Ragini writes Raavan… and a Rathnam masterwork..


Not the least of Rathnam’s subversive strategies in this very singular of films is the employment of a narrative ‘machine’ which introduces non-linear ‘shards’ to upset canonical expectations. The film offers a ‘revaluation’ of the Ramayana contours not by setting up a formal anti-text but by using gaps in the orthodox versions to insert Raavan’s text within them. The plot is therefore reconfigured at every turn almost surreptitiously. The flashback device has rarely been used more effectively because each time one emerges from one of these a bit more oriented toward the title character and his motivations, a bit more naturalized in his surroundings. It is also crucial to point out at the outset that this is also not an anti-Ramayana that renders Raavan more human or accessible. In fact the film always shrewdly maintains a certain distance toward him. Rathnam does not switch the places of the two central male protagonists as much as he interrogates the entire system of co-ordinates within which this opposition acquires minimal sense. Not surprisingly the film ‘happens’ in Raavan’s abode because it is only at this site that the ‘questioning’ can really come about. And while it is not ‘Sita’s tale’ the work is perspectivized through Ragini who offers the only possible access into Raavan’s realm. The entire framework allows Rathnam to formulate a startling political critique that might well be his most consistently sustained.

But every discussion of Raavan ought to begin with its visual schema which arguably highlights the director at his formalistic best. This kind of judgment might seem a bit hyperbolic for a master who has created so many seminal works in this regard but here for the very first time Rathnam also imagines an entire ‘new world’. All of Terence Malick’s pristine, virginal nature seems to be present in Raavan except that it is not rendered quasi-mystical as in the American director’s transcendental longings. Consequently Rathnam’s natural world is only a physical site which houses his characters and not the ‘house of being’ that it is for the Heidegger-soaked Malick. This ‘edge of the world’ setting is neither a mythic landscape of memory nor an Edenic site of nostalgia nor even a ‘sound and fury’ personification of ‘nature’. It is only Raavan’s ‘other’ abode, a little mysterious much like him. This topological richness forms the entire physical space for the ‘story’. It is as if Rathnam intuits that real subversion in this tale is possible only when one moves out of Ram’s comfortable surrounding and starts dwelling in Raavan’s stranger environs. And perhaps appropriately for the themes of this movie there are always precipices and abysses round the corner. Always the possibility of a fall. Hence all sorts of horizon shots. A world where there is all the clutter of a tribal community in areas of dense foliage or tiny villages ensconced within but equally cascades and flowing water, moist rocky terrain that provides perching places for so many of the characters. It is almost never a level landscape. Characters appear geometrically on screen in various heights and postures. But there are always falls and drops dangerously lurking around the corner of a glance. This ‘challenging’ geography that Raavan inhabits mirrors perfectly the equally challenged ethos of his community. For it seems to be forever under siege by the forces of ‘Ram’.

Rathnam opens he film with a marvelously dynamic montage. He starts in medias res and there is almost nothing of Raavan in the movie that is not mediated through Ragini’s perspective. In other words we never see a Raavan that she does not. In fact looking at many of the earlier stills one realizes that the director moved even more in this direction as time went on. But Raavan remains somewhat other to us as he does to Ragini and the edits reflect this. At the same time the camera also captures all the immediacy and visceral qualities of these new surroundings for Ragini, all the ways in which her motor responses are perhaps always more unhinged in her state of captivity and the extent to which she can always be unsettled by human company. If Ram Gopal Varma’s films have often privileged a longitudinal destabilization Rathnam here while doing a fair bit of this is also equally interested in lateral displacement. Even as there are ‘vertigo’ shots and all kinds of high/low angles there are even more effectively executed swipes and flicks. This is essentially important because while physical height and the possibility of ‘falling’ is always a factor in this work there is the additional one of Ragini imprisoned in a setting where she usually finds Beera in her ‘orbit’. The touchstone moment here and which might also be considered the film’s supreme visual trope occurs when Beera in a scene of exquisite erotic tension encircles Ragini with one hand blocking her face, one her chest, and then his face constantly getting closer to her, all this without ever touching her. Meanwhile the camera itself encircles the pair and moves with them and even closes up on them at one point. A kind of ‘mimicry’ moment that is positively unique specially with the stunning soundtrack playing an alternate version of Ranjha almost as an alien sound. If Macbeth’s witches could have been given this song the result might have been approximately this. It makes for mesmerizing cinema and really reminds one of a scene in Red Desert (Antonioni) when the girl goes out to swim and a rather unsettling female vocal strain suddenly erupts. The song in Raavan itself works like a shard from the original, it seems to convey a sense at once primeval and post-apocalyptic. Eventually of course this is connected with strains from the original song in a flashback which then connects this gorgeous scene to the trauma of the past. The visual and sound cues are extraordinarily well-matched in the moment. Elsewhere there are superb tracks, hand-held gravitational shots, sparingly used wide angles that emerge with a certain force because the viewer is so acclimatized to relatively tight frames. This is not a claustrophobically shot work but it is also not one of dazzling vistas. Rathnam and Sivan create a very neat economy between the two and the marriage between thematic intention and visual translation is near-perfect.

