It's time for the modern-day version of 'Ramayana' to unfold this Friday, exactly two weeks after 'Mahabharata'. The very thought of watching an epic in the present-day milieu only enhances the curiosity for the film. And if the present-day adaptation of 'Ramayana' is helmed by a master storyteller [Mani Ratnam], the moviegoer should, and must expect the moon. Nothing less would suffice. After all, a Mani Ratnam film is not merely an experience, it's an event!
Mani Ratnam, who has penned the screenplay of RAAVAN, models his characters on the lines of 'Ramayana':
An upright cop, the punisher, the law/Lord Rama [Vikram]
His doting wife/Goddess Sita [Aishwarya Rai Bachchan]
The lieutenant he befriends in the forest/Hanuman [Govinda]
His confidante/Lakshmana [Nikhil Dwivedi]
The antagonist's sister, who triggers off the war/Surpanakha [Priyamani]
And, of course, the antagonist, the Robinhood turned Raavan who kidnaps the top cop's wife and keeps her in his custody, in his Lanka/Raavan [Abhishek Bachchan].
Mani Ratnam has also included the part where Goddess Sita was banished from the kingdom of Ayodhya due to the gossip of kingdom folk. It was agni pariksha then, but in the film, the husband [Vikram] asks the wife [Aishwarya] for a polygraph test to prove her chastity/fidelity. At the same time, RAAVAN brings back memories of a movie that, coincidentally, had a similar storyline -- JUNGLE [Ramgopal Varma].
You've come to expect scintillating visuals in the master film-maker's films and RAAVAN is no exception. But RAAVAN falters in narrating the story with dexterity. In fact, this one's a game of see-saw, with a dull and lifeless first hour, an absorbing second half and a weak, lacklustre climax.
Final word? RAAVAN comes with the baggage of humungous expectations, mainly for the one name attached to it: Mani Ratnam. Even though comparisons with the genius film-maker's earlier accomplishments like MOUNA RAAGAM, NAYAGAN, AGNI NAKSHATRAM, GEETHANJALI, ANJALI, ROJA, BOMBAY and GURU are sacrilegious since all belong to diverse genres, RAAVAN is nowhere close to those epics. The benchmarks only get higher and higher every time Mani Ratnam makes a film and RAAVAN, unfortunately, is a step down. Sorry, several steps down!
Dev [Vikram] falls in love with Ragini [Aishwarya Rai Bachchan], a spunky classical dancer who is as unconventional as him. They get married and he takes up his new post in Lal Maati, a small town in northern India. A town where the world of law is not the police, but Beera [Abhishek Bachchan], a tribal who has, over the years, shifted the power equation of the place from the ruling to the have-nots of the area.
Dev knows that the key to bringing order to any place is not to vanquish the big fish; in this case -- Beera. In one stroke Dev manages to rip open Beera's world and set in motion a change of event which will claim lives. Beera, injured but enraged, hits back, starting a battle that draws Dev, Beera and Ragini into the jungle. The forest becomes the battleground. The battle between good and evil, between Dev and Beera, between Ram and Raavan.
Mani Ratnam's adaptation of 'Ramayana' begins with the wife getting kidnapped and her husband launching a massive hunt to track down his wife and nail Raavan aka Beera. The reason why Beera takes this extreme step is revealed much, much later, towards the post-interval portions, which means that Mani Ratnam follows the nonlinear pattern to narrate his story.
Let's talk about the factors that pull this film down. First and foremost, when you've a title like RAAVAN, the demon king, who couldn't be vanquished by Gods, demons or spirits, you expect Raavan aka Beera to be equally powerful, who could send a chill down your spine, who spells terror and fear. But, in RAAVAN, Beera comes across as a psycho. The streak of madness in his character makes a mockery of the character itself.
Also, his makeup and also the shabby avtaars of his family/henchmen is not something that makes them looks menacing. In fact, it makes the entire gang look repulsive.
Even the finale leaves a lot to be desired. Ideally, the film should've ended after the fight on the bridge, but the entire track thereafter seems like an add-on, which is forced into the screenplay. Ash having a change of heart for Abhishek is equally unpalatable and makes you wonder, how and when did she develop such strong feelings/emotions for Beera? The writing is flawed, no two opinions on that!
On the plus side, the track, which starts from Nikhil's kidnap to the entire flashback portion, is attention grabbing. The factors that prompt Beera to spell havoc in Dev's life are apt, although Beera's sister's portions, while narrating the atrocities committed on her, aren't easy to comprehend in entirety. What was she trying to say, frankly? Yet, the impact of the flashback portions is worth noting.
The fight on the bridge -- between Abhishek and Vikram -- is astounding. One hasn't watched something like this on the Hindi screen yet, I'm sure. In fact, the execution of each and every stunt [Shyam Kaushal, Peter Hein] is exceptional. Every Mani Ratnam film is embellished with stunning visuals and RAAVAN boasts of mind-boggling visuals as well. Shooting the film at tough locales isn't easy and Santosh Sivan and V. Manikandan's vision creates magic on screen. Every frame is worth admiring and applauding.
A.R. Rahman's music is excellent and the visual appeal only enhances the impact. I'd like to single out 'Behne De' and 'Thok De Killi', two tracks that I'd like to hum even after the show has concluded. In fact, the latter is very energetic in terms of choreography. Vijay Krishna Acharya's dialogue hit you like a sharp object at times, which is in sync with the mood of the film.
I've admired Abhishek's work in Mani Ratnam's earlier films YUVA and GURU, but despite putting his best foot forward, for some strange, inexplicable reason, Abhishek doesn't look convincing for the part. Also, the dialogue delivered by him aren't coherent at times. Aishwarya is wonderful, looking ethereal and enacting her part with conviction. Vikram is first-rate, although the role isn't substantial enough. Govinda fails to create any impact whatsoever. Amongst the plethora of actors, Nikhil Dwivedi [a revelation; very good], Ravi Kishan [nice] and Priyamani [perfect] stand out.
On the whole, RAAVAN is a king-sized disappointment, in terms of content. From the business point of view, a Mani Ratnam film might ensure a healthy opening [at plexes mainly], but the weak script on one hand and the heavy price tag on the other will make RAAVAN see red.
- Taran Adarsh