Bhavai review: Starring 'Scam 1992' actor Pratik Gandhi, the movie's take on the Ramayana is too staid to leave an impact

07:00 AM Oct 24, 2021 | Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri

Hardik Gajjar’s Bhavai has courted some controversy with its original title Raavan Leela. Watching it unfold over 114 tedious minutes of little imagination and even lesser verve, I was left wondering what the fuss is all about. What I found more problematic than anything the film dares or does not dare to say is its soporific pacing, its TV-serial mythological aesthetic and its propensity to spell everything out.

A drama company arrives in remote Khakhar, Gujarat, to stage the Ramlila, much to the excitement of the locals, who have never seen anything like this before. Its presence particularly thrills one young man in the village, who aspires to be an actor. Unfortunately for him, as his friend points out, he has neither the height of Amitabh Bachchan, nor the body of Dharmendra, and is saddled with a name that is decidedly pauranic, Rajaram Joshi (Pratik Gandhi), and a Pandit-ji father (Rajendra Gupta), who disapproves of his son’s ways.


As things pan out, first a briefly missing Ram (Bhurelal, Ankur Vikal) and then Ravan (Bhawar, the owner of the company, played with understated menace by Abhimanyu Singh) with a bad case of the loosies, allow Rajaram a foot in the door and he eventually gets to play Ravan. This is when the narrative gets mildly interesting as Rajaram and the actor playing Sita, Rani (Aindrita Ray), fall in love. That of course has the potential for a subversive take on the epic (that has been the staple of many versions of the Ramayana) and for upsetting the dynamics within the troupe as Bhawar has a touchy-feely approach towards Rani.


Add contemporary tadka to the mix in the form of Ratan Singh (Gopal Singh), the firebrand leader of a local outfit, Vishwa Jagriti Sena, who sees in the general enthusiasm for the Ramlila an opportunity to realise his political ambition. That this plays out in a village in Gujarat, the crucible for the brand of Hindutva we as a nation have been exposed to in the past couple of decades, and that Ratan Singh sounds eerily like a leader who has led this resurgence, provide an interesting subtext.

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However, the filmmakers are either too pussyfooted to take these aspects head-on (we even have the characters playing Lakshman and Surpanakha in love with each other) or woefully lacking in vision to explore them at more than a superficial level. Barring the climactic sequence when a man named Ram, playing Ravan in a drama, is lynched by an angry mob who have just watched the Ramlila — a new India, Ram Rajya, anyone?

What remains are a few sequences that bring out the internal dynamics of the troupe — another aspect the filmmakers grossly underutilise. For a film that’s being touted as his Bollywood debut, Pratik Gandhi has to make the most an underwritten role. Sure, he has a few good thundering passages as Ravan, but the actor who so wowed us in Scam 1992 deserved something meatier to bite into than the fluff about fireflies and dreams he is given to articulate or the beatific smiles he is required to cast, in the immensely hummable songs, which barely test his mettle as an actor.

Ankur Bhatia is quite impressive as Lakshman, perpetually hankering to be promoted to playing Ram, even desperate enough to take a stab at Ravan. There are a couple of throwaway sequences that raise a chuckle and provide a glimpse of missed opportunities.

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As Ram, Sita and Lakshman are taken out in a rath yatra, the actor playing Ram complains about being a famished god (‘Bhagwan bann ke galti kar di’). And in what is probably the film’s funniest bit, as Hanuman ‘flies’ over Lanka, the proceedings come to a halt for Bhawar to make an announcement. Bajrangi (Rajesh Sharma), playing Hanuman, is fleetingly irritated at the interruption only till he learns that Ratan Singh has pledged Rs 1001 to the troupe. His immediate reaction and then getting back to the ‘flying’ mode are a hoot.

The good-natured irreverence that informs these sequences stands out in a film that’s otherwise too staid and plays by the book too much to leave an impact.

Title: Bhavai

Cast: Pratik Gandhi, Aindrita Ray, Abhimanyu Singh, Rajesh Sharma, Ankur Bhatia, Ankur Vikal, Rajendra Gupta

Director: Hardik Gajjar

Where: Theatre near you

Rating: 2 stars

(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)

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