Story: Cop Dev Pratap Sharma (Vikram) has just one mission in his life. He wants to capture the local outlaw, Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) who may be a Robin Hood for the tribals around, nevertheless, he is a law breaker. More importantly, he has kidnapped the cop’s beautiful wife, Ragini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) to avenge a personal grouse and has escaped into the dense jungles. Turn ofevents: the kidnapper falls in love with his trophy victim who too gets indecisive about where her loyalties lie….
Movie Review: The epics return again to contemporary cinema. After a re-telling of the Mahabharata against a political backdrop in Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti, cineastes can now feast their eyes on a modern-day rewrite of the Ramayana, against a cops-and-robbers canvas.
The high point of Mani Ratnam’s film is primarily its visual opulence. The film is literally a work of art where one luminescent frame follows another as the scenes keep shifting from one wet and rocky landscape to another misty mountainscape. You can’t seem to get enough of the montages that leave you breathless with the excellent camera artistry by Santosh Sivan and Manikandan. From the opening sequences where Beera (Abhishek) smashes his boat into wide-eyed Aishwarya’s canoe, to the fleeing, flinging, fulminating visage of Aishwarya, captured against wild waterfalls, turbulent tidal rivers, crumbling trees and silken drizzle, the film is a string of breath taking images. So much so, you seem to forget — and almost forgive — the fact that the first half hardly has any story. It is essentially just one prolonged chase, where cop Dev (Vikram) relentlessly pursues criminal Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) in order to rescue his wife (Ragini) and book the fugitive who garners great local support.
The paper-thin plot in the first half, does get you somewhat restless, despite a seminal scene where Sita-esque Aishwarya suddenly discovers a strange new emotion for a Raavan-esque Abhishek. After having labelled him beastly and brutish, a complete low-life when compared to her devta-like husband Dev, she finds herself being involuntarily drawn towards her kidnapper, despite his muddy visage and his gory past. And herein lies the second hook that draws you to the film: it’s revisionist tale of a Sita-like heroine flipping for a Raavan-like anti-hero, even as the traditional hero gets imbued in grey tones…. The anti-hero has always remained an alluring figure in cinema lore and Mani Ratnam carries his charisma forward with Raavan.
The second half of the film does get a semblance of story, with adequate twists and turns which reflect the Surpanakha legend (again revised), the Hanuman-Sita encounter, the Agni-pariksha demand (re-interpreted again as a polygraph test) and the film moves from sheer visual to visceral too. There are enough punches in the second half to keep the momentum going, but by and large, the film scores mostly on art and aesthete. Everything seems to be geared to make Raavan an object d’art, including the music (AR Rahman and Gulzar create a few foot-tapping numbers), the stunts, the cinematography and the no-make-up and heavily-made-up look of Aishwarya and Abhishek respectively. However, a little more attention to the narrative was desperately needed in Raavan.
In terms of performance, Aishwarya stands out as the lead actor, with her competent rendition of a woman who is torn between her love and loyalty towards her husband and her attraction towards a misunderstood brigand, with a heart of gold. Vikram, by and large remains a side hero: somewhat undefined and formless while Govinda’s Hanuman-like rendition of the forest guard is flippant. Which brings us to Beera: Abhishek Bachchan is immensely watchable, but he fails to lift the character of the anti-hero to another level altogether. Maybe, a less of multani mitti (mud packs) and `bagad billa’ antics would have allowed the natural actor in him to surface and bloom. Also, his other two outings with Mani Ratnam — Yuva and Guru — definitely tower above Beera.
But hey, Raavan is chicken soup for the senses. Go, indulge yourself.
Performances: Aishwarya leads, Amitabh follows, Vikram lags behind, Govinda’s going nowhere.
Story: The screenplay by Mani Ratnam needed more substance and bite.
Cinematography: Absolutely riveting! The camera artistry by Santosh Sivan and Manikandan is the heart and soul of Raavan.
Music: AR Rahman and Gulzar create an interesting audio track, although Rahman’s earlier associations with Mani Ratnam remain unforgettable. Numbers to watch out for: Beera, Behne De and Khili Re.
Styling: Sabyasachi Mukherji’s costumes are apt, blending modernity with tradition, just as the film tries to do. Aishwarya’s no-make-up look is a winner.
Inspiration: The film is a modern day, revisionist adaptation of the epic, Ramayana.