A literary opus falls short of cinematic history

Rang Rasiya 
Hindi (A) ¬¬¬
Director: Ketan Mehta
Cast: Randeep Hooda, Nandana Sen, Paresh Rawal, Aashish Vidyarthi, Sachin Khedekar, Darshan Jariwala, Jim Boeven, Vikram Gokhale, Tom Alter

Director Ketan Mehta makes no bones about the amount of truth in a supposed biopic of arguably India’s greatest canvas artist.

 It’s a bold move: It urges the audience to disabuse the notion that they are seeing accurate history, and helps them concentrate not on the novel it’s based on, but on the cinematic web Mehta weaves. 

And what a web! It nearly ensnares the senses, but then come some extremely contrived scenes, dialogues and songs, making even the 131-minute runtime seem lengthy, and one snaps out of the reverie. The inaccuracies don’t help either.

The story revolves around the court trial of Raja Ravi Varma (a near-stoic and restrained Randeep Hooda) for alleged blasphemy and indecency, because he painted deities and partially unclad women. 

Mehta intersperses the trial’s phases with glimpses of the artist’s life: how he became a Raja, his relationships with his muses — mostly artistic, but sometimes carnal — and the tussles with what life throws at him. 

The bevy of character actors supporting him is impressive, and too numerous to name all. However, be it Paresh Rawal as the scheming businessman-financier, Tom Alter as the judge, Ashish Vuidyarthi as the king who first patronises Varma, Sachin Khedekar as the helpful and resourceful minister, Darshan Jariwala as the outraged religious activist, Vikram Gokhale as the lawyer representing him and Jim Boeven as the printing-press connoisseur, each makes the most of his two minutes in the limelight. 

Therefore, it’s a shame when Nandana Sen looks heavenly when quite, but transforms into a screechy Captain Obvious when she talks. She essays Sugandha as indeed a muse of the highest order, with extremely desirable sensuality, but there are severe shortcomings, like the slightly Bengali-tainted accent, that let her down. 

In the end, Rang Rasiya is a visual pleasure that falls short of being a landmark film. 

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