover the rest of the tension.
We’re all for fiction but the twists and turns in this romantic period saga are too banal and unlikely to impress the Armed Forces on either side. Given the long-strained political relationship between the two governments, Armed Forces, no one is really keen to look each other in the face. The Pakistani establishment keeps raising the Kashmir issue, but the Narendra Modi-led majority BJP government chooses to ignore its obnoxious neighbour.
The Sita Ramam saga plays out between 1964 and 1984. We had a war with Pakistan in 1965 and then in 1971. Post their surrender of 1971, the Pakistani establishment under General Yahya Khan showed an inclination to better ties with India. While there was a direct line between New Delhi and Islamabad, but behind the scenes, the Indian government always suspected the Pakistani establishment of creating troubles through other nefarious means. Considering the then political environment, maybe Raghavapudi was within his right to create such fiction. However, in 2022, such fictional tales is unlikely to appease the Indian masses.
Leave the political aspect aside, but Raghavapudi’s film is heavy on its Ram-Sita saga. The woke liberal would be quick to dismiss it as another attempt at Saffronisation of cinema. For us, the film is more on the lines of celebrating virtues of Lord Rama, than propagate any religious ideology. Ram Rajya was always about inclusivity. Raghavapudi’s Ram is an orphan, a righteous guy who goes on to the join the Indian army. He is part of the famous Madras regiment that had also served in the Poonch area of Jammu and Kashmir.
Much like Shershaah , or Major , Raghavapudi, too, chooses to have his protagonist as this righteous soldier who is warm to the locals, generous, will douse flames of divide but wont bat an eyelid if it comes to shooting any CONFIRMED terrorist. We fear this portrayal is increasingly becoming a cliché.
The Sita-Ram early bonhomie is the stuff of mushy romances. It appealed us too. An Indian soldier is hailed for his heroism in averting communal tension in the Valley, and saving countless lives. He’s interviewed on national radio and soon becomes the most desirable man/brother/son among his female admirers. One such lady is Sita, who starts writing letters to him, addressing Ram as her husband. It’s a one-way communication though as Ram has no idea who is this Sita, and where does she live? Ah, love letters, classic old school romance. Ram takes a month long break from work hoping to find this lady. He does find her, but soon realizes that things aren’t as simple as the mushy text in the letters. The complex relationship is then mired into further chaos, particularly on the part of Sita. Her individual struggles take the story to a different tangent – one such sub-plot involves the Sultan of Oman. You lose interest in the film, and are simply waiting for a close.
All the dots connect well in the end, but Sita Ramam  hardly builds any consistent engagement. The messy screenplay and the average showing by the three main leads – Salmaan, Thakur and Mandanna, leaves one disappointed. Salmaan possesses the heart of a Ram, but not his aggression. For an army officer, his combat skills lack the desired punch. Thakur doesn’t appear to have aged a bit in 20 years. She has a tremendous screen presence, but it’s seldom backed by the required intensity. It’s our introduction to Mandanna. Let’s just say it’s commendable how the South braves to cross linguistic boundaries, but it’s tough for a Telugu, Kannadiga actress to play a Pakistani.
What’s admirable about Sita Ramam is its production design, and some deft photography. P.S. Vinod and Shreyaas Krishna create a 60s that might be stuff of fantasy, but the visuals are captivating.
The dubbed Hindi music seldom flatters us. The tardy screenplay makes it tough to sit through the entire 158 minutes. The wheels really come off towards the end and you’re just dying to hit the close button. This finding Ram-Sita saga will confuse the deities, and perhaps rile some in the Armed Forces too.