Saturday, July 10, 2010

Raavanan Review -

Maniratnam is hailed as India’s best director for a reason- he delivers his films like no others could. His films are way ahead of its time, and generally motivate people to think out of the box. It’s no surprise that many directors are stimulated to follow his footsteps and not surprising even that none could ever attain the peak he‘s at. His films often spawn a great deal of criticism when they are released; many a times, his films have failed to reach the box-office status due to the severe and harsh criticisms they are faced with, nevertheless, the public are always looking forward for his next release with the same high level of enthusiasm they have for all his films.

So where does Raavanan stand as a film? This is definitely another thought-provoking, absorbing and heartening presentation from the genius. And yes…yet again the critics have not favored him but who cares about the critics anyway? Certainly not Maniratnam. To reiterate my previous statement- Maniratnam delivers his films like no other could and Raavanan is definitely another feather on his cap.

With a title like Raavanan, many would have tried to draw inference from Ramayana, yet Raavanan is a film that manages to stand apart and ahead of any inspirations the epic might have had. There’s no denying that the characters are absorbed from Ramayana but while other would have incorporated the characters as they are, Maniratnam had extracted only the essence of the central roles and created a whole new perspective to them.

Veera (Vikram) is depicted as a dreaded villain and a terrorist in the eyes of law. His introduction scenes show us how he ruthlessly burns alive some police officers, while another loses his limb due to an accident incited by Veera’s tribe- a tribe which includes his brothers, Singarasan(Prabhu) and Sakkarai (Munna) . Veera himself is seen playing the drums vigorously while the police officers were left suffering at the other end. In another scene, he bulldozes his way to Ragini’s (Aishwarya) boat and captures her in the blink of an eye. Sounds similar to Raavanan, anyone?

And yet, it was not these characteristics that found a chord with the demonic Raavanan. Why do I say so? While the epic Raavanan is portrayed as a ruthless demon, Veera is anything but that. There lies a reason for his callous actions, and when the reasons are finally revealed, we get to see the justifications in them. No, Raavanan’s character is not shown through Veera’s cruel dealings. It was through Veera’s depth of love for the captured victim that we finally get to see the Raavanan in him.

Raavanan might have been cruel to the whole world, but the epic states that he has never forced himself upon Sita. Valmiki’s Ramayana affirmed that Raavanan never so much as touched Sita while she was being held as his hostage. He visited her regularly and asked her consent to marry him. Every time Sita declined, but there is not a single instance when Raavana misbehaved with Sita. It was this characteristics that Veera seems to possess. Through the entire ordeal of Ragini’s capture, there was not even a single moment that Veera has laid his hands on her. Like Raavanan, Veera too falls in love with her beauty. Like Raavanan, he too longingly waits for her consent. And like Raavanan, he too meets his death due to her.

Granted, there were many scenes depicting the closeness of Raavanan’s actions with Veera’s. Veera was regarded as the head of his tribe, and the scenes where the villagers were questioned affirms that Veera too was benevolent, generous and effective ruler as Raavana was. What’s more, Veera’s subsequent vindictiveness too was an obvious retribution for the brutality faced by his sister, Vennila (Priyamani) in the hands of the police-which shows us a connection on the Surpanakha’s incident in Ramayana. Nevertheless, it’s my humble opinion that Maniratnam has projected the resemblance shown here as a way to clarify Veera’s character rather than recreating Raavanan on the screen. Because Maniratnam’s Raavanan is not a modern day take on Ramayana- it is more of a conflict of characters and how there is more to an individual than just meets the eye.

This brings us to the other pivotal role in the film-Dev (Prithviraj). As a character, Dev must have been one of the most complex and multifaceted (not literally) role ever created by Mani. There was the initial confusion on Rama’s resemblance in Dev’s characterization. Veera had many instances to prove that he derived from Raavanan but except for Ragini’s capture, Dev had no palpable scenes to show that he had Rama in him, right? The answer would be yes and no. Yes, there were no blatant views of Rama’s depiction here, but no, that does not mean, Rama was amiss in Dev. In fact, Dev is not only the most profound Rama we might be able to see on screen, it is also a character which triumphed in the mission where Rama Himself fell short.

Yes, a person who has little or no knowledge of Ramayana might have missed the assimilation of Rama’s depiction here.

