Ram Setu review: The Akshay Kumar film is an adventurous ride

But there is nothing much to say about the rest of the film that might ruffle few political feathers.

Rating: 2 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

The bridges are burning between faith and science. If not an outright believer, maybe critics are more mindful of religious sentiments. Given the current socio-political environment, you’d be inviting criticism for labelling faith as mythology. As Anupam Kher’s blind professor proclaimed in Karthikeya 2 [2022], “This is not mythology, it’s our history.”

The faithful in us believed every word. The logical mind though reminded us to not be carried away by blind faith. To their credit, Karthikeya 2 [2022] was not an outrightly religious film, but it showed us how faith and fiction can combine to give a enlightening theatrical experience.

If not faith, director Abhishek Sharma takes the Ram Setu route to create an adventurous, archaeological action drama. Ram Setu is the mythical, oh sorry, the historical stone bridge that Lord Ram and his Vanar sena built to reach Lanka and eventually defeat the demon King Ravana, and rescue his pious wife Sita. The sea God ensured that any stone with the name of Shri Ram inscribed on it wouldn’t sink.

This was about 7,000 years ago. 700 years of invasion, and British named India has come a long way since the days of the epic Ramayana. For close to 65 years, a more ‘secular’ political environment reduced the epic to mere mythology. It wasn’t until the Saffron parties clamoured to prove the legend of Ram Setu, and with it, the legend of Ram.

Honestly, no archaeological survey, science was ever going to waver our faith in Lord Ram and his famous Ram Rajya [Just governance]. As a devotee, and as an enthusiast, it would be fascinating to unravel the mystery of Ram Setu.

Director Abhishek Sharma’s protagonist is Aryan Kulshrestha [Akshay Kumar], a top archeologist from the ASI [Archaeological Society of India]. Expectedly, he is a man of facts, but his wife Gayatri [Nushrratt Bharuccha] is a Ram devout. Our hero’s journey begins in 2007 in Afghanistan where he is assigned a surprise joint Indo-Pak-Afghan mission to retrieve anything from the Bamiyan Buddha temple site that was destroyed by the Taliban regime in 2001. Aryan discovers a reclining Buddha but he also finds ancient jewels, coins from the time of the unsung Hindu king Raja Dahir, who once ruled the Hindu Kush, that would later be conquered by ancient Islamic invaders, and eventually leading to the birth of Afghanistan, with Ahmed Shah Durrani being its founding father. The region was further divided when Pakistan was created in 1947.

The joint Indo-Pak-Afghan survey is a surprise. Aryan though does taunt the Pakistani colleague reminding him how he needn’t drag the Pakistani army everytime. The success sees him rise up the ranks, and he is then assigned a survey mission to prove that Ram Setu is man made, and built before the time of Lord Ram.

Maybe we could have missed the subsequent period but the film is based around the same time as the Civil War in Sri Lanka. The war between the Sri Lankan government and the L.T.T.E [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] ended in 2009 with a brutal crackdown by the Sri Lankan forces, under the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa. So, Abhishek Sharma’s Ram Setu [2022] takes place in 2007. This was also a period where Congress-led UPA [United Progressive Alliance] had courted controversy by desiring to break whatever is left of Ram Setu, in favour of a building the Sethusamudram Ship channel that will easily connect Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu to the Mannar Island in Sri Lanka. Their argument was that faith shouldn’t come in the way of progress.

We have no idea of the history of metro train services in Sri Lanka. China invested heavily into the Emerald Isle post the L.T.T.E era. We presume the metro to have been built then. It then begs the question as to which period is Abhishek Sharma’s Ram Setu really set in?

Anyways, the Civil War enables Abhishek Sharma to build tension across the Sri Lankan shore. It’s the action in the Indian waters though that sees Aryan and his abled team comprising of environmentalist Sandra Rebello [Jacqueline Fernandez], Brazilian Geologist Dr. Gabrielle [Jeniffer Piccinato] and one Doctor Chandra embark on an action packed adventure. The quartet is aided by Bali [Pravesh Rana] who effectively calls the shots on the ship Pushpak. Aryan and Bali are to follow the orders of their big boss Indrakant [Nassar].

