Qalandar Reviews RAAVAN (Hindi; 2010)

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It doesn’t begin at the beginning, but, like a Greek epic, in the thick of things, by way of a jumble of images, from a serene Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) atop a cliff to policemen facing a road-block, to lust and ambush at a village fair, leading to a shocking image of men being burned alive, to, of course, to Ragini (Aishwariya Rai) in a boat, under threat from a larger vessel manned by Beera — framed against the sun, more silhouette than man. The cycle begins with Beera, and ends with him, and involves his contact with three of the traditional elements: earth, air, and water. As for the fourth — fire — that is Beera himself, as he himself suggests later on in the film when he is consumed and confused by his desire for Ragini. The succession of images, colors, and characters is determinedly non-linear: we all know the Ramayana, and so we know what must happen here, but the order (or lack thereof) unsettles our expectations. After five or more minutes of ravishment, its compression unequalled by any other sequence in director Mani Rathnam’s illustrious career (just about every principal theme is introduced in this overture, that must surely rank among Hindi cinema’s most memorable), the camera finds itself below the surface of the water, gazing up at the two boats nearing each other. At the moment of collision, debris (or is it blood?) drips onto the now black screen, as backdrop to the word “Raavan”, even as A.R. Rahman’s addictive “Beera” song navigates the darkness, illuminated only by print-like images of the title character.

Those first few minutes are worth the price of admission. The concision extends on either side of the titles: what has gone before has introduced us to Beera and Ragini; immediately after, we encounter the proud Dev (Vikram), and Sanjeevani (Govinda), a drunk forest-officer comically showing us he is the Hanuman of this tale. The opening frames certainly set the tone for what is to follow, a visual feast even Rathnam’s and cinematographer Santosh Sivan’s careers have not fully prepared us for. The two have long been associated with striking imagery, and indeed, as Baradwaj Rangan demonstrates in his insightful review, many images in the film are drawn from Rathnam’s own oeuvre. When Rathnam and Sivan are at their best, however, as in the opening portions of the masterpiece Iruvar (1997) or the singular Dil Se (1998), the experience of watching their work does not so much boil down to handsome images so much as to a certain visual texture, woven by virtue of rapid succession into a dense tapestry where almost nothing happens because someone says it is, but only because the filmmaker shows that it is. This is no “poetry” of expression, as more than one film critic has termed it, except insofar as it, like poetry, is economical. Rathnam achieves it by removing from cinema almost all that is not cinema.

That, in a nutshell, is what makes this retelling of The Ramayana ultimately worth watching: we get no new insight into the epic by virtue of its contemporary setting, but simply — and wonderfully — get a Ramayana for our cinema (as opposed to for our ears, or readers, or for devotion). Which made writing about this film a bit difficult for me, so wedded is Raavan to the succession of images that constitute it. Especially earlier on in the film, when even the linearity of individual sequences is disturbed by re-arrangement of the expected order — we see an unconscious body before we see the fall, and by that point we aren’t surprised: that’s how things are in the world of this film. Conversely, the film’s descent into linearity as it moves toward the climax is a bit disappointing. There’s nothing “wrong” with what the film does there, one simply misses the magic that has come before. Although, even at the end, there are consolations: an effective bridge fight between Beera and Dev (a follow-up to the one from Yuva/Aayitha Ezhuthu), and, best of all, a closing scene that mirrors the opening one — with a very different result.

Raavan is more focused than many Rathnam scripts, but even it suffers from some poor writing. Beera’s central motivation for revenge — his sister’s humiliation at the hands of the police, depicted in searing fashion by Rathnam’s refusal to show anything at all; it is Priyamani’s words (describing the harrowing events) that make the audience uncomfortable — doesn’t seem to figure much in the latter portions of the film. Indeed, the flashback sequence with Priyamani — superb in every scene she is in — not only makes the later effacement of her memory from the film bizarre, it casts a shadow over what has gone before. Why does Beera only think about killing Ragini? Doesn’t the thought that he could rape her ever cross his mind? Doesn’t it cross Mangal’s? One cannot help but feel that what Baradwaj Rangan has characterized as Rathnam’s “resolutely middle class” ethos is his undoing: he simply won’t have Beera engaging in something too distasteful on screen. Or, as everyone knows: the odd hacked arm is OK (although, why on earth would Beera spare the policeman who has raped his sister?), but sexual misconduct is just Beyond The Pale. This imaginative failure casts a shadow over Beera; that it does not cripple him is due to the efforts of Abhishek Bachchan, who is memorable in a role where his most common props are stance and gesture, framed against the elements or the wilderness, that look Rathnam’s eye captures — not dialogs and high drama. This must have been a difficult role to essay, given the juxtaposition of sparseness and signification in Rathnam’s Beera, and the younger Bachchan deserves credit for giving memorable form to the film’s least developed character, and most developed iconic presence. But he cannot forestall a certain unevenness in tone, and whether that is due to an acting limitation or a directorial failure, the result is occasionally labored. Not to mention that in a film darker and more intense than any Rathnam has previously made, by the end Beera’s character reflects one ray of sunshine too many. I did not get the sense he had been anywhere as bleak as Yuva‘s Lallan.