The very same could be stated for what seems to be the most extraordinary of Rahman’s background scores. The soundtrack veers mostly on the experimental and only occasionally reveals more familiar cues. The mix is quite intoxicating and the significance of Rahman’s work in the film’s overall texture of image, sound and sense can scarcely be overstated. Oddly though the songs are perhaps not as effectively used as elsewhere in Rathnam probably because the tone of this narrative never really allows those easy transitions. This does not rise to the level of a complaint but contrasted with the fabulous background work the ‘formal’ songs seem lesser within the body of the film.

The camera does not just frame Raavan in the film but the Beera Ragini always ‘witnesses’ in some form or fashion. This is a crucial point which might also explain some of the problems many have had in gauging Abhishek’s performance. It is not that his is an underwritten character but of necessity a somewhat mysterious one because he can only be represented by way of the female protagonist. This is not at all true for Ram who is shown independently in many moments. The comparable ones are very few for Beera and of a certain contingent sort. The overall principle holds. Even as Ragini grows to understand Beera, even as she is drawn to him (though this is represented very subtly as opposed to Beera’s own attraction to her), even as she definitely grows to care for him she can never completely ‘know’ him. He is always a bit of a shadow to her, the very silhouette he is introduced as and often framed as through the course of the film. Abhishek’s performance is actually very even here even if the introduction of certain psychological ticks to the character seemed less necessary. But this is not a fault with a performance that is beautifully keyed to the tone of the film and the mystery of Beera’s world. As the film progresses Beera gets more vocal and when he is most in confessional mood the end has arrived for him. Ragini allows Beera to develop certain registers of language. On the other side of this equation her immersion in Beera’s universe allows her to comprehend the violence that the Devs of the world have inflicted on it and from being repelled by the violence of the former she is eventually even empathetic to it, understanding it perhaps as a ‘positive’ response to the ‘oppressor’. Rathnam in this sense does not have a formal political program but he is certainly polemical enough in unmasking the presumptions of bourgeois complacency. Beera’s community represents the displaced and the marginalized. Rathnam in turn ‘places’ their violence within context. There are unsettling moments of violence in the film that almost always make Dev and his ‘confederates’ seem less sympathetic. As an aside one should add point to an obvious example — those recent events of mind-numbing Maoist violence and the bourgeois imagining of the same as occurring in a vacuum with no political contexts. Dil Se to this degree is the complementary film to Raavan.

This is arguably Aishwarya Rai’s best part. The charismatic center of the film remains quite naturally Beera but her character is the ‘soul’ of the film and as mentioned before the viewer’s guide. An always engaging performance on her part that also usefully incorporates her star signature. It would be hard to argue for superior casting for her part. Vikram who forms perhaps the truer complement to Abhishek is despite the limitations of his part in fine form here. In fact rarely has the actor been more economical than in this film. It is a part with not much variation at all but Vikram conveys everything important about this character very quickly into the film and he is always arresting to behold. Abhishek finally is the film’s enigmatic and ultimate ‘signifier’. It is his world and his ‘order’ that Rathnam intends to explore. Dev’s ‘civilization’ is transported to his ‘anarchy’ by way of Ragini and the inversion begins. He is the center of Ragini’s fascination eventually, he is certainly at the heart of Dev’s obsession but he is also a character importantly in dialogue with himself on key occasions, a somewhat unhinged soul presumably offered by Rathnam as a byproduct result of Dev’s impulses. Ram in a sense begets Raavan. Abhishek in any case is perfectly attuned to all the cross-currents of this narrative. The actor reveals formidable range in his part but this is an ‘auteurist’ work not meant to be one where the actor can ‘take over’ Guru-like. In missing this point one risks missing an encounter with the film itself.

And so one gets to the extended finale. A brilliantly executed fight on a bridge and the truly scintillating aftermath. Here Dev’s ambiguity is more truly revealed even as Beera is definitely humanized a great deal. One leaves the film moved by Raavan but in unease about Ram. The aftermath portions condense the film and there is not a hero and villain at the end of it, just two modes of violence, neither of which one can completely embrace, each of which one can empathize with in parts. Rathnam nonetheless is more invested in Beera, as is Ragini, as are we. Beera passes away with a certain ‘happy knowledge’ about Ragini and the audience is left wondering about what kind of a marital future she now has with Dev. Beera first emerges Nosferatu-like on a boat and finally falls with an inner peace into the abyss but also triumphant over Dev. Sita’s tale? Not really. But only she knows the truth of the Ramayana.. and there are some words she has never said..

