The Land of Raavanan
I really wanted to praise Raavanan. Honestly. Criticize Mani Ratnam’s flicks all you want, but you will have to agree that they at least provide good entertainment. I went to Raavanan with that expectation. When I returned home, I actually had to take an aspirin. Thus, I am compelled to lash out at the movie. If you think that’s unfair, please close this window. You wont like what follows.
For starters, the movie was a waste of talent, despite having a pretty good cast. You actually wonder why some characters are even there. Cases to consider, Prabhu and Karthik. Much hype was created over their appearing together in Mani’s movie after ages. Yet, their characters in the movie were hardly impressive – anyone could have played their roles. Karthik as a modern day Hanuman was pathetic. An oversized Prabhu was irrelevant.
Let’s go the main characters. Dev (Prithviraj), Mani’s Ram, is a loser and a shameless defender of an unjust order, much like Valmiki’s Ram. Prithvi does some justice to the role of a smart and ruthless cop. His archenemy is Beera (Vikram), our neo-Raavana, who is a local hero for the tribals/dalits of the village. Dev’s wife Ragini (Aishwarya Rai) is abducted by Beera, who wants to avenge his sister. And yeah, Dev wages ‘war’ on Beera. Their war is shown not just as a conflict between two cultures, but as a confrontation between the establishment and the historically neglected, between the oppressor and the oppressed. But in spite of Mani’s good intentions (assuming he had any), the oppressed come out as comic figures… sigh! I can remember Vikram more for his funny sounds and actions than for any provoking piece of acting. I believe the original Raavanan was a man of culture, a great artist, dancer and singer. Why would Mani Ratnam turn a talented artist like Vikram into a caricature like Beera? Come to think of it, Beera is closer to Jaambavan than to Raavana.
Let me make it clear here that I have no sympathies for any of the main male characters in Ramayana. Rama, a male-chauvinist moron obsessed with a hierarchical social order. Raavana, a weirdo who thought abducting women was cool. Hanuman, a spineless slave-monkey. Yuck! One should read the Ramayana to remind oneself how not to be like these characters. But I do have a thing for Sita. (No you dirty mind, its not that!) I mean, look at her. Helpless, caught in circumstances beyond her control, against forces she cannot fight, suspected for things she didn’t do, ending up taking her own life to prove her ‘purity’. I genuinely feel sad for her. Nothing patriarchal here, just a sense of pity.
But I didn’t have even half this pity for Ragini. And its not due to Ash being a blonde. I went with high hopes on Ash after reading Bharadwaj Rangan’s review where he lavishes praises on her. But what a disappointment, she was her usual self. Stupid, with a permanent irritating, confused look on her face. If that’s what her character was meant to be, I didn’t like one bit of it. If there was one thing consistent in the movie, it would be her costume. Whether torn or normal, dirty or clean, all her attires are designed in a way so as to reveal the right amount of skin at the right places. Mani please! Why these cheap tricks to appease front-benchers?
The movie plot is simple to the point of being dull. Guy kidnaps cop’s wife cos the cops raped his sister, and mayhem follows. Mani’s Mouna Raagam and Gitanjali were simple too. Simple, but refreshing. But this flick was tiring. It is wrong to say that the movie is based on the Ramayana, rather, the Ramayana has been imposed upon the movie to the extent of making it crudely obvious. The repetitive references to the number 14, ten-headed Raavana, Ash’s dialogues, the suspicion drama where Dev asks Ragini to go through a lie detector test to prove her chastity (modern day agnipariksha), Karthik’s monkey antics as he acts as a messenger – imitating the monkey god etc. You know, I was actually waiting for the captured Karthik to set fire to the village with something resembling a tail. Thankfully, Mani was not THAT stupid.
Mani’s cognizance has failed to recognize something called subtlety, which is a rare virtue in cinema. He has gone overboard in trying to insert bits and pieces of the epic into his movie and he ends up with a botched-up operation. Consider his Thalapathi, which has undertones of the other great epic, the Mahabharata, and which was executed with professional finesse. Raavanan in comparison is pathetic for sheer lack of sophistication.
No relief from the music too. There was just the jumble of weird sounds that Rahman and his fans would like to call music. I credit my headache primarily to him.
Nothing good about the movie? Apart from the beautiful scenery, I just loved Priyamani. What expressive eyes that woman has! Happiness, excitement, pain, anger – you just need to look at her eyes to know what her character is going through. Sadly, she is in the movie for only a matter of minutes. If you want to see this movie for something, see it for her. Because there is really nothing else. Valmiki’s Raavanan was a tragedy, Mani Ratnam’s is a farce.
One consolation: If the Tamil Raavanan was this bad, I shudder to think how the Hindi Raavan would be. And there’s Abhishek Bachchan in it too! Thank heavens I was spared the misfortune of going through that hell!