at the end of radhe shyam, what stuck with me were its perfect frames that were painstakingly made to look like paintings. cinematographer manoj paramahamsa, production designer raveender reddy, and costume designers thota vijayabhaskar and eka lakhani set the mood for an epic fairy tale. But how long can one soak up the atmosphere, admiring the columns of light filtering through the tall windows and long corridors of the hospital and houses in Italy? Sure, the movie boasts of prabhas and pooja hegde who have a good screen presence. but the soul of the film, the story, is flaky. what is intended to be a painful romance of two people competing against fate turns out to be bland and apathetic.
In this period drama set in the 1970s, the protagonist Vikramaditya (Prabhas) positions himself as “the Einstein of palmistry.” His Guru 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 about palmistry, astrology and related practices. he cites the example of the stars arundhati and vashista known long before they were discovered by modern science; there are things beyond human comprehension, he says, thus setting the tone for the events that will unfold later.
vikramaditya carries on the guru’s legacy and, early in the film, reads the palm of indira gandhi’s hand and predicts that she is going to declare an emergency. Later, there is a passing photographic reference of John Lennon taking Vikramaditya’s autograph. radhe shyam could have eliminated the stunt sequences that would be found in a stellar movie, but he tries to create a halo around prabhas character through such incomplete sequences.
scratch beneath this layer of heroism and vikramaditya emerges as a guy who has surrendered to the dictates of fate. the way he indulges in casual relationships, which he calls “flirting,” is a clue that he’s commitment-phobic for good reason. he ultimately, of course, falls in love when he meets the exuberant but mysterious dr. prerna (pooja hegde), who also runs away from relationships.
The beautifully staged ‘ee rathale’ (composed by justin prabhakaran) serves to show how the two who are destined neither to meet nor fall in love continue to cross paths. in portions like this, the film manages to create some magic. the courtship of vikramaditya and prerna occurs amid hints being dropped about what makes them the way they are. it is also punctuated by banal comedic portions in a hospital ward.
The movie wastes a lot of talented actors, making them just wait and deliver a line or two. sachin khedekar at least has something to do. jayaram, jagapathi babu and priyadarshi are wasted. the most wasted is murali sharma, and that is also burdened with a bad wig. Kunaal Roy Kapur and Bhagyashree also don’t have much to do and maybe they were hired to have familiar faces for the Hindi audience.
For the first hour or so, aesthetic visuals, music (s thaman background score), and lead actors who are made to look perfect, accentuate the dreamy setting. pooja hegde looks like a princess and in later parts, she shows a glimpse of her acting potential that is waiting to be tapped. prabhas is effective in portraying him, but there isn’t much in the story or characterization that challenges him as an actor.
When the conflict between destiny and love takes center stage, the film begins to lose what little charm it had. the biggest problem with radhe shyam is that it never absorbs you. the boat sequence at the end of the movie sinks an already shaky movie, even though prabhas is made to climb a tall ship in a baahubalian way.
the parallels with mani ratnam’s geethanjali are also hard to forget. the two lovers’ journeys against what fate has in store for them can be seen as a tip of the hat to that iconic romance. while geethanjali was also based on a premise that required suspending disbelief, it was all heart and had us cheering for the leads. radhe shyam could have benefited from some of that soul in his writing.