[couldn’t really incorporate this into the flow of the piece but the supporting cast is simply superb here in every single instance.. a treat to watch one and all.. and there are of course other aspects of the film that I might have occasion to discuss with others here in the comments…]

104 Responses to “Ragini writes Raavan… and a Rathnam masterwork..”

  1. Never have I read such dribble over a laughable excuse of a film. The usage of long winded sentences and far too many adjectives renders this article as unreadable as raavan was unwatchable!


    • oldgold Says:

      These are the kind of useless comments that come up with every release of a film that’s really criminal.

      If Raavan is ‘a laughable excuse of a film’ then write a review and explain and clarify, as others who liked it have done, why you find it laughable.
      But you seem to find everything laughable including others opinion except yours.

      I’n getting quite fed up with such comments.

      >The usage of long winded sentences and far too many adjectives renders this article as unreadable as raavan was unwatchable!

      Have you given a thought to the usage of words by you?
      You can use similar words to express why you didn’t like the film. That would be fine.


    • Dear LB, Did you really watch the film or just making a judgment based on other’s opinion? Please let us have your review if you watcehd it.
      Thank you.


  2. I didnt read the whole piece as you had already mentioned the spoilers.. But good to see you liked it.. Would be hopefully watching it tomorrow and would be posting my views asap


  3. Great stuff. Not that one would expect less.
    Look unlikely that I can catch it this weekend.

    On a separate note, it is one of the great misfortunes of the internet that such passionate and heartfelt pieces can so readily be desecrated by monstrous footsteps of ‘guests’ (read trolls) who have nothing substantive to contribute nor are capable of meaningful criticism or constructive debate.


  4. Superb write up Satyam. Like I said to you before it’s the insightfulness that Q, Rajen, Abzee and yourself bring to a review that makes it worthwhile when one eventually gets to see a film.

    There has been nothing written so far anywhere for me to feel that I’m not going to enjoy the fim infact the contrary.


  5. Hope you are planning to post the review or a link to it on AB’s blog. Ole man will certainly appreciate it.


  6. Interesting read. I watched the movie today on my computer on a rather low quality print, so it won’t be fair for me to judge this “visually stunning” movie with such a handicap at this moment. Having said that the following review more or less captures my thoughts right now. Though a “negative review”, it isn’t knee-jerk like so many of them out there.



  7. alex adams Says:

    brilliant review, satyam.
    inspite of hectic shcedules lately, managed to catch raavan tonite.
    the uk milutiplex near me did not even show raajneeti but opened to 3 shows a day of raavan. Given the extreme negative tweets and “reviews”, wasnt sure how long the movie will “sustain” in the cinemas.
    Will write a more detailed write-up, but a quick note—
    NOT sure what the extreme negativity was about-appears like a well coordinated campaign to bring the film down.
    a brilliant film as expected.
    One thing was that the last half hour was a bit sub-par (after the bridge fight).
    the ending could have been more impactful, less wishy-washy and somewhat dilutes an otherwise v good effort.
    abhishek did his best but appeared like there was a bit of miscasting for him.
    ash was v good as expected and vikram was v competent–thats what i call screen presence. found govind, ravi kisen good.


    • Alex Adams, that is excatly how I felt when I watched Raavan in London. After watching the film, I did not understand what was going on with WOM or so called reviews. I found it every bit engaging and a treat to the visuality. Raavan doesn’t deserve this, especially it is not so bad as it is made out to be.


  8. alex adams Says:

    needless to add, the trademark cinematography/ photography was visually stunning. the film was gripping inspite of the “wafer-thin script”—i am not so much a “script guy” but more a “treatment guy” and so got what i expect from a mani film…
    Do get this impression that abhi did not quite “nail it” the way he did in guru. his character graph was bit under developed and a lot of it appeared to be left to abhis interpretation of it, it seemed.
    Havent seen rajneeti till now, but raavan has been the film of the year for me till now.


  9. Satyam – You have not penned a review but a song for the genius called Rathnam. Do not think any of the other critic has viewed this movie like the way you have. The review is in a way surreal given that such close observations could be made watching it the first time round. I wish Vikram was not “limited” even if he were effective, his screen presence is quite towering and it would have been interesting to watch him in more frames with Aishwarya and Abhishek but a bit obviously the script does not allow too much of that. I recall how effective he was in Pithamagan even when he was in his shell that Bala created for him. From what you have written, Beera appears to digress from his character everytime the viewer is ready to conclude on it. Obviously, a challenging role for Abhishek and it appears Rathnam has worked him marvelously. As for Aishwarya, someone as beautiful as her has to be the soul of this movie and I do not think Rathnam could have picked any one else to play Sita. The only other person that comes to mind is a younger Shobana. You have aptly paid rich tribute to Santosh Sivan and it appears that the visuals are the epicenter of Rathnam’s narration. I find Rahman’s music rustic and my favorite is “Beera”. Landed in Bangalore a few hours back , will catch Raavan in a bit and Raavanan too. And Satyam, thanks for this review. Simply marvelous, the best I have read so far.


