Mani Rathnam’s magnum-opus Raavan hit the screens two days ago and I hit the plush chairs at PVR to catch it up on a drizzly Saturday afternoon. In hindsight, maybe I should’ve hit the sack and rested those wearisome muscles rather than risk a jaw-ache from all those yawns! Coz it wasn’t as high and mighty as its made out to be.
“Old wine – new bottle” is passé! Old wine, re-distilled (read re-interpreted) and served up in rustic yet beautiful khullads is the new mantra. Vishal Bhardwaj did it with Omkara. Prakash Jha did it with Rajneeti and now Mani does the same with Raavan.
Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) is the scourge/saviour of a fictitious place Laal Maati. He’s the son of the soil, who rights the wrongs of the law enforcement officers by killing them or burning them at a stake! Locals deify him and none dare defy him. SP Dev Pratap Sharma (Vikram) is the man set out to hunt him down, at any cost. The hunt becomes a personal one when his wife Raagini (Aishwarya Rai) is kidnapped by Beera and held hostage. The age-old good vs. evil struggle commences amidst the backdrop of jungles, waterfalls, caves, canyons and sleepwatching audiences!
Firstly, why the place is named Laal Maati is beyond me. Given there’s not as much as a sand dune but acres and acres of jungle, humungous waterfalls, ravenous canyons and caves, black rocky cliffs with an idol of Shiva atop and also what looked like a poor-man’s Angkor Vat in between! Agreed, the locales and picturesque and breathtaking but it scarcely looks like North India. It rains almost throughout the movie (Kerala?); there’s a huge river & a huger waterfall (Karnataka?); lots and lots of jungle (Madhya Pradesh?); we see tribal folk and sweater-wearing policemen (Bihar/UP?); rusticness & artistry abounds in the mud-walled villages and mountain-top temples (Rajasthan?). Clearly, Geography is not the movie’s strong point!
Even if one conveniently ignores that all, the lethargically moving first half will test your patience and given that there’re no twists and turns in the storyline, it is dreary, if not slightly boring. The journey of the kidnappers and their hostage is a seemingly endless one, only serving the purpose of showing the crudeness of Beera and his people, while also making them loathsome to the cultured Raagini. The fact that the chasing group of cops are just a rainfall behind shows the audience that the chase is truly on and one can expect a confrontation anytime soon.
The proceedings pick up a notch in the second half, with the flashback tale of how the wrong-doer, is in fact the wrongee & the not-so-subtle changes in the abductee’s feelings. The romance between Beera and Raagini is almost non-existent physically but there’re subtle changes in their behaviour and how they see each other. Neither admits it, though Beera does what he eventually does because of it. As there’s a slight metamorphosis coming along in our villain, the shades of grey in the cop’s character keep on darkening and one is forced to think whether there’s a different culmination to the story. As it turns out, there is but again, it was kinda predictable!
Abhishek Bachchan is alright but overdoes his manic part way too much. Subtlety would have been a better choice, something on the lines of Ajay or Saif in Omkara. Vikram probably had an eye infection during the movie shoot. Or had just bought new Ray Bans. That would explain his hiding behind them whenever he appears in daylight. And would someone please do to Aishwarya the same thing as what happened to Sushmita? She’s too old and looks jaded. The classical dancer bits in the flashbacks notwithstanding, she underperforms a bit and that lends credence to the torn-asunder character but that’s all. Priyamani, Ravi Kissen and Nikhil Dwivedi do well in their respective roles. Govinda is a big nuisance and whoever thought of the name Sanjeevani Kumar for his character must have either been under hallucinogens or if not, needs some!
The biggest plus point of the movie is its picturisation. The locales are captured breathtakingly and initial cinematographer V. Manikandan and finishing one Santosh Sivan, both deserve brownie points. The waterfall scenes, the thok de khilli song, the cattle-raid scenes all stand out for top-notch camerawork and choreography. Ditto for the climax, with the post-fight scenes between Beera and Raagini far more poignant than the actual fight between Beera and Dev itself. The music is good but no great shakes. As an uncle pointed out, tracks of Roja, Bombay etc will be in our memory for a long time but can’t say the same for Raavan’s soundtracks.
I’m thinking to catch the Telugu version (dubbed from Tamil) just to see how Vikram fared in his portrayal of Raavan. It might (or might not) be better than Abhishek’s but since he didn’t look as confident in the Hindi version, maybe he makes up for it in his native-language version.