The master falters, but…
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