The rest of the cast gets to play more natural characters, and does not disappoint. Beginning with Ravi Kissen (as Beera’s brother Mangal) and Nikhil Dwivedi (as police officer Hemant). But not ending with them: apart from Priyamani, even the children who appear in the odd scene or two, or the police-man cowed into cooperating with Beera, as well as the extras, appear to have been cast with care. And then there’s Govinda; that it took Rathnam to remind us that long before David Dhawan, the man could act, speaks volumes about the utter disinterest so many filmmakers display towards non-lead roles.

Even an epic called “Raavan” needs a Ram, and Vikram’s Dev is unforgettable. A tough cop with his own violent darkness, Vikram’s domineering screen presence is a perfect fit for the role, as is his superciliousness. One never really likes this Ram, or even sees that he is virtuous. One simply accepts the inevitable, that this man will not be denied in his quest for his wife. It is, all things considered, a relatively small role — yet Vikram’s charisma means he never feels far from the action. Aishwariya Rai’s role is at the other end of the spectrum: her Ragini has more screen time than any other character in the film, and provides the female center that this film needs. The characterization is quintessential Rathnam: Ragini is tough and gutsy in captivity; and, in the flashback sequences, the sort of domestic sari-clad goddess who would make even confirmed bachelors sign up for marriage. (The fact that Rathnam himself appears to be married to just such a deity in the form of Suhashini probably justifies the happy husband peddling such felicity in his films.) That bourgeois ideal is established by a seductive Khili Re video, all the more welcome given how rare it is for classical dance to be married to overt sexiness in Hindi films — watch out for Ragini playfully snapping at Dev’s nose, in a room featuring one mirror too many. That sort of assertiveness goes well with the Ragini we see in Beera’s clutches: for much of the film, she is never still, periodically trying to escape, kill Beera, and even rescue another captive. In fact, Rathnam shrewdly compensates for Rai’s limited dramatic range by giving her the most active role in the film, as she falls, jumps, slides, laments, and snarls her way through the jungles, her beauty unnerving despite — or perhaps because of — the wringer her director puts her through. To the extent Ragini’s character has an aesthetic has an undoing, it is her own confused desire for Beera. Rai lacks the expressive range to adequately convey her growing attraction to Beera, but Rathnam doesn’t help by having Ragini’s desire manifest itself as a kind of passivity (until, at the very end, this film’s equivalent of the Agni-pariksha (“trial by fire”) enables her to wrest the initiative once again).

I’ve reviewed the music elsewhere, but would be remiss if I didn’t add here that the film’s visuals cannot be “thought” without Rahman’s accompanying soundtrack, so seamlessly integrated here that (unlike in, for instance, Guru), it is only after the film that one remarks upon the absence of a favorite song or interlude. The one, brave, exception is “Ranjha Ranjha”, where the album’s lush yet troubling and unsettled number is replaced with a radically different version, almost a cross between the song from the album and “Raasaathi” (Thiruda Thiruda). The film’s version only works because it reminds us of the album’s version, and hence of the road not taken. Rathnam intends to deny his audience the easy pleasure of familiarity, even in this most familiar of stories. Rahman’s background score is less uniformly felicitous, alternating between magic worthy of the visuals (that is to say unobtrusive and inextricable from the visuals; at its best this is one of Rahman’s most accomplished background scores); and some awful interludes that try and announce how momentous the scene is by their sheer loudness. No-one, and least of all Rahman, can be forgiven such vulgarity.

