At the end of Radhe Shyam, what stayed with me were its picture perfect frames that were painfully made to look like paintings. Cinematographer Manoj Paramahamsa, production designer Raveender Reddy and costume designers Thota Vijayabhaskar and Eka Lakhani create the mood for an epic fairytale. But how long can one soak in the atmosphere, admiring the columns of light that pour through tall windows and the long corridors of the hospital and the homes in Italy? Sure, the film boasts of Prabhas and Pooja Hegde who have a good screen presence. But the soul of the film, the story, is flaky. What is meant to be an aching romance of two people racing against destiny turns out to be bland and listless.
In this period drama set in the 1970s, the protagonist Vikramaditya (Prabhas) is positioned as ‘the Einstein of palmistry’. His guru of him Paramahamsa (Krishnam Raju in the Telugu version; Sathyaraj in other versions) is consulted by a team of Indian space scientists before a mission. The guru understands a scientist’s skepticism of palmistry, astrology and related practices. He cites the example of Arundhati and Vashista stars being known long before they were discovered by modern science; there are things beyond human comprehension, he says, thus setting the tone for events that unfold later.
Cast: Prabhas, Pooja Hegde
Direction: Radha Krishna Kumar
Music: Justin Prabhakaran, SS Thaman
Vikramaditya carries forward the guru’s legacy and early on in the film, reads Indira Gandhi’s palm and predicts that she is going to declare Emergency! Later, there is a passing photographic reference of John Lennon taking Vikramaditya’s autograph. Radhe Shyam might have done away with stunt sequences one would find in a star film, but tries to create a halo around Prabhas’s character through such sketchy sequences.
Scratch beneath this layer of heroism and Vikramaditya comes across as a guy who has surrendered to the diktats of destiny. The way he indulges in casual relationships, which he terms as ‘flirtationships’, is a clue that he is commitment phobic with good reason. Ultimately, of course, he falls in love when he meets the exuberant but mysterious Dr Prerna (Pooja Hegde), who also runs a mile from relationships.
The beautifully mounted ‘Ee Rathale’ (composed by Justin Prabhakaran) serves to show how the two who are destined to not meet or fall in love, continue to cross paths. In portions like this, the film manages to create some magic. Vikramaditya and Prerna’s courtship happens amid hints being dropped about what makes them the way they are. It is also punctuated by banal comic portions in a hospital ward.
The film wastes a bunch of talented actors, making them merely stand by and utter a line or two. Sachin Khedekar at least gets something to do. Jayaram, Jagapathi Babu and Priyadarshi are wasted. The one who is wasted the most is Murali Sharma, and that too saddled with a bad wig. Kunaal Roy Kapur and Bhagyashree also have nothing much to do and were perhaps roped in to have familiar faces for the Hindi audiences.
For the first hour or so, the aesthetic visuals, the music (background score by SS Thaman) and the lead actors who are made to look picture-perfect, accentuate the dreamy setting. Pooja Hegde looks every bit the princess and in later portions, she shows a glimpse of her acting potential that is waiting to be tapped. Prabhas is effective in his portrayal of him, but there is not much in the story or characterization that challenges him as an actor.
When the conflict between destiny and love takes centrestage, the film begins to lose whatever little charm it had. The biggest issue with Radhe Shyam is that it never sucks you in. The ship sequence at the fag end of the film sinks an already shaky film, despite Prabhas being made to scale a tall ship in a Baahubalian manner.
The parallels with Mani Ratnam’s Geethanjali are also tough to shake off. The journeys of the two lovers against what destiny has in store for them can be viewed as a hat tip to that iconic romance. While Geethanjali also rode on a premise that required suspension of disbelief, it was all heart and made us root for the protagonists. Radhe Shyam could have benefited with some of that soul in its writing.