Love is blind, decreed a person who possibly went on to write film scripts. In Sita Ramam, love plays dumb too.
Hanu Raghavapudi’s previously released Telugu-language period drama has re-emerged in cinemas in a Hindi dubbed version. Sita Ramam is set between the 1960s and the 1980s, a time of snail mail, steam engines and suspension of disbelief.
A handsomely produced and self-consciously epic romance in which lovers strive to be together against the backdrop of momentous events, Sita Ramam is Mani Ratnam and Yash Chopra by way of the Hollywood classic Roman Holiday, with a nod to current Hindu-Muslim tensions.
In 1985, Pakistani national Afreen (Rashmika Mandanna) arrives in India on the orders of her grandfather Tariq (Sachin Khedekar) to deliver an unposted letter from Ram to his beloved Sita. Afreen’s inheritance depends on her finding Ram or Sita – or both.
The letter caps a love story that begins in 1965, when Indian Army officer Ram (Dulquer Salmaan) single-handedly saves a village in Kashmir from Pakistan-aided attackers. Sacks of admiring letters pour in for Ram, including passionate missives from Sitamahalakshmi (Mrunal Thakur).
Although they haven’t yet laid eyes on each other, Sita’s forthrightness in declaring that Ram is her desired consort is an irresistible draw for the dashing young man. When he finally tracks Sita down, the sparks fly fast enough for Ram to make wedding plans. But something is holding Sita back – a secret so fanciful that Raghavapudi has to come up with an alt-history to justify it.
That alt-history involves Nizam rule in Hyderabad, tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and the vexed question of Hindi-Muslim ties. Raghavapudi’s overstuffed screenplay finds many ways to evade the simple entanglement at the heart of the plot. The movie frenetically shuttles between the present, in which Afreen uncovers the truth about Sita and Ram, and the 1960s, when a way with words is all it takes for two people to fall for each other.
Raghavapudi’s hold over his credulity-challenging conceit weakens considerably after the interval. The cameos – which include Sumanth as Ram’s petty superior, Ashwath Bhatt as a stereotypically evil Pakistani militant, Jishu Sengupta as Sita’s opportunistic brother, and Tarun Bhascker as Afreen’s local contact – constantly distract from the central relationship. That’s not a bad thing, since Dulquer Salmaan, radiating charisma, is ill-matched with Mrunal Thakur in an underwritten role.
Salmaan’s camera-friendliness, Vishal Chandrashekhar’s melodious songs and Raghavapudi’s undeniable sincerity keep Sita Ramam afloat. Although Raghavapudi crafts some lovely scenes between Ram and Sita and achieves moments of poignancy in the later portions, his film squanders its premise and promise as it wears on for a seat-warming 163 minutes. The kind of film in which characters sit on vital information for as long as it takes to reach the climax, Sita Ramam proves that love isn’t just blind but often silly too.