Ultimately, with any re-telling, the question one has to ask is “why?” And despite the fact that if one can do what Rathnam and Sivan do here, perhaps the only answer is “because we can”, Raavan goes a long way toward providing a more substantive answer. The charge of superficiality often laid at Rathnam’s door when it comes to politics will not work here: as in Dil Se, this is a film about individuals caught in the eye of a storm, and in both films, freed from the burden of having to chronicle cause and effect (the burden, that is to say, of providing an origin story), the director can paint the storm as he sees it. The result is an impressionistic world, well suited to the realm of myth, where meaning is manifested strangely and without explanation: the beauty of a body falling down; cigarettes burning holes in a newspaper photograph; a caped figure looming at the entrance of a cave, or dimly visible atop a bike through the haze; or framed by the sun in the midst of water. Those who cavil at the lack of cultural specificity — Orchcha pops up as a backdrop to one song; Mangal’s bhaiyya dialect seems incongruous in these jungles, especially given no-one else speaks like him — miss the point: this is not a film about a particular place, but a myth re-imagined for our times. The pseudo-Naxal backdrop is not meant to provide an insight into the insurgency so much as it is to provide the stage on which the epic may be re-enacted. It might be an all too easy way out, but it is deliberate: we are not told the name of the state, the district, or any place at all, except that Beera lives in “Laal Maati” (“Red Earth”); Rathnam dispenses with authenticity in representation, and, as in Dil Se (where too, we were never told what cause was at issue, or even what region, which appeared to alternate between Kashmir and India’s North-East), does so aggressively.

There is certainly politics here — Beera and his men mutter more than once (not to mention sing) about “upper caste” and state oppression — but it is only there by way of explanation: it’s why everyone is where they are. In the wider sense (i.e. not limited to statecraft), of course, there is a lot of gender politics here, and Rathnam isn’t shy of taking sides: the male ethos, of both Ram and Raavan, is glamorous, violent, destructive — and fragile. The female ethos — incarnated in Ragini — is strength. Not necessarily so (Beera’s sister is crushed), and perhaps not unproblematically so (to what extent is Ragini’s opposite fate a function of her greater social privilege?), but there it is. Most interesting of all, female strength invokes anxiety and weakness in the men around the women, whether in the form of desire (Beera’s for Ragini); or of the vigilance demanded by a purity fetish (Dev’s, after Ragini’s rescue); or of honor (all too easily lost when a woman is raped, as close to an originary trauma as this film will give us). The film isn’t called “Raavan” simply because it is the venerable epic’s double. Rathnam’s addiction to the trope of two is subtler here: the film’s title doesn’t indicate that Rathnam’s sympathies are always with the women, but it does announce that Ram isn’t the hero of this epic. Raavan is not a woman, but he is more child than man, and is certainly not the man Dev’s Ram is. That deity, for Rathnam, wears a uniform — that is, he belongs to the official world, to the mainstream discourse, to the world of men. (The director is uninterested in Ram’s especial traditional resonance for North India’s “little people,” most notably the Dalits, a silence that might well limit the extent to which many audiences are able to relate to their beloved epic’s cinematic imagining.) The downtrodden and marginalized of this version demand a different hero.

50 Responses to “Qalandar Reviews RAAVAN (Hindi; 2010)”

  1. Yeh hui na baat!
    Brilliant stuff as always.
    Sometimes in order to appreciate great art, one needs a great eye.

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  2. Q once again you prove the ability to see a movie for what it is and not what people expect it to be. Superb stuff. Based on all the reviews so far I know I’m going to like this film big time and your review just about confirmed what I thought about the film. As for Abhishek like I’ve said before he’s like marmite, you either love him or hate him there is no inbetween. I fall in to the category of people that like marmite.

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    • Aramak, I neither love him or hate him. I am sure there are many like me. Infact majority would fall into this category.

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  3. Why_so_serious Says:

    Just as negative reviews hardly articulate why they intensely dislike the film or offer any insight to its creative failures, the positive ones haven’t been inspiring either! So a review like this is always welcome.

    Disagree on places (especially on lead acting that Rangan expertly picked apart)

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  4. whew! i’m breathing a sigh of relief after reading this. now i know i’m gonna like it as i always trust your in-depth reviews. awesome piece, as always.

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  5. What a great piece, so far yours and rangan’s reviews are the only ones worth reading.

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  6. Superb piece. Q bhai your writing is in par with the cinematography of the movie. Have to read this again.
    If there is book on Bollywood posters, we need one for movie reviews by Satyam and you.

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  7. don’t agree. Aishwarya is the heart and soul of this film. And Mani could have done better than this

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  8. i havent read the piece.. but just came back from raavan.

