Rambo Rajkumar, born simply Rajkumar, was a master stuntman who worked in over 450 films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi before dying of a cardiac arrest while on set. He was known for his realistic close combat style, modeled on Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, which got him his moniker. The ‘R…’ in R… Rajkumar originally stood for ‘Rambo’, but copyright issues forced director Prabhu Dheva to change it to ‘Romeo’. Therein lies all that is wrong with the film.
Years of experience have led us to not expect anything resembling real life in Bollywood’s love stories. Part of our ritual suspension of disbelief is the notion that the leading man will eventually get the girl, no matter how improbable the success of his methods. R… Rajkumar stretches that notion to breaking point in the first 10 minutes. It then goes on to rip to shreds what little credibility it has left. Here’s the thing, Prabhu. In 2013, a woman, any woman, who has a guy following her everywhere she goes and making kissing sounds or breaking into her room as she is changing, is not going to fall for him. She’s going to report him to the cops — or, in this case, her gangster uncle — for that ridiculous euphemism: eve-teasing.
What’s strange is that Sonakshi Sinha’s Chanda is established in the film as a fierce, independent 21st century woman, beating up other eve-teasers (who presumably aren’t chocolate-boyish enough) and purse-snatchers to the applause of the more demure women of the town. Sure, even the most ardent feminist has the agency to fall head over heels in love with her stalker if she so chooses, especially if he has saved her life during a B-moviesque opening sequence. But Chanda so quickly reconciles herself to the role of chattel that the film gives her, as a prize for the two males butting heads — a role that has Sonakshi Sinha written all over it in blazing letters — that all that fierceness seems just a ploy to make her likeable. Or, more likely, a failed attempt at making her seem different from the doormat Sinha plays in every other film.
The two billy goats are Shahid Kapoor’s Romeo Rajkumar and his opium-mafia boss Shivraj Gurjar (Sood). Romeo is a drifter who has walked into a Yojimbo– style gang war and insinuates himself as Gurjar’s right hand man after saving his life and opium in some admittedly cool spots. His badassery, however, deserts him whenever he encounters Chanda, who shows up at the most inopportune moments, and he must go stalk her, leaving his long-suffering partner, played by Mukul Dev, to pick up the slack. Chanda is the niece of Gurjar’s mortal enemy Manik Parmar (Vidyarthi), which means this happens very often.
Matters come to a head when Gurjar sees Chanda and decides he must have her. He negotiates a truce with Parmar with Chanda as tribute, which leads to the inevitable conflict. Said conflict soon turns utterly ridiculous as Chanda and Romeo repeatedly bait Gurjar, leading to some incredibly atrocious (and decidedly unoriginal) jokes. At one point, in a misguided attempt at learning English in order to woo Chanda, Gurjar croons, “I am your buuull, you are my shiiit/ Together, we are buuullshiiit.” Not only is it an insightful statement on gender relations in the film, it also serves as a moment of honest self-criticism that is rare in Bollywood today.
Many have called R… Rajkumar the worst film of 2013. That particular circle of hell in my mind is reserved for Grand Masti, but this one comes very close. Like Grand Masti, it is a pastiche of other utterly mediocre films, plumbing the depths of Bollywood’s regressiveness.