In a scene from the highly anticipated Bollywood film Adipurush that hit the screens yesterday, when Lord Hanuman enters Lanka as a messenger of Lord Ram, Meghnad sets his tail on fire and taunts him, “Jali na?”.
This utterance may ring a familiar bell for readers, reminiscent of a highly memefied line from 2004 romantic comedy Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, where Akshay Kumar similarly ridicules Salman Khan — “Jali na, teri bhi jali na?”
In response to Meghnad’s jibe, Hanuman retorts with a fiery comeback, “Kapda tere baap ka. Tel tere baap ka. Aag tere baap ki. Jalegi bhi tere baap ki”.
In another scene, Hanuman, indignant at Mata Sita’s abduction, declares, “Jo hamari beheno ko haath lagayega, hum unki lanka laga denge”.
Since afternoon, social media has been inundated with derisive memes and furious outbursts against the Prabhas-starrer film, lambasting every aspect of it from its pedestrian dialogues, lackluster acting, subpar visual effects and unaesthetic costumes.
Beyond the technicalities, the sentiment underlying Adipurush's creation has also faced vehement criticism. Audiences argue that the film fails to capture the essence of the source material — the great epic of Ramayana — and lacks the reverence and depth expected when adapting such a sacred text.
Even professional movie critics, evaluating the film solely on its entertainment value and business potential, have panned it, labelling it a “disappointment”.
A lot was riding on the Rs 500-crore budget project, which can be gauged from how the filmmakers stalled its release for six months after its teaser received negative feedback.
The promotional efforts, including reserving a seat for Lord Hanuman in every cinema hall and a grand pre-release event in Tirupati that incurred a substantial cost, point to the stakes involved.
And so, the repercussions of Adipurush's massive negative feedback are quite concerning for an already ailing Bollywood industry.
The first concern is that it has further eroded public trust in Bollywood for cultural sensitivity and portrayal of Hindu scriptures and figures.
Swarajya has previously written on how the portrayal of Lord Ram has been unflattering in Bollywood since at least the 50s (find the link below this article).
Notable films like Awaara and Chhalia depicted Lord Ram as responsible for wife abandonment and betrayal.
In subsequent decades, as social dramas made way for masala films in the 1970s and 1980s, mocking Lord Ram became the norm.
Lead characters in movies like Namak Halaal, Do Dil, and Parvarish chanted slogans that derided Lord Ram's name, associating it with theft and looting. Muqaddar Ka Faisla showed a saffron-clad sadhu looting a bank while chanting verses that demeaned Lord Ram.
Ramlila, a traditional dramatic reenactment of the Ramayan, became a source of laughter, with scenes deliberately portraying Lord Ram and Lakshman as beaten and humiliated characters.
This trend continued in films like Naram Garam and the recent Ludo, where Ramlila scenes were used for comedic effect. Such depictions not only mocked Lord Ram but also showcased a broader disdain for Hindu culture and traditions.
The 2013 film Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela faced backlash for its original title as Hindu groups objected to the romantic pair being named Ram and Leela even as posters depicted a sexually explicit scene.
The industry’s negative portrayal of Lord Ram seems perplexing, considering the unprecedented success of the television serial Ramayan, which captivated audiences across India.
Bollywood has also been elevating the status of Ravan, often portraying him as an underdog hero. Films like Raavan and Bhavai (previously titled Ravan Leela) present Ravan sympathetically and question Lord Ram's greatness.
The initial criticism directed at Adipurush in 2020 was also over this growing trend as Saif Ali Khan, who plays Ravan, indicated that the film would justify Ravan's abduction of Sita and present him as humane.
The statement ignited concerns even before the release of the teaser two years later, which then faced heightened scrutiny from viewers. Their disappointment was palpable.
From poor animation that seemed to demean the subject to far-from-accurate physical appearances of the key characters, the teaser raised unsettling doubts.
Ram was shown wearing leather footwear instead of paduka or khadau. Ravan, the learned and mighty kind of Lanka who was well-versed in the Vedas, resembled what people jokingly called as 'Al Qaeda terrorist'.
His famed Pushpak Viman looked like a Targaryen dragon. Hanuman looked bereft of any charm.
People wondered why did such an expensive movie use VFX to project Angad (Vali and Tara’s son, prince of Kishkindha), styled after apes from Planet of the Apes, and why were the scenes set in such dark aesthetics?
The film's release yesterday confirmed the worst expectations of viewers, and they have been voicing their criticism on social media since then.
The second concern for Bollywood is that a big question mark has again been raised on the quality of its content. It seems the industry has yet again failed to deliver high-quality storytelling and technical expertise that justifies audience’s time and investment.
Recent films that seemed to ride on the nationalistic wave, Ram Setu and Samrat Prithviraj, had also left the audience disappointed with poor screenplay, acting and dialogues.
Adipurush is this year’s third big film after Pathaan and Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan.
Shahrukh Khan’s Pathaan, which though touted to be the biggest ever success story of Bollywood, failed to up investor’s confidence, so much so that four months after Pathaan, leading multiplex chain operator PVR-Inox announced plans to shut down 50 screens after reporting a net loss of Rs 333 crore for the quarter ended March.
Salman Khan-starrer Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan failed miserably at the box office, receiving poor reviews.
After Adipurush's release, shares of PVR-Inox shares declined nearly 3 per cent yesterday.
While the box-office fate of Adipurush is yet to be determined, the film's initial criticism sends a warning signal for other big-ticket movies slated for release this year.
These include Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani featuring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, Animal featuring Ranbir Kapoor, Jawan and Dunki featuring Shah Rukh Khan and Tiger 3 featuring Salman Khan.
Jawan is being repeatedly postponed — from its original release date of 2 June, the film was first pushed to end of June, but an announcement made last week said the film would be released in September.
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