Raavan

The master falters, but…

Pic: Raavan; Reliance Big Pictures

A lot is being said about Mani Ratnam’s Raavan and the movie’s fate has become front page news material… it almost seems like everyone was waiting for the master film maker to fall once to rip him apart. Critics and fans blamed Ratnam for losing his maverick style by focusing more on the commercial aspects and staying away of any direct political undertones. Raavan may not be what an Iruvar or Roja or Bombay or even a Guru was but it is a film that took a lot of effort to make, which went completely unnoticed. I am not saying that we should like a film because it was a difficult one to make but let’s not be so harsh on a filmmaker whom we have revered for so long. Mani Ratnam is one of the finest filmmakers we have in India and that is indisputable.

Based on the Ramayana, Raavan is set in a fictitious town called Lal Maati, surrounded by dense rain forests and is unofficially ruled by a tribal leader named Beera aka Raavan (Abhishek Bachchan). Beera fights against the system and the forces for the injustice done towards the locals who worship him like a god. The conflict resembles the Naxalite movement; however the director steers clear of any direct reference. Beera abducts the local police superintendent, Dev aka Ram’s (Vikram) wife, Ragini aka Sita (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) to extract revenge. While Dev embarks on a search for his wife and her kidnapper; Beera finds himself drawn towards his beautiful and brave hostage.  Raavan is partly a love story and partly a story about the good and the evil that resides inside all of us. The concept is interesting, however the screenplay gets too literal at times, such as the sequence where Govinda’s character (Sanjeevni Kumar aka Hanuman) is shown jumping from tree to tree.

Raavan is a visually stunning film and the two cinematographers, V. Manikanandan and Santosh Sivan have well captured the natural beauty of the locales as well as the harsh conditions faced by the actors. Music by A. R. Rahman with lyrics by Gulzar is a winner too with the songs presented in a breath-taking manner, especially ‘Kata Kata…’ and ‘Thok De Killi…’ What does not work very well is the film’s editing (Sreekar Prasad) and the screenplay (Mani Ratnam) as the first half moves at an extremely slow pace and the climax not that impactful. The actors have all worked very hard and it clearly shows on screen. Abhishek is good but does not seem menacing enough that one would expect from a character based on a demon; Aishwarya emotes well, while Vikram only grunts. Nikhil Dwivedi in Lakshman’s character is good and so is Ravi Kishen as Beera’s brother; Govinda in Hanuman’s character does not work very well but that’s probably because his character is not that convincing in its modern avatar. Priyamani as Jamunia (Beera’s sister) is an important find for the Hindi film industry this year; she has great screen presence and I am looking forward to seeing her more often in Bollywood.

The film may not match up to the high expectations we have from Mani Ratnam but I agree with what I read online, ‘his worst is also better than the best works of some other directors’.

My rating: * * ½ Two and a half stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal


Raajneeti

 

Lust, Power & Deceit

Pic: Raajneeti; Source: Wikipedia

It is one of the greatest stories ever told and writer-director, Prakash Jha along with co-writer, Anjum Rajabali manages to narrate it again in a fascinating manner. Raajneeti takes its inspiration from Mahabharat and the current state of politics in India; from caste based politics to dynastic rule to horse-trading, the film touches upon a lot of issues. Having said that, Raajneeti is not a boring issue based film but a riveting drama-cum-thriller.  At 2 hours 45 minutes, the film moves at a breakneck pace from the word go, only faltering towards the end. You can predict what is going to happen overall but the clever screenplay still manages to surprise you with sudden twists.

Raajneeti is not about the battle between the good and the evil; it is about the lust for power and how far people can go for it. The first half of the film is taut while the second half has a lot of ups and downs as the director tries to pack in a lot. Those looking for the Gandhi family saga will be disappointed as the film only borrows the dynastic politics theme from the family and Katrina’s look from Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra.

The real winner in the film is its characterisation; there are no heroes or villains but strong characters that are superbly written and enacted (barring a couple). Nana Patekar makes an impressive comeback with a restrained yet powerful performance (no banging his head business happening here); while Ranbir Kapoor once again proves that he is going to rule the Hindi film industry in the years to come. Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpayee and Ajay Devgn, all deliver impressive performances along with Katrina Kaif who fits in the character well with her accent. Special mention for Shruti Seth who manages to shine in a brief role that is completely new to her sensibilities. Nikhila Trikha whose character is inspired by ‘Kunti’ from Mahabharat seems uncomfortable in her role as she is supposed to be at least 20 years older than her real age. In one of the critical scenes towards the climax, her exchange with Ajay’s character is actually funny, while it was supposed to be an emotional one. One actor who didn’t get his due in the film is Naseeruddin Shah who has a guest appearance like role but was promoted like one of the leads.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the film, I have one issue with the script; there is just too much violence as if the police and the judiciary do not exist. It would have been more interesting to see further Machiavellian mind-games and attacks rather than shootouts and bomb blasts. The production design is quite elaborate and you get to see palatial political homes to rallies with thousands of extras braving the heat and dust. Sachin Krishn’s cinematography is impressive and Santosh Mandal’s editing could have been a bit better in the second half. Thankfully, the songs are mostly in the background and do not hamper the narrative except one silly item song featuring Barkha Bisht (why, Mr. Jha, why?) that lasts around a minute only. ‘Mora Piya…’ composed by Aadesh Srivastava and ‘Dhan Dhan Dharti…’ composed by Wayne Sharpe on Vande Mataram theme are two songs to remember.

Raajneeti may not be Prakash Jha’s best work (my favourite is Gangajal) but is definitely his biggest and most commercial film. With the film getting a good opening at the box office, I sincerely hope that we’d get to see more political films in India. Since we are talking politics, my favourite film on the subject is Mani Ratnam’sIruvar’ (The Duo) (1997, Tamil), which was based on the lives of Tamil Nadu politicians, M. G. Ramachandran and M. Karunanidhi. The film bombed at the box office but is considered a masterpiece amongst film lovers. If you haven’t watched it, do try to find a DVD (it is difficult to find one with subtitles, but a big DVD store can get it for you on order. In Mumbai, try Landmark at Palladium); till then do catch Raajneeti on the big screen… it is worth a watch.

My rating: * * * ½ Three and a half stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal