With Tongues of Fire marking their 17th year in hosting the London Asian Film Festival (LAFF), BizAsia has been privileged to be invited again to experience what they had to offer this year. From the reaction of the thousands of audiences also present, it�۪s clear to see that they never fail to impress, and we can say with great confidence that this year, is no different.
Focusing on the way women are treated in the Asian culture, LAFF are screening films that represent making a stand for women, which included Kethan Metha�۪s much appreciated ��Rang Rasiya�۪, a true story based on the late great artists Raja Ravi Verma; the one responsible for the first paintings and images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
The auctioneer announces the value of the famous painting by Raja Ravi Verma in a quiet small auction to a small upper class community. At the same time hundreds of people pour out of cars and vans in a huge uproar in protest against such an event taking place. Stones are thrown. Bullets are fired. As the scene sets back to the painting in question, it is soon transformed as an unfinished piece where Raja Ravi Verma (Randeep Hooda) is applying paint to canvas, with Sugunda (Nandana Sen) posing with her sari loosely draped across her body. A knock at the door, followed by a deep voice asking for the artist himself. A police officer coming with a warrant for the arrest accusing him of vulgarising images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
Told through the voice of Ravi Verma�۪s brother Raj (Gaurav Dwivedi), Raja Ravi had an creative flare from a very young age. Always having been encouraged to express himself through art, the artists fascination for the female body as an art, manifested from living with his princess wife in her palace. Though he had quite a reputation for paying more attention to the servant girls than his wife, Raja Ravi�۪s paintings quickly became well known around the world, where the King of his home city Kilimanoor awarded him the title ��Raja�۪ as appreciation for his work. After being banished from the city soon after the King passed, the artist along with his brother (also and artist) moved to Bombay, leaving everyone else, including his wife, behind. Upon reaching the big city, Raja Ravi meets the most beautiful women he has ever set eyes on; Sugandha (Nandana Sen), whom he falls in love with and who becomes his muse. Thus inspiring him to illustrate the many stories and legends that are so fondly told from the Hindu religion. By creating such art more and more people become intrigued by the paintings, were many even start praying to the illustrations as if they were praying to the gods themselves. However with such appreciation also comes controversy, in which Verma found that there were many who were against what he was doing, accusing him of subjectifying the religion stating that Gods can never be seen taking a human form. Despite the objections, Verma continued to paint, becoming more daring as the years went on. As he began to paint nudes of the female body, which were so eloquent in presenting particular religious narratives, thus rose the uproar of those against him. However nothing happened until he met German printer Fritz Schleizer (Jim Boeven) who, with the help of Indian businessman Goverdhan Das (Paresh Rawal), set up a printing company that produces 1000�۪s of prints of his own paintings. The artist also takes on an apprentice who goes by the name of Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (Chirah Vorah) (who later becomes one of India’s most celebrated names). Soon Raja Ravi�۪s prints where distributed everywhere, including to those across the world that wouldn�۪t normally have a chance to even touch a temple. As the prints became illustrations for advertising, more and more Hindu religious organisation grew angry with the way the artist was subjectifying the religion for business. Thus ending him in court. With more and more evidence being thrown at him, to the extent that Sugandha was also accused of being vulgar, the artists finds himself in a deep dilemma as to what he stand for; art or business? Has his inspiration turned into what his oppositions believe? How can he explain how he painted such compositions and how he imagined them? Most of all, how could he explain to them, that everything he painted was all natural and a part of the teachings of the hindu religion?
Though made back in 2008, ��Rang Rasiya�۪ hadn�۪t hit the big screen until 2015. Though UK audiences hadn�۪t got the chance to view the film, Tongues of Fire did an amazing job in screening it as a part of the LAFF. Director Ketan Mehta�۪s efforts show immensely throughout the film, where many issues about the way religion is perceived even today is portrayed. He manages to depict on the way that though women are said to be the form of goddesses by many Hindu teachings, they are themselves subjectified through society. Mehta effortlessly identifies the way in which art as a creative form, is also perceived and through this film he has wonderfully captured interact moments, of how some of Raja Ravi Verma�۪s paintings may have come to light. As the audience is taken on a creative journey, Mehta�۪s direction infuses the way in which art and religion go hand in hand, where he has managed to encapsulate the power of Verma�۪s painting at the time. Mehta has made this film as a way of showing the beauty of religion, almost as if the film was his own canvas. As members of the audience applauded as the credits rolled, there was definitely a sense of appreciation for the director for making such a wondrous and heart-felt film. As all inspiring films do, it definitely made many think about how they probably own a Raja Ravi print themselves, and looking at them in a completely different way.
During the time of this film�۪s shooting Hooda who had only appeared in a few films at the time, was yet to get his big break. Though he is much more well known now, through this film the actor has proved that his talent is definitely beyond what he is rated for. From the second he appears on screen, one can almost believe he is the real Raja Ravi Verma. Through this character Hooda reflects passion and confidence for what he believes in and for the work he carries out. By becoming the character wholeheartedly, Hooda entices his audience towards his characters world and effortlessly gets them on his side. Sen is majestic playing the role of Sugandha. Having more of a riskier ordeal, she exemplifies what Verma would have seen in the real Suganda. Her beauty, her poise and most of all her extreme belief in her own characters�۪ beliefs, makes one fall in love with Suganda almost as much as Raja Ravi does. Sen plays a woman who represents women all over the world, even today. Through her character, the audiences are able to see how simply she defies the images that Verma draws from. Probably one of the most difficult characters to perform, Sen presents Suganda in the most natural way where she reflects a woman�۪s strength, power and love all at the same time.
Rawal is no stranger to deceiving roles, and though he doesn�۪t play a villain as such, he has a way of making the audience feel as though he isn�۪t all the good either. Rawal�۪s plays Govardhan Das, the businessman who helps Verma start his printing company, who ends up making a wrong decision for the sake of the business. Though he appears mainly in the second half of the film, Rawal, as he does in many of his other films, has a way of capturing the attention of his audience in a n instant.
Composed and written by Sandesh Shandilya and Manoj Muntashir, the music compliments the film in the most effective way. Mehta uses the songs to depict on the journey that his protagonist goes through, be it an emotional or physical. Mehta uses the title track as a way of setting the scene at different parts of the film, in order to intensify the events taking place. ��Kamini�۪ and ��Kahe Satya�۪ are both exemplified beautifully, portraying the artist falling in love with his inspirations and muse. Mehta�۪s direction for both of these songs are tasteful and eccentric. ��Anhad Na�۪ sung by Kailash Kher and Anwar Khan work beautifully to portray Verma�۪s journey throughout India to seek more inspiration and depict on how the artist learns other forms of the Hindu religion. ���Sun Balam�۪ is also a beautiful addition to the film and the album as a whole.
‘Rang Rasiya�۪ is a wonderful film, directed perfectly through Mehta�۪s lens. It�۪s a film that speaks volumes, where social and religious issues that still arise today are challenged. Mehta unapologetically raises questions as to who gives the right to anyone to tell others how to follow their own belief systems, and who is anyone to say there�۪s a wrong and right way in believing in something. He also shows his audiences the power of religion and expression. Although this film isn�۪t for those who aren�۪t comfortable with eccentric scenes, ��Rang Rasiya�۪ is filled with great performances and gives the audiences whole lot to think about even after the credits have rolled.
BizAsia Showbiz Rating: 4.5/5