Director Om Raut’s Adipurush’s trailer was released in time for Dussehra 2022 with an announcement of its first screening in January 2023.
But soon after its release, it was called for its shoddy graphics and mindless distortions of the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana.
The film dares to flesh out the main characters of the Hindu epic in a different manner than any previous audio-visual depiction.
The director chose to make the film with CGI, VFX effects that allegedly bring out a less Indian, more western depiction of The Ramayan’s principal characters, events, landscapes.
Any subject, religious or spiritual in nature, is predictably on trial for historical rights and wrongs, for character depictions and for any revisions to an already widely accepted plot.
Artistic freedom and freedom of expression notwithstanding, Adipurush’s trailer helps us take a step back, to ponder over the fine art of blending creativity and artistic sensibilities with historical accuracies and long standing perceptions of character portrayals and events (specifically, religious ones). In other words, a creative re-look in cinematic form, of an important spiritual text like The Ramayan, can be considered as long as its essence and spiritual meaning is not tampered with.
The crux of the criticism hovers around Hindu sentiments with the portrayals of the lead characters , particularly that of Ravana and Hanuman with a smaller percentage, focused on the portrayal of Sita Devi, the wife of King Rama, the protagonist of the epic. It’s important to note that the criticism has not been with the subject of the film; the harsh commentary centers around a spin, a play, on the traditional portrayal of the epic’s pivotal characters and the essence of the story which holds a deeper spiritual meaning for the Indian people.
Those that complained about the effects of the CGI (computer generated imagery) or the VFX (visual effects) were not complaining about the use of such technology; their disappointment lay in perhaps, the unintended or unexpected effects of such technology, resulting in an outlandish, alien portrayal of the characters, events, landscapes and backdrops of The Ramayan’s beloved story.
In the recently released teaser, both Ravana and Hanuman (Hindus and ardent devotees of Shiva and Rama respectively) look more Muslim than Hindu, a noticeable faux pas!
The look/facial make-up, for the characters of Ravana and Hanuman appears misrepresentative of the people they were and the times they lived in – Ravana’s character sports eyes with blue and black kajal, short and spiked hair and a long Islamic-looking beard, disturbingly reminiscent of destructive Islamic invaders of India, the likes of Alauddin Khilji; Hamuman sports a beard without a mustache and is dressed in leather, again more of an Islamic portrayal than a Hindu one. In the short teaser clip , a certain event’s landscape as well as Ravana’s conveyance looks like a vampire.
The CGI/VFX utilized for the scene, resulted in something that looked like Planet of the Apes, and King Kong. An Indian authenticity, true to the culture of the people and the times of the epic, was missing .
The Ramayana is among the world’s most popular epics, having spread from India to many other South and South East Asian nations with each nation choosing to customize their version of the timeless story, to their culture and celebrating it in their unique style.
The Japanese animated version does a good job of staying true to both story line and character depictions. The extensive oral story-telling traditions of The Ramayana and/or elaborate dance and drama performances as well as puppet shows held in honor of The Ramayana, in Thailand, Nepal , Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos , Burma , Malaysia , Philippines are charming, memorable presentations that stay true to the characters, events and theme of the epic.
The Indian audience is not wrong in expecting a cinematic portrayal of the popular Indian epic to stay true to its original, Indian version, Indian characters, Indian customs, events and landscapes, in the backdrop of the times it took place in.
Let’s be clear – the use of technology in itself, is not an issue. Case in point: Audiences raved about the CGI and VFX effects achieved in, Bahubali and RRR. Adipurush’s trailer is a wake up call, for the makers of the movie. It tested the waters of acceptance among a modern Indian audience with a reverence for their core traditions. Here’s hoping, the director and his technical advisors get the character portrayals right with their continued use of CGI, VFX technology, utilizing such effects to give a modern twist to an ancient story, yet without taking away its essence, its simplistic appeal for the Indian masses and its spiritual message.
Will the makers of “Adipurush” utilize some of the unpleasant feedback to correct the course of direction? Only time will tell.
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