A Ram Bhakt marine archaeologist can’t be trusted and so Indrakant is right in appointing the objective Aryan for the mission. You bust myth by science, but what do you conclude if science isn’t able to prove faith? Once cannot dismiss faith without understanding it completely. Director Abhishek Sharma builds his survey mission around faith, with its leading character all being science professionals. Early on it appears as a faith v/s science debate but as the journey proceeds, it enlightens all its protagonists. Along the way, Aryan and co. find a guardian angel in AP [Satyadev Kancharana].

The Abhishek Sharma film is an adventurous drama, a genre barely explored in Indian cinema. The adventure keeps you on your toes, with finely shot aquatic scenes and impressive background score. One such tune though sounded partly similar to a theme from the Jurassic franchise films.

Ironically, the people who are trying to seek the truth from the myth, haven’t lost track on the mythology. The ship is named after Pushpaka Vimaan that Ravan stole from Kuber. AP’s speed boat bears the name of Chiranjivi (immortal) with Lord Hanuman said to be one among them. Akshay Kumar’s Exo-Suit is named Makar [crocodile], who has mention in a different version of Ramayana. Lord Hanuman’s sweat dropped into the sea, that was consumed by a crocodile who then give birth to Makardhwaja [part vanar, part reptile]. As the expeditions continues, clearly the protagonists are driven more by faith than science. We welcome certain creative liberty.

Aryan and co. embark on a thrilling adventure, but the inconsistent screenplay and the average performances break the deal. Ram Setu is a better experience than Kumar’s last five films. However, the performance lacks consistency. Kumar’s salt and pepper look partly reminded us of journalist and politician Chandan Mitra. For an action hero, there is no harm in seeing ‘Khiladi Kumar’ take cover. The one wielding the guns here are few internal forces, and the rebels or Sri Lankan marines out to thwart them.

Kumar has his moments. but the rest of the cast are pretty average. Bharuccha is unconvincing as the Ram-Sita bhakt. We were told that Sri Lankan Jacqueline Fernandez had worked hard on her Hindi. However, we largely see her speak English, and as always, display the familiar frailties. Pravesh Rana makes another feeble attempt to make a mark in Bollywood. Brazilian model Jeniffer Piccinato has a long way to go before she can pick up the desi craft. Satyadev Kancharana is energetic, but the language barrier sees him end up playing a cliched character. Veteran actor Nasser is his usual brilliant self, but he has limited screen time.

Keep aside the adventure, and you will be curious about the political angle, the political ideology. The then Manmohan Singh-led UPA government could have a different point of view to the one shown in the film. Sharma takes subtle digs at Delhi’s infamous Lutyens media/society. The image of Lutyens’ school children singing We Shall Overcome song only points fingers to the left-liberals culture of Lutyens. The song was lyrically descended from “I’ll Overcome Some Day”, a hymn by Charles Albert Tindley that was first published in 1901. Girija Kumar Mathur had literally translated the song in Hindi as Hum Honge Kaamyab.

Sharma raises the tension in the court battle where it appears that science has taken a back seat. No, we’re not triggering any faith vs/ law debate. We never need court orders to affirm our faith in Lord Ram. The tone and the religious text that is drawn up in the court threatens to make it look like a Sanatan versus Abrahamic religion debate. The film claims to be based on true events. We reckon there is truth but the director has also taken a bit too much creative liberty.

Honestly, it is fine to call out the misdeeds/inactions of a previous regime. They, too, tried to bash their rival through cinematic medium. However, we fear that a template is being set where cinema is becoming a tool to impose an ideology. We don’t mind mixing creativity with mythology/history, but a filmmaker must never lose sight of objectivity.

With or without this film, our faith in Lord Ram, Ramayana and Ram Setu remains intact. Akshay Kumar’s Ram Setu takes the populist view. A more engaging screenplay and better performances would have truly made Ram Setu [2022] a thoroughly entertaining adventurous ride.


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