Review: ‘Ram Setu,’ starring Akshay Kumar, Jacqueline Fernandez, Nushrratt Bharuccha and Satya Dev

October 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Akshay Kumar in “Ram Setu” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

“Ram Setu”

Directed by Abhishek Sharma

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the action film “Ram Setu” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An archaeologist gets caught in the middle of protests over a developer’s plans to demolish Ram Setu, a chain of limestone shoals connecting India and Sri Lanka,and the archaeologist is ordered to provide evidence that Ram Setu is a natural formation, not a man-made structure.

Culture Audience: “Ram Setu” will appeal primarily to fans of star Akshay Kumar and archeaological adventure stories with religious overtones, but the movie’s flimsy and dull plot will be a turn-off to viewers who are expecting a more interesting film.

Akshay Kumar in “Ram Setu” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

“Ram Setu” is an example of a movie that thinks it can coast by on some eye-catching cinematography without having a good story. The tedious plot developments are poorly conceived, the performances are mediocre, and the action scenes look very fake. This very disappointing adventure movie throws in some religious preaching, which the filmmakers know could be problematic, because a disclaimer toward the end of the movie reminds viewers that “Ram Setu” is a work of fiction.

Written and directed by Abhishek Sharma, “Ram Setu” aims to rewrite history or make people think differently about the history of the real-life Ram Setu, a chain of limestone shoals connecting India and Sri Lanka. In the beginning of the film, archaeologist Dr. Aryan Kulshrestha (played by Akshay Kumar), who is from India, is leading a desert expedition in Pakistan, where he and his colleagues uncover a buried trunk of precious coins. As soon as these coins discovered, several Jeeps carrying Taliban soldiers swoop in and attack the archaeologist group to steal the coins. Did the Taliban have hidden cameras in the desert for these soldiers to know the exact moment that these coins were found?

After shootouts and explosions, Aryan and his trusty sidekick Anjani Putra, also known as AP (played by Satya Dev, whose real name is Satyadev Kancharana), run away with the trunk of coins and fall down a shaft that leads them to a hidden cave. (It’s one of the movie’s many phony-looking action scenes.) Inside the cave, Aryan and AP find a giant statue of a reclining Buddha. The statue is an extremely rare archaeological treasure.

The first major sign that “Ram Setu” is a sloppily edited film is after Aryan and AP find this statue, the movie never shows how they managed to get out of the cave and elude the Taliban attackers. The next scene cuts to a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, where Aryan is getting praised for discovering this statue. A reporter at the press conference asks Aryan if Aryan thinks that because the statue represents Buddhism, the statue should be returned to India instead of staying in a Muslim-majority country such as Pakistan. Aryan makes a diplomatic answer by saying that he doesn’t get involved in government politics of which country should own archaeological findings.

Whether he likes it or not, Aryan is about to get involved in some divisive issues regarding politics, business and religion. Soon after his major discovery of the Buddhist statue, Aryan returns to India, where he is promoted to lord-general of the Archaelogical Society of India. Aryan thinks his life is going smoothly until he gets caught in the middle of a big controversy that is dividing India’s people.

The Indian government’s Sethusamudram Project wants to demolish Ram Setu, in order to make way for a man-made shipping route. It’s this movie’s reference to the real-life Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, which involves the creation of a long deep-water channel linking the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar, for a length of about 51.7 miles or 83.2 kilometers. In real life, the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project was approved by the Indian government in 2005, under a plan that would not destroy Ram Setu.

In the “Ram Setu” movie, the project has not yet been approved. People have been protesting the project because they believe that Hindu deity Lord Shri Rama built Ram Setu, and therefore Ram Setu should not be demolished. In other words, the protesters believe destroying Ram Setu is a sacrilegious act.

Aryan is happily married to a fellow scientist named Professor Gayatri Kulshrestha (played by Nushrratt Bharuccha), who isn’t afraid to disagree with him. Aryan privately comments to Gayatri about the Ram Setu controversy, by saying that he thinks this matter is a land dispute. Gayatri sassily responds that it’s a matter of faith and says, “Your job is to dig up graves, not questioning the faith of people.”