Let me go on to Rama’s role in Ramayana- we all know that Rama was the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Epic has it that Brahma, Bhumidevi and the Decas worshipped Vishny, the Preserver, for deliverance from Ravanan’s tyrannical rule. Vishnu promised to kill Ravanan by incarnating as a man – the eldest son of Kosala's king Dasaratha.

And just as Rama was born for a mission, Dev too has a mission, and that is to destroy Veera, which was clearly stated in his introductory scene. Dev describes Veera as a person who commands the tribe’s love and respect, he believes that the tribe regards him as God, nevertheless, as far as the law is concerned, Veera is a terrorist who needs to be destroyed….and Dev is hell bent on destroying Veera himself. There were many a point where Dev is portrayed as a spiteful…almost sadistic person, then again was he really? The scene where he grasps the slaughtered arm of Veera’s brother-in-law was not to show the vicious side of him. It was to show his anger and frustration on Veera’s mockery of Dev’s mission. The fact that the brother-in-law was left hanging with Ragini’s clothes only proves one thing- Veera had full knowledge of Dev’s calculated moves and this was a sign to show that Dev will never outrun him.

The scene where Dev shoots Sakkarai could be seen as yet another cruel side of Dev and again, it wasn’t. Dev knew that Sakkarai was Veera’s right hand and the fact that Sakkarai has come forward seeking a compromise proves that Dev is just steps away from victory. Sakkarai’s murder was not an arrogant move by Dev. Instead, it was a message to project that Veera’s end is soon to arrive.

A person in Dev’s shoes would have been torn between the love for his kidnapped wife and the mission in hand. But Dev is someone who’s clear about his notions. He is a fanatical about his duty and he clearly doesn’t succumb to the love in heart. He only wanted to destroy Veera and if Ragini’s kidnap provides a reason to fulfill his assignment, so be it. Then again, this doesn’t mean Dev is heartless to Ragini’s plight. He loves her with all his heart and there were many testimonial to them-when they found the boat-driver, Gnanaprakasam (Karthik) is keen to find out about Veera’s whereabout, nevertheless, Dev’s line of questioning was only on his wife-was she hurt, did she cry, etc. The agitation was clearly shown on his face. Then again, the scene where he sees the rope used to tie Ragini, and the bamboo shoot from which she drink her water, there were longing and sadness in his face. And the scene where he finally sees Ragini-the happiness was evident in his expressions but in a split second, he turns angry and start looking for Veera. The minute detailing in the change was beautiful and once again proves that as an encounter specialist, Veera’s death was more vital for Dev. Yes, he badly wanted Ragini to be safe, but even more than that, he wanted Veera to be destroyed.

So, why did I say that Dev triumph where Rama Himself failed? It was definitely evident in the Agni Pariksha sequence. Rama, though born as the most noble and loving person, has subjected His wife to the agni pariksha test- whether He did it in order for His subjects to accept Sita as a fitful queen or whether He did it because He Himself has doubted Sita’s purity, is definitely debatable. Nevertheless, the intention of his actions was clear-to get a clarification of Sita’s honor.

But Dev never doubted Ragini’s purity. The polygraph test he asked her to take was not to question her sincerity but to instigate her to lead the army to Veera’s hideout. Ragini didn’t know Dev’s intention but Veera did. But why does Dev have to take such a risk? Ragini could clearly have been harmed in the process. My guess was-Dev clearly understood that Ragini would not be harmed. Veera’s confession that Ragini is a “pure gold” only proves that Veera would not think of harming her. It also proved another point-that Veera was in love with Ragini and it was only due to Ragini that Dev have been saved by Veera. And selfish it may sound, but Ragini had to be made a scapegoat in order for Dev to capture Veera. Dev didn’t care of the consequences-he only knew that Veera must be destroyed and he did destroy him at the end-a calm smile on Dev’s face during the final act says it out loud-his mission is now complete.

So who is the winner at the end? Veera or Dev? Both actually- Dev for having accomplished what he set out to do, and Veera, for finally winning the love of Ragini, even if his life was the price for it.

Coming to the performance, Vikram heads the pack with a spellbinding performance. His body language, expressions & dialogue delivery was just too good. With Vikram, you knew that he wasn’t playing a role- he was living as Veera throughout. The scene in the water where he falls in love with Ragini for the first time, the anger and frustration when he hears of Vennila’s suffering, the way he clutches his wound and cries when he sees Vennila’s death body, his antagonism when he destroys Dev’s camp following Sakkarai’s death and the final look of triumph when he falls to his death-Vikram has stamped his foot in each of the scenes. He was just fabulous to look at.