  10. mksrooney Says:

    firstly a bow down man.. some piece.. u always come up with ace from ur sleeve.. its good naseeb of ratnaam what u have written above..

    satyam .. i guess we felt same way for movie.. for me i have posted a real lenghty view.. and it was ragini that made me feel the love in the movie.


  11. Exquisite piece. Had saved this up for last and it does not disappoint. I think we obviously had similar experiences with the film and your notes on the visual are supremely well-stated (along with the rest) to the point that people who speak on the visuals (whether or not they liked the actual film) should really look to this as an education.

    Especially agree that this seems to be connected to Dil Se more than any other Ratnam movie…this of course (and unfortunately) means its riches will only be commented on in the next decade!


  12. Just back from watching Raavan. Wow!! for all those who have tried to watch it on their computers, please go watch it in the cinema. This is truly a visual sweeping piece of a movie that can best be appreciated in the cinema where you can feel the rain, the water, the darkness, the dirt, the music (very few bollywood film makers are actually good at making the viewer feel part of the experience and Mani Ratnam is possibly the man who stands out the most amongst this small group).

    Yes, the movie belongs to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Now, to be fair, this role is not much of a stretch from the anguished, traumatized woman she has played in Devda and HDDCS, but it’s something she does well, so kudos to her. At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with repeating what you already do so well. ( SRK spent pretty much all of his early career doing that!).

    All in all, the movie has it’s strengths in its visuals and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and definitely worth watching for these reasons.

    It’s weaknesses lie in a number of areas, firstly starting with the choice of Abhishek for Beera, he isn’t as bad as all of the reviews have made the poor fella out to be, but at the same time, he was out of his depth in this role. In many places , he was saying his lines and nothing was in his eyes, his body language or tone. At the same time, some scenes, like when his sister is back from the police station and he is listening to her, he is good ( but then you see , Abhishek is a natural when it comes to intense simmering anger and / either urban cool, his weak point is emotional scenes especially love related scenes; he just cannot do the whole smoldering lover boy ; this was horribly apparent at the statue scene when he went on a spiel about how he wants his love to burn him, it just wasn’t working and he wasn’t believable).

    Yes, Abhishek was mis-cast. Very unfortunate, I think someone decided that the development of a bond between Rangini and Beera will best be brought out by Abhi and Ash , possibly because they are a real life couple. Bad idea, because in all of the movies that the two have done together, the sparks simply don’t fly. Yes, they seem like a great couple off screen, but I think they struggle to bring this on screen. ( I wish I could have paused the scene where Abhi goes “bhik bhik ” the first time, just after she says that your death is written in my future, you can actually see Ash’s eyes crinkle in a smile and then the camera cuts away from her). The role of Beera actually required someone who can do the whole close up intense love scenes , the close up intense sharing of the feeling with the audience of falling in love in a heart beat with just a look and Abhi really struggled with it ( 🙂 – any suggestions as to who in the industry does this kind of scenes the best — :)…there is only one man who does this best and has literally built his career on it :))))…). I would be interested to see how Vikram has played this in the Tamil version.

    The whole development of a bond between Rangini and Beera to a large extent is taken for granted which is very unfair on the audience , there was definitely the need for a longer journey there, the need to show more of Beera’s character softening up and the impact on Rangini.

    At times Vikram’s dialogue delivery reminded me unintentionally of Chatur in 3 Idiots; the accent, the tone… but to be fair to him, not really his language, so he pretty much was required to be grrrrrrr all through and say his dialogues in a grrrr voice and he did what was required in a language that was not familiar to him, so again a fair job.

    Can someone pls stop Vijay Krishna Acharya, the dialogue writer ( also responsible for Tashan and Dhoom 1 / 2) from working in the film industry. The dialogues were weak and sometimes downright silly…also helps explain why poor Abhi had to go around saying “bhik bhik”

    Go watch it, its a Mani Ratnam movie and Ash is good in it – it’s well worth our 11 euros for those two reasons alone.

    (I liked Ganesh Acharya the dance master dancing with Abhishek in the wedding scene, makes one smile.)


  13. Re: “The flashback device has rarely been used more effectively because each time one emerges from one of these a bit more oriented toward the title character and his motivations, a bit more naturalized in his surroundings.”

    This is key — a rationale that not very many have remarked upon. If one could go into a screening of this film with only one thought, this would be it (conversely, this also explains the strangeness and impact of the opening sequence: the film is just beginning, and the viewer is at once dazzled and bewildered — (s)he lacks any context except what (s)he knows about the Ramayana)…

    Re: “All of Terence Malick’s pristine, virginal nature seems to be present in Raavan except that it is not rendered quasi-mystical as in the American director’s transcendental longings.”

    Very well stated. It is fascinating to note that the “man versus nature” (or at a minimum, the “man as opposed to nature”) worldview that one does find in Malick (and also Avatar) is completely absent here; for Rathnam it’s just there/it’s where things happen — i.e. it is the operative condition of this world. Perhaps it would be too much of a stretch to make an essentialist point based on this (about “western metaphysics” versus an “Indian approach”), but I gotta admit, I’m tempted…


    • and of course it also indicates the different tradition each director comes from.. Malick besides being a Heidegger translator is also clearly student of an entire German tradition where nature is ‘valorized’ in philosophy but also a larger Western romantic tradition.