Aryan’s refusal to take the side of the protesters makes him very unpopular with many members of the public who want to label Aryan as immoral, so he gets suspended from the Archaeology Society of India. (It’s a very unrealistic aspect of the plot.) His reputation takes a nosedive to the point where his career could be permanently damaged.

Aryan also gets roughed up by unidentified men outside of a hotel where Aryan had a speaking engagement. The face makeup depicting Ayan’s facial injuries is absolutely horrible and amateur-looking. Instead of bruises, it looks like black shoe polish was smeared on his face. The film’s continuity is also sloppy because the facial injuries look very different in scenes that are only supposed to take place a few hours apart.

Aryan’s unpopularity has a negative effect on Kabir Kulshreshtha (played by Anngad Raaj), the son of Aryan and Gayatri. Kabir, who’s about 8 or 9 years old, gets verbally taunted at school by another boy, who insults Kabir about Aryan. This conflict leads to Kabir getting into a physical fight with the boy. An emergency meeting in held with school officials, the boys and their parents. Kabir is told by the school principal that if he gets into this type of trouble again, he will be expelled.

The dispute over Ram Setu eventually reaches India’s judicial system. In a courthouse scene, a judge declares that the government must provide proof that Ram Setu is a natural formation, not a man-made structure, in order for the Sethusamudram Project to be approved by the court. Shortly after this ruling, Aryan is contacted by a wealthy mogul named Indrakant Varma (played by Nassar), who is the leader of Pushpak Shipping, a company that stands to benefit if Ram Setu is demolished by the Sethusamudram Project. Indrakant wants to hire Aryan to prove that Ram Setu is a natural structure, but Aryan declines the offer.

But Aryan get is coerced into working for Indrakant anyway on a sea station called the Pushpak Alpha Floating Lab. It’s a futuristic operation headed by project manager named Mr. Bali (played by Pravesh Rana), who introduces Aryan to the rest of the crew. Aryan’s new colleagues include Dr. Chandra (played by Ramakant Dayma), Dr. Sandra Rebello (played by Jacqueline Fernandez), Professor Andrew (played by Zachary Coffin) and Dr. Gabrielle (played by Jeniffer Piccinato).

Aryan gets a hi-tech underwater suit called Makar, which has robot hands that look like leftovers from the robot in the original “Lost in Space” series. Mr. Bali says to Aryan about putting on the Makar suit: “You’ll be flying underwater like Iron Man.” To its credit, “Ram Setu” has some underwater scenes that look visually appealing.

However, people with basic knowledge of deep sea diving will be cringing at how the movie portrays these explorers being in a ship underwater without wearing underwater suits or oxygen tanks and with no realistic references to underwater pressure that increases the deeper someone goes underwater. Haven’t these people heard of getting decompression sickness? And when Aryan goes diving in the Makar suit, his head looks like a computer-generated visual effect that was inserted, not a real person in the suit. In other words, the science fiction in “Ram Setu” is unconvincing.

The scientists at the Pushpak Alpha Floating Lab quickly determine that if they can prove that Ram Setu is more than 7,000 years old (before Lord Rama existed), then it would prove that Lord Rama did not create Ram Setu. The movie has a bunch of nonsense about a yellow rock that is supposed to be proof of Ram Setu’s age. AP eventually comes along for the ride. And people with various agendas end up chasing this group of Pushpak explorers.

“Ram Setu” has some references to British colonialism’s erasure of Indian history and has some obvious messages about Indians needing to reclaim Indian history from a Eurocentric point of view. (Ram Setu is also known as Adam’s Bridge.) But all this messaging about Indian historical pride is cheapened when the movie is so badly constructed, it insults viewers’ intelligence.

Some of the chase scenes have tension, but what happens in between this action is often dreadfully dull. The acting performances from all of the cast members are unremarkable or forgettable. “Ram Setu” makes a sharp detour toward the end that is supposed to have a deep religious meaning. But this “reveal” in the movie’s last scene is ultimately just like the rest of “Ram Setu”—a lot of ideas thrown together in disjointed ways and resulting in an unimpressive story.

Zee Studios released “Ram Setu” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 25, 2022.

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