    ONE OF THE GREATEST CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE KILLED BY ABHI… FOR ME.. HE NOT BAD.. BUT PROBLEM IS HES NOT GREAT.. IN A AUTHOR BACKED ROLE.. SHOWING HIS LIMITATIONS..

    ashwarya rai gives her career defining perfomance for me. i havent like her like i liked her today 🙂

    BUT hero of this movie is MANI ratnam.. haunting, daring, visually stunning.. .tragedy.. forget ramayan this is entirely different film for me without thinking of epic.

    RAAVAN is not an movie but an expierience if only ABHISEKH BACHAN had..

    DETAILED VIEWS LATER.

    raavan the experience – 4/5 stars
    abhisekh bachan – 1/5 stars.

    ACTUAL RATING- just watch it for mani ratnam please dont miss it..
    its the best movie of the year for me inspite of the fact i didnt like the performance (something similiar to rajneeti where i didnt like ranbir)

    if only abhi

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    • HES IS JUST OKAYISH REMNISCENT OF MAY BE DRONA.. IN LACKING ENERGY… HE JUST DOESNT SOUND BEERA.. HIS LOOK HAVENT DISAPPOINTED ..OR THE WAY MANI CAPTURED.. FOR ME MOVIE WAS KILLED BY DIALOGUE DELIEVERY WHICH WAS AWEFUL.. HE HAS THE PRESENCE.. BUT BOY O BOY U NEED TO SOUND BEERA…

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      • Rooney, you are unworthy of Abhishek. You need a great eye for art to appreciate Abhishek’s dark and over the top performance without being over the top 😉

        Bollywood is so unworthy of Abhishek, he should get to Hollywood. No, even they are unworthy of Abhishek. Maybe he should go to Galaxywood.
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        just kidding. couldn’t resist myself. No offense meant to anyone.

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  9. spell bound, amazing review q bhai.. read it but will do so again.. then i can get more senses to write something..

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  10. jayshah Says:

    Read some bits and pieces and will come back to the rest after watching it…

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  11. Utkal Mohanty Says:

    I am not writing a review, because the film does not deserve one. Just some random thoughts. First off: The film is horrible. Much worse than I thought. Did not think I will live to see a Mani film this bad. I thought Dil Se was bad and Yuva was only marginally better. But i thought with Guru , he had learnt his lesson. But he has gone all the way back, and what was a blemish in Dil Se has become a full-blown malaise. What exactly was the problem with Dil se or Yuva? The arrognace to start a film on just a few images or a concept. Let’s place the film against the backdrop of terrorism. Let’s have a climax where the hero and heroine are blown to smithereens. Let’s have a song on the top of a moving train. In Yuva it is, Let’s take the structure of amores perros. A spectacular accident scene on the Howrah Bridge. and since we have the Howrah Bridge, let’s bring in the Kolkata politics. Let’s have frenzied disco song. Let’s have a song with the wild sea waves and two young lovers. The focus is on all these ‘ items’ rather than build a credible, detailed relationship between the lovers, give them a context, some geographical roots. In Guru, the script and the story of Gurukant Desai was allowed to take centre stage. There were spectacular moments: the rainy AGM in the stadium, the moment of epiphany for the young Guru in Abu Dhabi, The scene of Mithun running on the beach with hie dhoti pulled up…But the human aspect was always predominant.

    In Raavan, it is back to broad strokes. There is no attempt at establishing the terrain or the characters. The character of Veera is written in such a juvenile manner. There is no detailing of any kind. too much rain and mist and too little human emotion. The writers should have worked on little moments between Veera and Raagini in her days of captivity, which would have given Raagini an opportunity to compare Veera with Dev. The character of Givinda, or Ravi Kishen are all cardboard. all atht effort on that fight on the bridge..what for? If yiu want to show off spectacular cation, make an Indiana Jones and prove yourself. why this fakery?

    Though I am the biggest admirer of rahman on the planet, I am getting tired of his Arabic and African chants in the background score, pointlessly used. Give me Ilayarajas haunting violin strains from Paa any day. Of course the songs are exquisite. The scenes that go with Behne do and Khili re are the only enjoyable moments in the film for me. but what was that Thok De Gilli doing juat after interval, when the much more meaningful and relevant Kataa Katta was coming up in a few minutes. elementary punctuation marks, Mani saar!

    but the death nail on the film’s coffin is Abhishek Bachchan. Once again, I am the biggest fan of Amitabh and consider him one of our greatest actors. I like abhishek as a decent guy off screen. But I am quite convinced he does not have a single acting bone in his body. His body language is so casual, his eyes are so blank. His creams, his scowls are all on the surface. Vikram even without knowing any Hnidi is so much more compelling to watch. Guru must be some kind of miracle, because i don’t think in Yuva too Abhi did any acting. It was just the styling that made him look. I think the best he can do is roles like Dostana or KANK, where he can bea normal urban character…in other words, where he is not expected to do much acting. Jackie Shroff managed fine doing stuff like that, letting co-stars like Anil Kapoor do the real ‘acting’. but this was the worst vehicle fora non-actor like Abhishek. Badly written the role may have been, but someone like ajay Devgan would have made the performance a little more believable, and created some empathy for the character.

