Ram Setu is a throwback to the Hollywood capers from a generation ago, when Harrison Ford or Nicholas Cage would go on a globetrotting adventure to uncover an ancient archaeological secret. Ram Setu takes that genre and blends it with Indian history, mythology, and socio-political commentary. The result is an enjoyable thrill-a-minute ride that is as fun as it is clichéd. But once you look past the flaws in logic, Ram Setu emerges as a fun popcorn adventure, the kind Bollywood hasn't produced in quite a while.
Ram Setu is about a veteran archaeologist Dr Aryan Kulshreshtha (Akshay Kumar in long hair and a distinguished grey beard), a non-believer, who is tasked with disproving the reality of the Ram Setu, the bridge between India and Sri Lanka described in Valmiki's Ramayana. However, he finds that the structure may actually be man-made, implying Lord Ram may be historical after all. The film is the story of how Dr Aryan dodges obstacles to find a lost trail in search of Ravana's golden Lanka, helped by an environmentalist Dr Sandra (Jacqueline Fernandez) and a local Lankan guide AP (Satya Dev).
First things first, Ram Setu is enjoyable. It is in parts slick and in other parts, quite thrilling. The credit for that goes to a good story backed by some of the best background scores used in a Hindi film this year. The VFX and CGI are questionable indeed, as the trailer had indicated. The scenes with the diving suit are cartoonish, almost. But what makes up for that is the stunning underwater sequence. The way director Abhishek Sharma has captured the beauty and grandeur of Ram Setu under the Indian Ocean is reminiscent of BBC Earth's Blue Planet documentary.
Ram Setu works best, when the protagonists are out on the field, in the thick of the action. As Dr Aryan and his comrades search for the historical evidence for Lord Ram's tale, the viewer is engaged. But it falters the moment there is a lull in the action. We suddenly begin to notice how people can barge into the Supreme Court of India with an 'I object milord' and not get arrested (or shot). We notice how Akshay's character is the only one doing any deduction and thinking and everyone else is just along for the ride, hardly contributing much. And we also notice small continuity errors, like Akshay's beard changing into a stubble and then back again in successive scenes.
Akshay Kumar is given a golden opportunity in this film. His character – Dr Aryan – is unlike anything he has done in the recent past. He is an atheist, who needs to be converted to the cause. He looks different, talks different, and is conceptualised in a much different manner than many of his recent roles. His recent filmography has often been criticised to contain many public service announcements disguised as motion pictures. Ram Setu gives him a chance to do something different.
Sadly, the women in the film haven't even been given that freedom to do something differently, or do anything at all. Jacqueline's character is reduced to looking good and uttering some scientific terms every 20 minutes or so to justify her place on the 'expedition'. Nushrrat Bharuccha fares even worse because her character is reduced to the shrieking wife, hardly contributing anything to the plot or the other characters. It is a letdown for the actor after a rather strong outing in Janhit Mein Jaari just a few months ago.
The surprise package of the film for me was Pravesh Rana. As the muscle to Nasser's corrupt businessman, he is the film's primary antagonist. And he plays that role perfectly, bringing enough menace and charm in what is essentially a filler role. The other highlight of the film is Satya Dev. Even though his character AP is written as a stereotypical Lankan with the clichéd accent, he brings through his performance enough charm and humour for the role to stand out. Between this and GodFather, the actor seems to be having quite a good year.
In tone and tenor, Ram Setu is similar to a sleeper hit from earlier this year – Karthikeya 2. That one was about finding the historicity of Lord Krishna and this one is about Lord Ram. The action, pacing, and other elements are also similar. But the films differ in scale. Ram Setu, with its reported ₹150-crore budget towers above the Telugu film, which was made in ₹30 crore as per reports. But it is, perhaps, a good thing that Ram Setu reminds one of a successful film from the south this year.
Ram Setu takes the best from the Indiana Jones and National Treasure schools of storytelling and injects some desi action in it. Sadly, it also injects Bollywood's melodrama. Once you manage to look past all that though, Ram Setu takes you on a fun ride.