  14. Re: “…there is almost nothing of Raavan in the movie that is not mediated through Ragini’s perspective. In other words we never see a Raavan that she does not.”

    This is fascinating, and, like the 3rd para in GF’s review, offers an intriguing “pathway” into the film. More generally, your piece is the only one to do justice to the use of “Ranjha Ranjha” in this film that I have read (even as, on the background score, I think you esteem it more than I do; I loved it when I loved it, but there were multiple instances where I most certainly didn’t)…



    RE: “Abhishek’s performance is actually very even here even if the introduction of certain psychological ticks to the character seemed less necessary.”

    Well, the whole “talking to himself” thing has IMO been misread. This only happens TWICE in the film if memory serves me right, and both times it is a question of life and death (once of Ragini’s; once of Dev’s) — both times, of course, Beera hesitates. When Dev is in the same situation, there is no hesitation, no inner dialogue, not even gratitude for the fact that Beera has saved him. He shoots, he kills.


  16. Re: “Beera’s community represents the displaced and the marginalized. ”

    Exactly: those who have wondered at the lack of specificity need to explain why it is that we have a eunuch, a bhaiyya, tribals, all in the same “frame.” In a sense “the community” is a stand-in for all those ground down (or at least forgotten) by the “us” of the big cities…


  17. [exchange on Bachchan’s blog]

    “However, you do sometimes write in a manner that can be des-
    cribed as not only academic but also turgid. I suppose it should
    be possible for you to write in a more simple and jargon-free
    language and with greater focus on thematics rather than the
    more formal or technical aspects of films. ”

    Sarban, usually that’s the sort of piece I do write where I try to avoid a theoretical vocabulary as much as possible. Having said that I think a Rathnam film, especially this one, begs for it. Cinema with the best directors is never just a ‘filmed’ story but a way of telling stories through a certain visual grammar and sound cues and so forth. I think with Raavan one has to account for all of this. Now again given this aim I did try to make the piece as ‘accessible’ as possible and yet there were some points that had to be made.

    It’s also important to point out that the film isn’t an alternate Ramayana. That’s not Rathnam goal here. He simply uses the framework of this great work to launch his own questions. It’s much like the way Greek drama uses an entire corpus of Greek myth to investigate all sorts of ethical, socio-political, moral issues. The myth in question is of course being reconfigured but in each instance the author is also using it as a template to do something else with it. And one must also turn this around on its head. If you take the basic trope of kidnapping where the hero’s spouse is kidnapped by the ‘villain’ and certain consequences ensue the Ramayana itself becomes a canonical take on this idea and not its origin. Much as the genealogy of so many Greek myths goes back to Homer and Hesiod who provide canonical forms for these but they are not the inventors of those stories. In the Indic tradition for example there is a translation that occurs from the ‘Vedic’ to the ‘Sanskritic’ which involves a certain prism of ‘Brahminization’. The Rg Veda offers a very different worldview from that of the later epics. So it’s always a question of genealogy.


  18. Finally I could see the film, due to some unavoidable circumstances I had to miss Friday and Saturday shows. Please note these are my personal thoughts, not a review by a specialist.
    What a surprise………………….

    Location: Amsterdam
    Cinema: Pathe Arena Bijlmer
    Day: Sunday, 20th June
    Show: 18.30 hours
    Total number of shows: 11.30 hours, 18.30 hours, 91.20 hours
    Occupancy: 65-70% (out of 15 rows, lower 5 rows were empty, middle and upper were packed).
    Audience reaction: Clapping in the end though not everybody joined.

    What a surprise this movie was. I had read so many negative views about the film that despite of having faith in Mani+Abhi+Ash combo (especially Mani), I was bit scared about the experience while entering the hall. Movie started and I could forget about the reviews…………

    In one go: I liked the film, so did my fellow goers. In fact some parts were extremely brlliant. May be I am not a typical bollywood comedy or love story type viewer and mostly I can enjoy hollywood animation outings plus regular action/family stuff than mindless comedies. For me film worked and that also a big way.

    You stay glued to the screen for 70% of the part not only due to narrative or actors but also due to breathtaking/brilliant camera work. A treat to the eyes. In narrative, as we all know Mani is more realistic in doing characterization of his actors and flow of story so for me nothing was really unexpectable or unconventional of Mani the film. Here my individual thoughts:
    Aishwarya: People stated she scresmed or cried a lot. What will a lady do when she is abducted? Will she keep in mind the accent or style while screaming on her abductoers? Mani portrayed Ragini as a real life victim. Very apt. And fearless as well even when she herself admits she is weak, she still looks powerfull. After many years Aishwarya acted while forgetting that she is Aishwarya, leaving behind her trade mark smile or eye movement. A different piece of acting from Aishwarya and a good one.
    Abhishek: I think only he can change expressions so quickly and bring so many mood in short span of time yet still look very raw and innocent as Ragini rightly says while praying to Bhagwan. Beera is a terror yet with soft inner self. I could not follow his chak chak bak bak dialogues ( he was too quick for me to follow) but Abhishek was very good in some scenes where he had to speak less and use expressions to exhibit what he wants. Sometimes bit strange and crazy as well.