    When people were talking of the film being Mani Ratnam’s Aag, i thought it was just Mani baiters getting their chance to jump on him. But after having seen the film, I must admit the comment is quite apt.

    I can take films that bet heavily on style. Only genuine artists can attempt that. But i sinply don’t see anyone in Indian filmdom capable of delivering on that expectation. After some hope in HDDCS and a lot less hope in Devdas, Bhansali wiped it all off with Sawariya. Now I know what is Bhansali is capable of at his best. Had to write off Ramgopal Varma after Aag and Shiva, after glimpses of promise in Naach and Kyun . And now I have to write off Mani too. Sad. Who else is there?

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  12. “It doesn’t begin at the beginning, but, like a Greek epic, in the thick of things”

    Quite true, it is like Greek drama’s relation to Greek mythology where compressed stories are played off against a ‘background’ of myth that the audience is always familiar with.

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  13. Outstandingly insightful piece in every sense, hard to disagree with anything in your ‘framing’… this is a piece to reread more than once.. dazzling commentary on the film at so many levels..

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  14. I have only now started to read the Raavan reviews entirely. This is an insightful piece (particularly liked the bit about the elements up top) and while I might disagree here and there, it’s exactly this level of critical thought one hopes for more of with films that deserve it.

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  15. SPOILER ALERT!!!!

    PS– I shared the point I made about Nikhil Dwivedi in my review (i.e. the fact that he gets off easy when Beera would have killed him for what he did to Beera’s sister) with my sister, who raised an interesting possibility. She said that Dwivedi’s Hemant is so traumatized (even after he returns to Dev’s camp) that — combined with Mangal’s comments that “is ko bilkul nanga kar diya” — she had assumed that Beera’s gang had done some permanent injury to him (perhaps even castration). She reminded me that sort of thing would be consistent with what Beera does to his brother-in-law Trivedi. That is certainly an intriguing possibility…

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    • actually I myself wondered about this .. whether this had happened or whether he’d lost his tongue or something.. but clearly something has been done to him that renders hi ‘mute’..

      again it’s hard to tell whether the edited footage has the answers to some of these surmises..

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    • The “castration” bit is exactly what I’d wondered. Another angle explaining this might simply be that Beera, in an unseen moment, relents to Ragini’s pleas and releases the man. When Hariya later dies, all hell breaks loose, all bets are off, which might explain why Sanjeevani is so keen on protecting the once-spared Hemant.

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  16. Some of the analysis for Raavan are amusing to read over here, because at the end of the day, not even Mani Ratnam has this deep thinking for what he has made. Leaving alone the lead actors, trying to find hidden meanings in supporting characters is far fetched. If he did, the movie would be flawless, or close to it to say the least. And it’s not even close

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    • MrCool.. there is a continuing assumption that anything that is rejected by the critics/audiences is automatically flawed and poor. So when audiences/critics did the same to Mera Naam Joker or Guru Dutt how would one have been able to respond at the time? I am not saying that every failure is a success for a later generation but how does one know? Given that no critical approaches are being offered to dismiss the film. Stuff like ‘flawed’, ‘boring’, ‘didn’t connect’ etc is all hopelessly generalized. This vocabulary might be adequate for ordinary commercial films but not for efforts such as this one.

      Finally on the ‘hidden meanings’ bit how does one ever know what a director intends? How does one ever know what any author intends? As long as a film offers evidence for an idea the reading is valid. And I think in all the pieces here that evidence is offered. If I am imagining that Raavan is perspectivized almost solely through Ragini there should then be serious counter-evidence to this claim. If not my view holds and if it does one must wonder why this is so? presumably it’s not coincidental! Or when Rathnam already has a hit Ranjha track for the lead couple why does he alter it and produce this new strange one? Clearly some thought went into it right?

      What the director intends is even irrelevant beyond a point because no work can be reduced to the intentions of the author. To create a work means to automatically create a field of meaning which cannot by definition be mastered by the author.

      There’s no ‘hidden’ meaning here. It’s out there which is why we’re able to offer the evidence!

