Raavan is a good movie. Not great. But good, with reservations.
Maniratnam is a good filmmaker. Very good, in fact. He has potential to make that perfect movie, but it certainly is not Raavan.
Ideally, I’d like to watch Raavanan (Tamil) too before I write a review, but I’m going to give it some time before I take Vikram on. Going to
soak in the Hindi monster with the ten heads first. Because it is going to be a milestone in a retrospective of Maniratnam movies.
Mythical and modern
Building a modern story around a myth seems simplistic, but need not necessarily be so. It necessiates the building of layers, and going by
the general pool of talent we have this side of the Vindhyas (or that), very few directors seem to be able to do it.
In Raavan, the Robinhood-like non-conformist do gooder, Beera (Abhiskhek) kidnaps his arch enemy SP Dev’s (Vikram) wife Ragini (Aishwarya Rai) secreting her in his version of the Ashokavan. Sanjeevani, the forest guard, expressing a simian agility unbelievable from someone of Govinda’s girth, is the messenger, Hanumaan. All this is woven in with the contemporary story of a forest brigand, a jungle cat duping the armed forces with agility, in a not-at-all-veiled reference to Sandalwood smuggler Veerappan.
What follows is psychomachia, where good battles with evil and virtue defeats vice. And some love.
But then, Dev is not really the tatpurush that the epic Ram was meant to be. Nor is Beera merely a sinner. Dev straddles the grey zone
between good and evil and so does Beera. Evil and good, in Raavan are not the certainities we are used to on celluloid. On the contrary, as in real life, they are not absolutes – they spill over into each other believably. The crafty and wily here will destroy the fool in love.
No longer urbane
Also, for the first time Maniratnam has lost the urbaneness that characterises all his work, hitherto. No, not his aestheticism, just his
penchant for all things bright, beautiful and urban. There is sophistication here too, make no mistake, the kind though that comes through the lens of ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan.
But the aesthetics derives from the locale itself; not so much from the characters. The characters themselves are grossly made up (often smeared with mud, filthy, unshaven, wet, and dressed in rags) – there is generally a deliberate attempt to get as earthy and real as possible; riding surprisingly well with the breathlessly beautiful imagery.
This is a significant departure from Maniratnam as we know him – glimpses of that man we see in the ethreal dancing scene with Aishwarya.
In the scenes of violence, quite casual in this film, I struck me that I was seeing flashes of Quentin Tarantino. A tribute, perhaps? Or it could be just me – I’m ODing on Tarantino just now.
Sivan and Rahman save
Even the naysayers of this movie agree on two things: One, we’ve already mentioned – the genius of Santosh Sivan, Two – on the way the director has worked the actors. Though Maniratnam has a reputation to be exacting on his actors, I think Raavan will be the movie he’s pushed them off the cliff. Literally. For someone with vertigo, I have great appreciation for people who can hang by a hand from a makeshift bridge over a deep gorge. No, make that anyone who can walk over that rope-and-board bridge. Aishwarya Rai must have had it tough physically, and she had to do it all over again with Vikram!
It shows though when she shrieks. You feel like telling her,”Let up lady, it’s just a film!” That is a definite put off. And in combination with Abhishek Bachchan’s ghastly exaggerated expressions and slow retarded gestures, the repugnance is total, especially durign the climax and the denouement. The film could do with editing, being baggy in parts, it loses you in bits.
Pic Courtesy: Sulekha
But when it does, A.R.Rahman drags you right back into it. I’ve already made known my preference for Raavan over Raavanan when it comes to the soundtrack and I’m not about to revise that opinion. Behne de which has Aishwarya mostly under water is my favourite, while the haunting Beera comes a close second. With Sivan’s camera, Rahman’s synth picks up the film everytime it sags, distracts and roams all over the place.
But when is Indian cinema (popular) going to realise the value of background scores? Must all songs be danced to? That, by itself, would lend to tighter editing and a not-so-baggy-monster of a film.
Just like its theme then, Raavan avoids the absolutes and falls mostly in the grey area – between good and bad; entertainment and boredom; hit and flop. But because, of all the above, and not in the least because of the context in which films are being made in our country and ‘Southside’, I’d say Raavan is good, but with flaws.