    Vikram: I could not understand whether it was really pain or simply ego problem when Dev hapelessly tries to locate Regini. May be I missed something but I could not see a special bond (emotion plus worry) which conventional heroes have with their lady loves on-screen under similar curcimstances. I mean strictly on-screen.
    May be he explained very well in the beginning when he says that with gun in his hand, he only thinks about being a policeman.
    Ravi Kisaan: This guy was unique and equally a good one, he was an interesting link in the film. Worth mentioning.

    And of course Priyamani. She was superb.

    Few scenes are hilarious e.g. when Govida reminds SP Dev ” Iska 8 ghante mein yeh haal ho gaya, madam to 8 din se unke pass hai” .
    And the picture sequence when all pose with Ragini.

    I did not understand few points in the film, may be I am thinking in a typical bollywood massala film style. Beera was a terror but he didn’t punish culprits of his sister (until he gets one cop after Ragini’s abduction). Though Mani preffered to be more realistic here but most bollywood auduience might have found it difficult to digest why a terror or local don could not punish the killers of his sis. But rather just depics the emotions. He rather kidnaps SP’s wife who shot at him which relates more to self revenge than his sister’s. This might portray Beera as a weaker kingpin in audience minds but then I am saying this purely as a general watcher. Mani might have a different thought in mind.

    Ending is more real but I know saddening as well. People might find it difficult to relate with but what else could it be? Afterall Ragini could not go and marry her eternal lover Beera and live happily thereafter.

    Bera falls quite quickly in love with Ragini but then his fellow people explained his character to SP Dev quite well in the beginning so I could relate to his ” softness” .

    On a whole, it seems general Indian audience likes to watch only song & dance sequences with some backdrop of story and a happy ending, long way to go and watch something different (I know many would like to remind me about Rajneeti…………didn’t watch it and don’t feel like watching).

    I just wish together with Hindi, Tamill & Telugu, Mani had also dubbed it in English and released across worlwide audience who would loved it….who knows…………..


    • thanks for an interesting set of views.. always glad to hear of voices like yours..

      On Abhishek the quickness here is what reminded me of Mifune a bit.. I am actually going to the other end here.. I think he’s very quick here as an actor and many have missed this element.. specially with the film being so compressed.. Kurosawa used to say of Mifune that he would take 30 sec to convey what would take other good actors 2 min.


      • Thanks Satyam, I am waiting to hear overseas overall reaction to the film. Critics reaction we already heard, I mean here box office and overseas Indian audience.


    • I also felt bit confused about Beera’s plan for culprit policemen who outraged modesty of his sister. Beera’s emotional pain was very visible mixed with anger but we could not see an outcome of planned revenge until he kidnaps Ragini. But that also kind of unfinished(not in terms of Ragini but in terms of police guy or guys).


  19. Oh my God, I really wrote such along piece……….I thoughts it was only few sentences…………….


  20. Superb piece Satyam. Awaiting to catch the movie tonight.
    Satyam you should bring out a book on your reviews. Your writing is just out of the world.
    Abhi’ last film was ‘PAA’ titled after his screen character. But Vidya Balan’s walked with the laurels. this is ‘RAAVAN’ title after Abhi’s charater and Ash is taking all the honors. I feel sad for him. He had really worked hard for this.
    But reading these reviews, somehow I feel Beera’s characterization is more suited to the Southern audience, where people are exposed to acts of Raghuvaran, Prakash Raj etc..There was discussion b/n South and Hindi audience recently, I feel Beera would have worked better in South.


  21. Excellent review satyam! I saw Raavan today. I thought Raavan was a wonderfully rich, deep, and enjoyable movie with cream of the crop performances. In regards to Abhishek’s performance I felt he gave an adept and strong acting performance.

    But Abhishek could give the greatest performance of his life. And a certain set of critics would always credit others before him. Abhishek will never be given fair dinkum by certain critics. That is just how it is. In regards to Raavan working better for a South Indian audience. I’m in agreement with that since the overall treatment of Raavan would suit South Indian sensibilities vastly more than in the Hindi belt.


  22. salimjakhra Says:

    Finally saw it!! I feel rather unqualified to comment after reading the great pieces written by you guys. All i’ll say is that i really liked it. Sadly though, we are in the minority… As me and my friends were leaving the cinema I could hear people saying ‘what a stupid film’, ‘what a waste of time’, etc.

    The locations were incredible!

