Hanu Raghavapudi’s romance saga brims with earnestness and is helped by charming performances from Mrunal Thakur and Dulquer Salmaan’s Sita-Ramam.
Director Hanu Raghavapudi’s Sita-Ramam is more than just a love story. The story, dialogues, and screenplay by Hanu, Raj Kumar Kandamudi, and Jay Krishna ride on the idea that humanity matters more than war, religion, and boundaries. The idea is relevant significantly when discussions of ‘them’ and ‘us’ threaten to take over the discourse around us.
A long-lost letter must find its way to the writer’s love two decades later. A young rebel woman learns a lesson in humility and love along her journey to send the letter to the owner.
When Hanu Raghavapudi debuted in 2012 with the most memorable musical, Andala Rakshasi, the audience had high hopes for him that were trashed thanks to films that followed. But with Sita-Ramam, the director redeems himself with a poetic love story that might not be as unpredictable as the makers think but is one that keeps you hooked nonetheless.
In 1985, Afreen (Rashmika Mandanna) was a Pakistani rabble-rouser studying in London who is set in her ways and harbors an intense dislike for anything and everything Indian. She might be from the other side of the border, but her feelings mirror the youngsters on this side of the border even today. Early in the film, she’s told that the solution for her misplaced anger is love, a notion she brushes off as the sayings of an older man.
But when she begrudgingly decides to deliver a lost letter to India, she’s transported back to 1964, where the poetic love story of Lt. Ram (Dulquer Salmaan) and Sita (Mrunal Thakur) unfolds. He is an orphan; she is a woman with a secret she can’t reveal. Even as Afreen and her begrudging partner-in-crime Balaji (Tharun Bhascker) learn everything, there is to know about Sita and Ram. She might end up learning a lesson or two along the way.
Sita-Ramam unravels the mystery surrounding its title characters, Sita Mahalakshmi (Mrunal Thakur) and Lt Ram (Dulquer Salmaan), through two timelines, 1964 and 1984. Afreen (Rashmika Mandanna), a Pakistan-origin student, arrives in India from London. She is tasked with finding Sita to hand over a 20-year-old letter written to her by Ram. She takes the help of her college senior Balaji (Tharun Bhascker), who is now in Hyderabad.
Cinematographers P S Vinod and Shreyas Krishna present the hostile, icy terrain in all its glory and eeriness. With the breathtaking landscapes apart, they navigate the cold interiors artistically. For instance, observe how the light streams through the patterned walls when Major Selvan addresses soldiers before a mission.
The effort to make the romance appear poetic is evident when Ram embarks on a journey to meet Sita. The technical team and the actors pull all stops to present a charming, old-world romance that can sweep someone off their feet. At first glance, Sita might come across like a character from a costume drama of the past, turned out in her best at all times, with winged eyeliner to boot. However, as the story progresses, we know her for who she is. The regal demeanor seems all the more appropriate. Costumes by Sheetal Sharma, production design by Sunil Babu, and art direction by Vaishnavi Reddy and Faisal Khan contribute to defining the 1960s and the 80s.
The writing does not use its female characters as props. In her first Telugu film, Mrunal gets to play a character that is powerful yet vulnerable. She does it with a lot of poise and conveys the emotional upheavals.
Sita-Ramam is among Rashmika Mandanna’s better films. She is not presented as eye candy and is given the scope to play a self-centered character with preconceived notions. However, she plays it sure-footedly and shows she is game to take on well-written parts.
Ram is a character that seems tailor-made for Dulquer Salmaan, and he channels all his charm to portray it with grace and innocence. Tharun Bhascker is effortless in the supportive part that speaks a distinct Hyderabadi Telugu.
Negatives about Sita-Raman
The film is not without flaws, though, because once you get past the beauty of it all, think back. There might be chinks in logic that might nag you. Sita-Ramam doesn’t set into motion till a particular sequence sees Ram inundated with letters from across the country. From people who felt touched enough to reach out to a stranger as Afreen learns more about Ram and Sita. But the way the narrative unfolds, it assumes you can’t have predicted anything about Sita, Vishnu (Sumanth). A fellow soldier who always seemed jealous of Ram and even Afreen. In contrast, you can expect everything along the way if you’re paying enough attention. What’s good is that Hanu tries his best to tie up all the knots, giving Afreen, Balaji, and us enough answers, but that also means some questions leave you wanting.
Dulquer and Mrunal steal the show in Sita-Ramam. For a film like this to work, you must be invested in the story. The actors do an excellent job of ensuring that. They breathe life into their characters, and it doesn’t hurt that Mrunal looks breathtaking in the film. Rashmika, Tharun, Sachin, and Sumanth do a good enough job, while Vennela Kishore and Murli Sharma are hoots. Many able actors, from Priyadarshi to Rahul Ravindran, make brief appearances that work well for the film. But a special shoutout must be given to art director Irfan Rashid Sheikh and costume designer Sheetal Sharma. They transported the audience seamlessly to the 60s and 80s.
With Sita-Ramam, Hanu delivers a moving story and a visually aesthetic and pleasing film. Watch this one if you’re looking for a breather among all the mass masala.