Prithviraj as Dev strike as the right balance for Veera’s character. He was outstanding as the encounter specialist. His facial expressions were top notch and gives us an indication of who Dev really is. Stories of Abhishek Bachchan being the initial choice for Prithviraj’s role was going around the net. I for one, have been thankful that Abhishek declined the same. Prithviraj was the best choice for Dev. If anything, Prithviraj understood his role amazingly well and gave a solid performance- perfectly balancing his role between being the loving husband and the determined, duty-bound officer.

Aishwarya Rai is very beautiful and very graceful. Nevertheless, she serves as the weakest point in the otherwise masterpiece presentation. We understand that Ragini is the victim here. She was abducted and was nearly murdered for no fault of hers. She had to live with a tribal group that is feared even by the police force and her husband is nowhere there to rescue her. You want to sympathize with her plight but you can’t, simply because Aishwarya failed to evoke those emotions in you. For some reason she doesn’t seem to sync with the character- her lip movements were odd, her body language proves nothing that she’s in fear and her expressions were dull. It’s a pity really. Ragini is a character that many actresses would have loved to play-the diverse emotions that runs in her throughout the 14 days would have been a wonderful watch had the role been played by a better actress. Granted, she did go through the physical torture of walking on the hills, hiking mountains, running through the forest, but never once do you feel sorry for her. In fact, after a while, you just start ignoring her presence.

Priyamani as Vennila is just awesome. Being a National Award winner, she proves why she is regarded as one of the best performers we have in the industry. Her performance though small, would definitely leave a lump in your throat…this again proves a point. You don’t just need good looks to survive as an actress. Acting talent is pivotal to bring life to a character and that’s where Priyamani succeeds and that’s also where Aishwarya fails.

Karthik and Prabhu are pleasant to watch and evoke laughter whenever they come on screen. On a similar note, Maniratnam could have avoided the jumping on the trees by Karthik. It did look pretty laughable nevertheless, on the whole, it was a great performance from the duo.

Music is one of the important veins in this film. A.R Rahman gave a splendid and scintillating songs and the BGMs especially during the bridge fight was truly mystical. Maniratnam is always a person who appreciates good music and his way of picturisations can never be exceeded by other directors. The songs here blend with the film and though some of the songs were cut short, you know that it’s important for the flow of the film. Usure Pogathey is my favourite number and it was beautifully shot. On the contrary, I had a tinge of displeasure watching Kalvare Kalvare. No, I’m not against any sensual numbers but this picturisation was a blatant contradiction from the lyrics. If you listen to Kalvare, you can hear the tiny whisper of Sita’s heart-felt needs. Sita was a shy, demure woman whose needs are told through her eyes and not by her words. Therefore when the line “En aasai naana solven, en aasaiye neeye sonnal, kannale aamam yenbene,” comes, you knew that Vairamuthu too have been thinking of Sita while penning the same. Hence, it would have been nice to lset the song in the background instead of having Aishwarya uttering the same and quashing the image that she is anything but bashful and reserved as Sita is.

Dialogues on the other hand leaves a lot to be desired. They’re impractical and seems out of its place. I mean, which woman would be reciting poems when she gets to know of her impending death? In many places, the characters seems to be talking an almost strange language- it was Tamil of course but it sounded strange due to the way it’s said.

Cinematography is another plus for the film. There was nothing but beauty in the film and it’s only made possible by Santosh Sivan. The bridge fight was very well executed and the final climax scene where Veera drops from a fort was just awesome.

Amitabh Bachchan tweeted about the Hindi version being badly edited. Really? Not sure about the Hindi version but Raavanan’s editing was again top notch. There wasn’t a dull moment anywhere and almost every scene carries great significance and essential to the story.

Last but not least- Maniratnam. He has outdone himself again. Truly, if there’s anyone Maniratnam is competing with, it’s himself. This man has no peers and he definitely is his own rival. His films are outstanding and those magical touches can never be replicated by anyone else. Having said that, Raavanan is yet another journey brought to us by the great Maniratnam- a journey so mystifying yet enriching.

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