    Performances were decent. I know Abhi’s been criticised heavily but his performance worked for me. I’m not sure how ppl think it should have been played (or who could have done it…the only other person I can think of is Aamir…or actually Manoj Bajpai?). Aish looked better than ever, and again was probably the best choice for the job. And I could have watched Khili Re go on for three hours 🙂

    One criticism I mite have is that it would have been nice to get to know the three characters a little better…perhaps instead of some of the ongoing kidnapping/chasing/physical scenes. Especially Dev, who’s character connected least with the audience.


  23. Satyam, did you see Daisy M’s comment #49 on AB’s blog for Day 790? She pointed out a few things that I missed – very insightful.


    • I didn’t, will check it out.. thanks.


    • Dear Mr Bachchan

      Work devoured my Friday, so I finally managed to see Raavan on Saturday, and really loved it.. anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet and wants to come to it fresh might want to avoid the following words…

      Mani Ratman has created a work of pure cinema with some of the most ravishing visuals ever captured… the atmosphere of the jungle was so intense and evocative that the closest way to describe the experience was to say it was like one of those dreams that was so vivid that you were convinced it had really happened when you woke up. The jungle was like a living breathing character with dramatic changes of mood… you could feel the humidity, the darkening clouds, the almost perpetual rain, the sensuality of the water and plumes of spray.. I literally found myself shivering at an early scene of menacing winds with jagged cloth whipped by the gale and Beera silhouetted against the storm … the use of light mesmerising throughout the film …. sometimes you could literally see the jungle air incandescent and and alive and shimmering with a cloud of dust or insects suspended in a shaft of light… And there was a sense of the enormity of the forest.. the soaring height of the trees.. the monumental rocks and vertiginous falls to the river below…. a sense of menace with the treacherous rocks slick and greasy in their perpetual dankness… heightening the threat to the captive female…. And there were moments when the camera played with the viewer’s perceptions.. allowing a feature in the landscape to shape-shift and increase the feeling of anxiety.

      This visceral jungle atmosphere perhaps surpassed even legendary films like the ultimate ‘Heart of Darkness’ film ‘Apocalypse Now’, or the insane quests of Werner Herzog (both on and off screen) in ‘Fitzcarraldo’ and ‘Aguirre: Wrath of God’.

      So it was a deeply evocative setting for a modern rendering of some of the themes of the Ramayana … I have only read an abridged translation but some of the parallels seemed wonderfully apt,, and the twists towards the end brilliantly tragic… revealing fascinating complexities in the two male adversaries… And the lives of the forest people, the tribals, the outlaws, was portrayed with such vividness and with such feel for their place in nature and the landscape.. it truly took the viewer into another world. And the musical numbers flowed so perfectly into this portrayal of the forest and its inhabitants. The huge number with the males in warrior daubs was so powerful and ravishing.. and when the final shot pulled out to its widest extent in that majestic setting .. just awesome.

      And all these surroundings could not have been more perfect for the tortured emotional journey between kidnapper and hostage… giving it a mythic quality as well as a painful physical presence. I also loved the contrast between the clumsy might of the authorities pursuing Beera dragging all their trappings of ‘civilisation’ and ‘order’ deeper and deeper into the anarchy of the jungle. One of my very favourite scenes was when Beera found himself inside his opponents tent and his poignant reactions to everything it represented about the man and the world that laid claim to Ragini.. the dress on its hanger waiting to adorn her again with all the trappings of society

      It is so wonderful to see cinema of boldness and vision.. and actors so willing to take risks physically and emotionally and creatively in what must undoubtedly have been a deeply arduous shoot. Congratulations to every single person involved…


      • this is a great comment though I cannot go so far as to prefer this over Herzog and Coppola..


      • [Daisy M: Loved your comment (# 49) on 790. Thanks much for this. However, much as I love Raavan’s visuals I cannot prefer the world of this film to those two Herzogs you mention or the Coppola. I will say that Rathnam does it very differently than those examples. Which is the greatest credit to him. But I wouldn’t call it ‘greater’ than those films.]


        • Yes, I think it would have been better if movie was bit longer with some more detailed characterization.

          Good to hear that you liked the film!
          I am not the only one who felt it was a great outing.


  24. Excellent review Satyam.Ragini indeed is soul of the movie. One of the most hilarious scenes which I felt was when villagers describe Beera to Dev and reaction on Govinda’s face when one says ” Jab Beera gaata hai to aurtein to pagal ho jaati hain” . That expression on Govinda’s face tells a lot about his prediction cum fear for Ragini and Beera chemistry.


    • Amit kumar pandey Says:



    • mksrooney Says:

      interesting point ricky on govindas dialogue i missed it..