      Again it might be that only 25% of reviewers think highly of the film (the film’s doing 53% at allbollywood) but this hardly makes it an illegitimate view. Clearly a majority didn’t like it. So what? This is not a regular commercial film where it’s only about the entertainment. Dil Se was a big flop, KKHH was a big hit. The majority preferred the latter not the former. does this make the latter a better film? Is RNBDJ better than Swades? Is Fanaa better than MP?

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      • jayshah Says:

        Art is surely a medium that has multiple interpretations. It is interesting to know the author or the painter or the director’s intentions or motives but how he or she see’s something and executes it can lend itself to others to have a different view on the same.
        I agree with what Q says [maybe somewhere in this post or somewhere else – can’t be bothered to locate the comment, I am lazy on Sunday evening]. As long as one justifies there stand in a nice way then who am I to begrudge them of that opinion. If the stand is justified with inconsistencies or considerable bias then it should be easy to counter.

        I disagree slightly here with Satyam that the opinion be adequately framed. Unfortunately some don’t have the talent to muster sentences! [I certainly can’t write like Rangan!] I guess its up to the reader to then just pick up genuine comments from the radically impaired yobs who surface blogs only to cause friction and disharmony.

        I’ve read some good reviews on Raavan from both sides [positive and negative]. Obviously the majority is tilted towards the negative and this will show up in the box office numbers. So overall it looks a flop to underperformer. This probably gives the overiding majority ammunition to counter the minority with box office performance as an argument to counter the minorities “likeness” for a movie. I wonder if the same group of people would use Housefull’s box office to support its claim to be a “good” movie? Or Dhoom 2? Or Raja Hinudstani? Lots of shitty movies makes loads of money and quite a few good/great movies don’t make much. Recall value and how that film will be perceived in 10 years time is a pretty good yardstick. More people talk about Dil Se today then Dil To Pagal Hai, or Sarfarosh then Raja Hindustani.

        On Raavan or even D6 the recall value will IMO only hold up if Abhishek makes it. If he doesn’t then they may well be forgotten. Success is the only way to bring to life past failures or underperformers. I doubt Aamir’s films like JJWS, AHAT or AAA would get any re-run time on tv or recall value if it weren’t for the fact that he “made” it finally. Or Dil Se would not be talked about unless SRK became a big star. I doubt Abhay Deol will be remembered in 20 years time unless he really has a significantly big moment. Little 10Cr grossers here and there in “nice” little movies won’t mean much unless his whole career continues to steadily rise to something significant.

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      • For starters, this is no MP, Swades, Sarfarosh, Dil Se in my honest opinion. I enjoyed most movies in that list. Dil Se, not so much, but at least the movie was watchable. Also, the movies that you mentioned garnered really good reviews, something that Raavan has not my any stretch of imagination. I can add Lamhe to that list as well.

        Secondly, you talk about hidden meanings which is very evident to you. I would request you to watch movies like Paheli and RGV ki aag with the same passion, and you will find hidden meanings here as well.

        Finally, everyone has a right to opinion. You can disagree with that opinion, but you cannot disrespect the opinion. Dismissing reviews/opinions that are negative about the movie as senseless ones is doing just that. Saying that this audience is unworthy of this movie is a plain excuse. I just want all to respect each others views without being offensive.

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        • Mangal Pandey and Dil Se got almost universally negative reviews from the Indian media. I don’t know what “really good reviews” you are talking about, maybe 1 or 2, but vast majority were negative (on Mangal Pandey, I think only the Deccan Chronicle or Herald gave it a good review among the major papers)…

          And on Rathnam films the Hindi film reviewers are pretty funny: with every new film they say it doesn;t have the magic of the earlier Mani films — but when one goes back to see what they said about a Yuva or a Dil Se, they were hardly so kind at the time!

          [None of this means that Raavan will be better remembered. It might not be. But certainly Dil Se seems to me to be a lot better remembered today than one would have expected given its 1998 box-office reception in India. Certainly Iruvar is better remembered today than its Tamil box office fate would suggest, and I guess Kannathil Muthamittal as well.]

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          • Qalandar, MP is at 67% on allbollywood.com with 30 out of 38 reviews being positive. The best of best movies are at 74-75%, so that is a very good rating.

            As for Dil Se, I don’t know how the critics rated it, as it was more than 10 yrs back.

