Radhe Shyam is a glorious, goofy, and utterly charming ode to true love. This Indian film is part of the recent wave of Telugu/Hindi movies successfully playing in American cinemas. (It's now available on Amazon Prime Video, following a theatrical run in March.) The style is very different than anything the Hollywood studios turn out. Even something as intentionally outlandish as The Lost City can't match its sheer exuberance. I had not seen a “Tollywood” release before, but now I'm eager to see more.
Indian superstar Prabhas plays Vikramaditya, a nationally-famous palmist. It's well-known that when he reads your palm, whatever he sees is 100% certain to happen. He's also a ladies' man, interested only in what he calls “flirtation-ships” – relationships that never get particularly deep. Vikramaditya believes he may have found the perfect woman when he meets Prerana (Pooja Hegde), a doctor who puts her career before her love life. The two eventually become a serious couple, facing hurdles together, such as her serious health problem and his continued belief that he's incapable of feeling deep, abiding love.
The style of Radhe Shyam is pure fantasy. Prabhas is impossibly handsome, and Hegde certainly has to qualify as one of the world's most beautiful women. The two are plunked down into a story that features breathtaking scenes of magic realism. One cute sequence finds them on separate train cars, breathing on the windows and scrawling flirtatious messages to each other, as excited children egg them on. Later, there's a dazzling dance sequence with Vikramaditya and Prerana surrounded by a hundred backup dancers. The finale is an action-filled scene on a cargo ship trying to stay afloat in the midst of a tsunami.
Everything about the movie is larger than life. That includes the way it mashes together numerous different tones. When it's being romantic, the carefully-composed imagery and the heat between the two leads might make you swoon. When it's being funny, big laughs come from the supporting characters or the witty exchanges between Vikramaditya and Prerana. When it's going for action – as in that crazy shipwreck – hold on to your armrests. Trying to work within multiple genres simultaneously could have led to disaster, except that writer/director Radha Krishna Kumar clues us in right away that the movie is intended to be like a flight of imagination.
You can tell a lot of the outdoor locations have been created via CGI. They're too exquisite to be real. Heavy reliance on computer effects is okay, given how Kumar utilizes it to envelop us in the lush ambiance he wants to create. Excellent cinematography and production design combine with that CGI to deliver eye-popping visuals. The most unforgettable moment finds Vikramaditya and Prerana dangling out of a railroad car, kissing as the scenery rushes by and the camera rotates around them. Bits like that can be found throughout, making the film endlessly fun to look at.
At 138 minutes, Radhe Shyam is too long, although, in fairness, excessive length is part-and-parcel of Tollywood filmmaking. You also have to be willing to swallow some intermittently thin dialogue. Those things don't dampen the fun too much. The stuff that works more than compensates for a few minor flaws. Creativity is abundant in Radhe Shyam, and that spirit of inventiveness is often thrilling to watch.
out of four
Radhe Shyam is unrated, but contains mild language and brief sexuality. The running time is 2 hours and 18 minutes.