July   
2010

Vol. 10 - No. 1


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Photo Courtesy: Raavan - Official website 

Raavan or Raavanan The Film Makes one Think

Raj S. Rangarajan

NEW YORK: When one thinks of a Bollywood film one normally associates it with escapism, with fun or fantasy or both. So, when the film Raavan (Hindi) or Raavanan (Tamil) came along, one was forced to wear one’s thinking cap and wonder what exactly was director Mani Ratnam trying to convey.

In a first-of-its-kind, live experience with the actors and maker of Raavan, thanks to Cisco technology’s TelePresence – media from New York, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Dubai could see and hear clearly, in real-time, face-to-face interactions between participants: Director Mani Ratnam and Tamil actor Vikram in Chennai and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan in Mumbai, thousands of miles away.

To a question Ratnam explained why he was not into sending messages to society at large. “I am not providing any message, I merely share an emotion, share a thought, share laughter, that’s what we do.” The director has stretched the 138-minute film a bit to live up to the title since the 14-year Ramayana analogy had to be adapted to 14 days for the movie. The allegory is clear. You have the forest, the intrigue, the 14 years, the name of the film, the locations and the usual connection between good and evil except that one is left wondering whether good really triumphs over evil or is it love that conquers.

 

Ratnam suggests, one should see Raavan or Raavanan from Ragini's (Aishwarya) point of view. (She plays the same role in both: Hindi and Tamil.) Wife of a police inspector, Ragini has clear views on right and wrong. In her journey there is the hunter and the hunted and with roles and characters constantly changing, one wonders if the hunted becomes the hunter. The battle between good and evil continues, and when the lines between them tend to blur one wonders whom to favor: the cops (Inspector Dev played by Prithviraj in Hindi and Vikram in Tamil) or a tribal chief Beera Munda (Abhishek in Hindi) or Veeraiya (Vikram in Tamil) who fancies Ragini.

 

Actor Govinda could have been used better in the Hindi version. He pops up suddenly (like Hanuman) specially when he has to help the inspector-husband, Dev, who sees himself as the law, the punisher and the righteous. The untamed but popular tribal leader kidnaps Ragini, (an epitome of conscience and beauty) to avenge abuse of his sister played by Priyamani (Jamuna in Hindi and Vennila in Tamil) by the inspector’s men. Aishwarya shows emotion in a few scenes and Abhishek's effort at emotional conflict is commendable.  

 

Both, the Tamil and Hindi versions were above par though Vikram, the Tamil actor (as Dev) has performed better than Abhishek in the same role. Ratnam brushed aside Vikram’s initial hesitation about playing Dev in Hindi. Says Vikram, “The most difficult thing for me was the Hindi version, I didn’t want to do it, but “Mani-sir” said, “You can do it and boosted my confidence.” Added Vikram, “I found every location beautiful. Wherever we went, we had to drive down in a car for two hours, then get into a jeep for an hour and walk for another 15 minutes, and the beautiful sites [in North India and South India] were visual treats.” Overall, it’s a plus for Vikram in two combative roles in the same movie.

 

Cinematographers Santosh Sivan and V. Manikandan have done a terrific job with some of the  footage literally breathtaking: the collapsing bridge, rivals hanging literally to the bridge in adverse weather and a romantic ambience showing love-birds about to sit down for wine and dinner while overlooking soothing waters.

 

To another journo query, Abhishek responded, “I feel the audience will question themselves after this film. I think whenever I saw the rushes or when dubbing the film or even while performing, I think Mani as a director, was asking the audience, “what is right, what is wrong and who is to decide? What is right for Beera in the film is completely wrong for Dev. Who is to decide that Dev is right and Beera is wrong? What is right and what is wrong and who are we to judge?”

 

Talking of their relationship as a "married couple" a question arose about their credibility and chemistry on screen specially since in Raavan, the roles are adversarial. Aishwarya responded: “We all work together as a team to commit and to deliver. We are creating cinema. At that point, its not about personal equations, or what kind of relationship you share outside the set. We are all actors, we are all committed to the craft. That’s what it is all about. Abhishek joked, “I am not chasing her in the film, I have already kidnapped her.”

 

On differences between Hindi and Tamil versions, Ratnam said, “the idea was to make people see both versions and compare…essentially the same film but I do not believe in imposing that this is how a scene should be done, in terms of content and spirit, its the same.”  Which has indeed come through in both the versions.

 

Its not a straightforward story of good triumphing over evil, there are wheels within wheels, and one needs to really think as to what is happening in today’s world the dances and the costumes (Sabyas Achi) and the music (A.R. Rahman) notwithstanding. Some of the scenes where gruesomely symbolic (cutting off a coward’s hand) or shooting a defenseless man point blank. One wondered who was the torturer: the tribal or the cop?

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[Raj S. Rangarajan is a New York based freelance writer. He covers trend stories on art, reviews books and films for media based in New York; Toronto, Canada; Seoul, Republic of Korea; and India. He can be reached at raj.rangarajan@gmail.com]

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