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          • MP did get fairly good reviews, that’s true. But not Dil Se which was mauled by critics the way Yuva was as well (but for the Abhishek performance). In fact such was the negativity on Yuva that Rathnam uncharacteristically called a press conference in Bombay to address it. And he wasn’t wrong. Yuva wasn’t a hit by any means but it more or less did as much as Company. The Bombay media called the latter nothing but a hit, the former nothing but a flop. Surely the truth was in between for both films. But leaving aside the reviews there was some hysteria generated on the MP box office as well.

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          • On Mangal Pandey, I am talking about reviews by the major Indian newspapers, Rediff,and the like. These reviews were mostly negative.

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          • Rediff – 4 stars

            Hindustan Times – 4 stars

            http://allbollywood.com/movies/2005/116/mangal_pandey/

            Only 4 average and 4 negative reviews for MP and 30 positive reviews Q. Please check Satyam’s comment as well

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          • But the positive reviews are disproportionately foreign jeevcy (agree on HT and rediff); whereas middling and negative ones tend to be Indian. take away foreign reviews and the picture is not very positive…

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        • First of all your liking those films and not this one is a rather subjective standard!

          Secondly I was dismissing your dismissal of Rathnam.. When you say he’s all about ‘style’ that opinion has to be rejected as ‘non-serious’.

          On RGV ki Aag this is a nice buzz word that’s come up with Raavan. I see it in some quarters and I won’t even dignify it with a response. I have written much on many aspects of RGV but Aag was an unmitigated disaster.

          On Paheli if you find a lot here to write about do so by all means. I thought this was a relatively flat film which didn’t do much for me. But I don’t consider it non-serious. There is nothing to force me to write on everything in the world just because I am inclined to do so on Rathnam. This applies to many other things as well. I wrote a long piece on Public Enemies. By the same token I could have said much on some other Hollywood films. I did not. So? Quite an absurd suggestion I think! So you ask the guy who writes a lot on Scorsese to first also write on Coppola and spielberg?

          Incidentally I HAVE written a lot on Dil Se also, more than on most other Rathnam films. I am quite consistent with this director. It’s not as if I discovered Rathnam with Raavan all of a sudden!

          Every opinion that is not based on a proper understanding of the medium CAN be disrespected. People might find a lot of Ray boring. However that opinion cannot be ‘respected’. It is in fact quite the opposite. One shouldn’t be so sure of one’s opinion without having let’s say the requisite background. This does not mean one cannot have an opinion. I certainly respect that. I haven’t said anything to anyone who’s disliked the film. That’s absolutely fine. But if you’re going to be snide about some of us finding “hidden meanings” in the film well you must then be prepared for the response. I cannot be ‘politically correct’ with anyone who does not display basic ethics in turn. The film has been rejected, most critical opinion is against it. Why does it bother you if a fraction of the critics or some of us think differently?

          I am not arguing for expertise everytime one offers an opinion or something but by the same token some deference should be shown to those who clearly do (not referring to myself here incidentally). So for example I loved Rangan’s take on the film even though I part company with him in areas. Because he ‘knows’ his subject. One has to take him seriously. I took him seriously when he was negative on SRK. I take him seriously when he’s negative on Abhishek. Which does not mean that everyone who truly understands the medium will love Raavan. Not at all. But let’s be clear where we’re coming from. If you’re going to suggest as you did earlier that Thalapathy and Iruvar and Kannathil Muthamittal (to name a few) are just exercises in ‘style’ that’s not an ‘opinion’. It’s like saying my ‘opinion’ is that we’re landing manned spacecraft on Mars next year! Any ‘opinion’ must be minimally ‘legible’. What do I mean by that? I can offer an opinion of the virtues of Boeing vs those of Airbus but no one should take it seriously. I know nothing about either plane. I can of course talk about my seating experience in each company’s aircraft and how good the music was, how entertaining the movie selection was, how interesting the food was, how nice the crew was to look at but that really doesn’t get into how each aircraft is engineered. So what do I tell someone an aeronautics engineer? Don’t disrespect my opinion?!

          Art or entertainment is accessible to everyone. This is great. People have different impressions of each work. That is fine. But this isn’t my problem with you. You disliked Raavan. ABSOLUTELY FINE! Don’t however dismiss those of us who are trying to write in some greater detail about what we think the film is about. Don’t try to suggest that this is some kind of cynical exercise on our part where we’re just making up stuff somehow. Beyond this if you’re going to be dismissive of Rathnam’s entire period since 1990 or whatever you cannot be offended if you’re challenged. If someone said they didn’t like Shutter Island I wouldn’t mind it. If the same person said Scorsese is all style in Shutter Island and hasn’t come up with a package or whatever I’d contest it. Why? Because whether in Raavan or in Shutter Island the way the film has been put together ought to be gain the filmmaker some attention even if nothing else does.

