Cast: Akshay Kumar, Jacqueline Fernandez, Nushrratt Bharuccha, Satyadev
Director: Abhishek Sharma
Rating: 1 star (Out of 5)
A wobbly bridge that stands on exceedingly weak pylons, Ram Setu, written and directed by Abhishek Sharma, is an abomination of mythic proportions. It is a film that dives into an ocean. But all it does is flail about in a sinkhole of silliness.
In the end, the film, which does occasionally cite books and other sources of knowledge, expectedly formulates a convenient conclusion about the Ramayana, Lord Rama and Ram Setu that smacks of WhatsApp university-level wisdom.
Let us find some evidence, the male protagonist says when he is faced with a foregone postulation. He sounds like a clueless man looking for a samosa vendor in the Gobi Desert. He is not alone. Everybody, yes everybody, in Ram Setu sounds pretty much the same and looks just as lost.
Parts of Ram Setu, presented by Prime Video and based on a story by creative producer Chandraprakash Dwivedi (who recently helmed Samrat Prithviraj, which was designed to serve a largely similar narrative) pretend to be science fiction. Experts are huddled in a floating laboratory aboard a ship out at sea and terms such as carbon dating, sonar imaging and global warming are bandied about. But forget science, this isn’t even proper, passable fiction.
Poorly written, shoddily mounted and badly acted, Ram Setu is pure, self-serving and hysterical drivel that rides on the back of a Bollywood star who enjoys undisputed monopoly on the genre. There is absolutely nothing new here except for the fact that Akshay Kumar sports a studiedly professorial look that could be regarded as a departure from norm. That apart, he starts off spouting surprisingly provocative lines that go against type.
“Dharm sirf todta hai, sanskriti jodta hai (Religion divides, culture unites),” he says in one early scene. Worthy of applause? Well, it is easy to predict that all this is going to be too good to be true. Ram Setu is constructed around half-baked theories about India’s past and present that sound more like ill-informed pronouncements of a vote-seeking politician than considered inferences of pundits who know what they are talking about.
The lead actor plays Aryan Kulshreshtha, an archaeologist we first see in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2007 as part of a subcontinental team of experts deployed to save the remnants of a Buddhist site destroyed by the Taliban. The man is soon in the line of fire. He saves himself and, in what is a minor miracle, a Pakistani archaeologist by the skin of their teeth.
Aryan next surfaces in the Delhi headquarters of a fictional Archaeological Society (not Survey) of India. His boss gives him a new task with the express instruction to serve the interests of a politically connected shipping tycoon (Nasser) who wants to demolish the Ram Setu and build a sea passage between India and Sri Lanka to maximise profit. Against the advice of his history professor-wife Gayatri (Nusshratt Bharuccha), Aryan accepts the assignment.
He proceeds to dig a mammoth hole for himself and his department. He becomes the fall guy and is suspended. After he has cooled his heels at home for a while, a lifeline is thrown to him. The shipping magnate who wants Ram Setu out of his way engages Aryan to find evidence to substantiate that the bridge predates Lord Ram and can be brought down without hurting religious sentiments.
The job requires Aryan to report to an onsite project manager (Pravesh Rana) who is just the sort of guy who revels is revealing to all and sundry that his loyalty is to his employer even if that means giving truth a wide berth. Needless to say, Aryan finds himself fighting to scuttle a major conspiracy.
In trying to find his way out of the hole he is in with mysterious tour guide named AP (Satya Dev) and scientist Sandra Rebello (Jacqueline Fernandez), he creates for the film a series of even bigger holes that engulf everything that Ram Setu wants to pass off as the ultimate truth. This, of course, isn’t the fault of the character or the actor.
Ram Setu will be remembered – does it deserve to be remembered? – for serving up an unappetising goulash of history, mythology and fatuous fantasy. A lot of vigour has visibly gone into the making of the concoction. What is missing is logic.
Ram Setu presents the faith-versus-science debate in a manner so ham-fisted and heavy-handed that one can sense from thousands of nautical miles away that it isn’t the least bit interested in an intelligent engagement with veracity, belief and reason. Sense is a bridge too far for Ram Setu. Its arguments, which do not hold much water anyway, are submerged by waves and waves of inanity.
Revolving around an archaeologist who does not believe in God and propounds the theory that Ram Setu is a natural formation and not a man-made structure, the film huffs and puffs its way to a very predictable climax where the naysayers have no qualms about changing course and voting against rationality.
All that Ram Setu portrays takes place in pre-2014 India. This allows the screenwriter to paint the government of the day in poor light and brand them as corrupt rulers who are in cahoots with robber barons out to make a killing by destroying the nation’s cultural and religious heritage. Mercifully, no politician that the film portrays resembles a real figure. But that is only a minor concession that does little to offset the film’s lopsided worldview.
Had the gratuitous gibberish that it peddles been presented with some flair, Ram Setu might have leapfrogged, Hanuman-like, over the hurdles that it creates for itself. But it has absolutely no mitigating quality. It isn’t even well mounted. The VFX is rudimentary and the action scenes – underwater, on land, and in the air – are pedestrian.
Ram Setu seeks to drive home one singular point, and in unambiguous black and white: “Iss desh mein Ram ko jo nahin manta uska muh toh kala hona hi hai (In this nation, one who denies Lord Rama’s existence deserves to have his face blackened).”
Well, does anybody need a two-and-half-hour movie to make that assertion? A detailed WhatsApp message from the makers would have sufficed. Ram Setu is cinema that does nothing for the medium or the audience. It is a film about a floating stone but has no clue how to stay afloat. Avoidable even if you are an Akshay Kumar fan.