Since the time of the announcement of Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, curiosity about how India’s most accomplished filmmaker manages to do a modern day adaptation of the mythological epic, Ramayan, has known no bounds. Thankfully, Mani succeeds in his own inimitable way. His team’s painstaking hard work shows in every frame of the film and his actors help him raise the film’s bar.
The film opens with policemen killed at various places around Lal Maati, a small town in Northern India. This is followed by abduction of the local police chief Dev’s (Vikram) wife Raagini (Aishwarya Rai). The dreaded low cast tribal lord Beera (Abhishek) is behind the kidnapping. Dev (Vikram) immediately gets hot on the trail of Beera with trusted lieutenant Hemant (Nikhil Dwivedi) and seeks the help of the jovial forest guard Sanjeevani (Govinda). Beera knows the dense jungle like the back of his hand and is helped by the tribals, managing to stay just one step ahead of Dev and his team. But as the cat and mouse chase proceeds between Beera and Dev, the initial hate of Raagini for Beera subsides. As Dev inches closer, the near maniacal Beera shows he has a heart too and Raagini almost loses hers to him. What follows after Beera and Dev come face to face forms the rest of the film.
Taking on a mega epic like Ramayan and turning it on its head giving his own personal interpretation, Mani Ratnam dares to depart from the religious text and succeeds in showcasing how Ram can be a Raavan and how a Raavan can also be a Ram. Aided by the best technical crew of Indian cinema, Mani has made his multilayered film, a technical marvel to watch with awe. The first half moves on rapidly mostly focusing on Dev’s chase of Beera, but however it gets boring beyond a point since the story hardly moves ahead. Mani also fails to establish the exact setting of the outlaws. Are they Naxals or a modern day Robin hood gang? But it is the beginning of the second half where Mani begins to pack his solid punches and achieves the peak with an unusual climax. Beera’s background (the reason for Raagini’s abduction), Dev’s impatience to grab Beera, Raagini’s gradual change of perception about Beera and eventually the final face off between Dev and Beera have all been terrifically captured.
Abhishek is nothing short of brilliant, portraying Beera. If you thought Abhishek delivered his best under Mani in Yuva and Guru, watch Raavan for his evolvement into an actor of true caliber. Aishwarya Rai delivers a top notch act. Makeup less and forever battered and bruised, Aishwarya’s eyes convey a lot more than the shrieking her character has to resort to most of the time. Vikram unfortunately is saddled with a one dimensional character for most part of the film until the climactic punch. He looks fearless and arouses enough curiosity as an actor to watch him play Beera in the Tamil version of the film. Govinda as Sanjeevani brings on the much required comic relief in the tense proceedings and succeeds. Ravi Kissen grabs the opportunity to impress with both his hands and does well. Priyamani playing Beera’s sister, in her brief role manages to bring out the pathos of her unfortunate character.
Mani takes you to virgin locations within India never exposed before on screen. Be it the thick dense forests in Kerala or the same state’s dangerous Athirappally Waterfalls or the exotic Orcha in Madhya Pradesh and Malshej Ghat valley in Maharashtra, Santosh Sivan and Manikandan’s camera captures it all with super finesse. The action finale on the hanging bridge, a never seen before feat in Indian cinema makes your heart skip a beat.
Oscar winner A.R. Rahman’s music coupled with Gulzar’s lyrics is mesmerizing but Mani hardly gives any time for any song to register any impact, as if in a quick hurry.
The subtle statement Mani incorporates against the system on behalf of the low caste have-nots is laudable but could have been a little more elaborate. Nevertheless, as Mani Ratnam’s metaphoric interpretation of the grand epic, Raavan definitely deserves a visit to your nearest cinema hall for its plusses certainly over ride its minuses.
– Sampurn Wire