          Which does not mean that great filmmakers don’t sometimes have big misfires. But their misfires are still way ahead of the ‘usual’ stuff. on RGV I would never put him alongside Rathnam but to the extent I’ve always complained about a lot of his recent work it is precisely because I think he could do a lot more with the ‘tools’ he has. But even in a great filmmaker there has to be some correspondence between form and what that form is intended to convey. So Aag in my view is a total disaster because I don’t think he puts ‘form’ to any kind of ‘service’ and form cannot be an end in itself in any cinema. I haven’t seen such a work by Rathnam yet. Certainly not Raavan. There are Bergman films that I think are failures but ‘important’ failures but maybe one or two that seem to run close to ‘disaster’. But Raavan isn’t such a work and there have been critical voices even in India who’ve said as much.

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    • Re: “Some of the analysis for Raavan are amusing to read over here, because at the end of the day, not even Mani Ratnam has this deep thinking for what he has made.”

      I envy you MrCool: I wish I had your access to the inner recesses of Mani Rathnam.

      [Kidding aside, “intention” is hardly the only means by which to approach any creative work: in fact, in most cases the only way we can tell what anyone intended is from the product/book/film etc. “Intention”, even if relevant, is unknowable — and the only question is whether one’s interpretation is plausible/persuasive etc. given the work (e.g. it is not plausible to say from this film that Rathnam has greater sympathy for the Dev character than for Beera or Ragini; but the converse is very plausible)…

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  17. brilliantly put MrCool !! whatever deep interpretations are coming out are not intended by the film-maker.

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    • Jeevcy you need an education in Rathnam!

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      • we all need education on all filmakers Satyam. RGV will insist you see Aag again with its deeper meaning as will Amol Palekar insist we see Paheli with the deeper meaning again.

        If we look deeper, we will all find we are different people with different tastes, and you cannot force someone to like or dislike something.

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        • Who’s forcing anyone here? It’s you that’s been fairly vigilant about condemning the views expressed here. It’s obvious that the lion’s share of the critical community has dismissed Raavan–and if we’re free to offer up opinion as you saw we are, then among those opinions is a response by some of us about that very criticism.

          Simple – you should take your own advice. And try to be a bit less crazed about this kind of thing. Hey, it’s only the movies!

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  18. Saw it a second time today: number of people was quite decent for a Sunday afternoon, about 60 (40-50% occupancy), and was a little more than the Fri afternoon show I saw (of course, Friday is a work-day). Got the sense a fair number of people did not like it. Couldn’t tell about the rest, they seemed to be watching attentively; many did not move even when the end credits started rolling. Surprising number of Amercians in the audience: about 7-10.

    SPOILER ALERT!!!!

    Abhishek’s performance was a lot better the second time around: some of the unevenness I had spotted the first time around was explained by some cues that I had overlooked. Not completely, but somewhat (for example, if one re-arranges the scenes of the film in chronological order, there is no evidence of Beera ever madly chattering “bak bak bak” and the like BEFORE Jamuniya, after she has been raped, returns home and asks him how he is doing; she asks if they beat him a lot, adding “achcha hai, tumhari bak bak nahin sunnee padegi”. That “bak bak” becomes the trope that haunts Beera subsequently: Jamuniya is dead, but the “bak bak” of those allied to the police responsible for her death resounds in his head); it is certain every aspect of this film has been done with care. And, I should add, flop or no flop, this is a very desi film in many ways in its heft and emotions.

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  19. lol.. there are so many pieces on raavan now i have started confusing one with the other..

    pardon my saying this, but I cannot write 1/4th as well as many guys here who indeed have a passion for writing and cinema (more towards the latter)

    satyam and qalandar – no offense but can you write in simpler english? its sometimes very hard to follow coz my vocabulary isnt very good

    and satyam.. would like to read your thoughts on Dil Se? where can i find it?

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  20. Utkal Mohanty Says:

    “So when audiences/critics did the same to Mera Naam Joker or Guru Dutt how would one have been able to respond at the time? Sorry: “Mera Naam Joker and Gurudutt’s films got very good reviews when they were released.

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  21. Thank you all for reading, and for your kind wishes…

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  22. Congratulations for all the time and efforts to put up the review…
    Rgds
    Mario

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  23. Bent over a willing corpse, a pathologist delivers his brilliant verdict. Kudos!

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