  25. mksrooney Says:

    @all and satyam , gf , q bhai (especially)

    if all goes well i will be watching IRUVAR in anytime next two months on BIG SCREEN AT AT FILM SOCIETY I JOINED FEW WEEKS BACK.

    happy… finally i be watching it!!!!.. he said they will contact producers.. or so they might show it in ahmedabad film festival.. 🙂



    (ITS A NICE film society.. m seeing kite runner this week)


  26. Utkal Mohanty Says:

    Eire, “I’m in agreement with that since the overall treatment of Raavan would suit South Indian sensibilities vastly more than in the Hindi belt.” What a biased statemented. Why talk of the Hindi belt? Is it working any better in Benghalk or Mumbai?

    Salimjakhra, ” And I could have watched Khili Re go on for three hours :-)” Totally agree. Unfortunately some second rate narrative takes over in the second half.


  27. Great piece here, Satyam. And so are the ones by Qalandar and GF. Make fantastic reading.

    Just back from the Tamil version and I found it even better than the Hindi version. Though I’m very much wary of lowering the Hindi version on essentialist terms (as a lot of people seem to be doing citing all sorts of reasons; e.g.: characterizing Mani Ratnam as inextricably Tamil which even at a general level I don’t find compelling point at all). But I thought Vikram really owned this role in a way Abhishek didn’t. Or it could be because some of the class politics plays out better in Tamil despite the overall lack of context with respect to the naxal backdrop, etc. (Not the least because I’m Tamil and hence would be able to sense it better here. And I think Tamil film tradition’s sheer immediacy in portraying such conflicts also helps.)


    • thanks for your always valuable take Zero..


    • Ah, found your comment — glad you liked it.

      One other point on Vikram is that he as an actor (and hence we, as the audience) has (have) a history of playing wild men/outsiders. “Pithamagan” is often cited, but one can see shades of this sort of thing in the very role that made him famous, namely, in “Sethu.” That sense of history is absent where Abhishek is concerned: on the plus side, it might well enable an artiste to write on a blank page; but on the minus side, the sense of empathy/connection could be compromised (i.e., where that history is present, even in the absence of very developed characterization etc., the audience can access a register. In fact, to characterize it as a possibility that makes up for an “absence” is not, strictly speaking, correct on my part — because that is how masala cinema, and more importantly, the epic mode, works (this is true even at the level of popular performance; the devotee is caught up in the Ramlila plays almost independent of how good or bad the performers are))…


      • PS — I haven’t seen Raavanan yet, so the above para on how Vikram’s performance operates is based on hunch…


        • PPS — At least some of the Tamil reviewers/bloggers/viewers who have criticized the film seem to have done so on the grounds of “inauthenticity”. I must confess, I find this a curious charge vis-a-vis this director. As an “outsider” to, but an avid viewer of, the Tamil tradition, it seems to me that Rathnam and Kamal are among the few to have a self-image consistent with the idea that they are making good films — as opposed to making good TAMIL films (under their influence, I guess a Gautam Menon also falls in the same category, but he often does so by making a film that is so derivative as to seem like a film that happens to be in Tamil, as opposed to a Tamil film per se). Now, I won’t pretend that these terms — “good film”, “good TAMIL film”, and “film that happens to be in Tamil” versus “Tamil film per se” — can be deployed with scientific exactitude. My point (at the risk of rehashing discussions you and I and others have previously had on Naachgaana.com) is that Rathnam and Kamal seem to me to want to use “Tamilness” to make “universal” claims, even explicitly cosmopolitan claims; whereas, there are other filmmakers who seem to regard the (re)presentation of Tamilness/cultural authenticity as ITSELF a worthy goal of Tamil cinema. I am not denigrating either strand here, but seems to me Rathnam has ALWAYS fallen on the “other” side of this divide. Thus, a Yuva, a Guru, or a Raavan is simply the logical next step — one can dislike the end result, but I am surprised that people are surprised! In the figure of Abhishek Bachchan, he has clearly had opportunities to access/develpo/harness an iconic star signature (Rathnam has surely always been fascinated by this idea, and has worked with the most iconic stars he could get: Mammoothy, Mohanlal, in addition to Rajni and Kamal). One might think Abhishek is unworthy, a loser, what-have-you, but it cannot be denied that the Bachchan iconicity tempts him to now regularly make films in Hindi. Where Tamil offers him exciting possibilities in this regard — in the person of Vikram — he makes a Raavanan too (and wanted to make Aayutha Ezhuthu with him too). This is, in sum, a logical extension of one aspect of Mani Rathnam’s cinematic concerns, and I find the implicit notion among some Tamil viewers that he has somehow betrayed the Tamil ethos to be based on a profound misreading of Rathnam’s work.

          Rathnam’s films have often reflected this: at the drop of a hat they kinda “go national” — we see this in as domestic a film as Mouna Raagam (much of which is set in Delhi, when it hardly needs to be); but also Nayakan (set in Bombay); Roja, Bombay, Dil Se, and so on. Even Iruvar, steeped in Tamil politics and cinema, ends up in the domain of memory, friendship, loss, and is obviously uninterested in Dravidian politics. Kamal’s own trajectory is often similar, whether we are talking of Aalavandan, Dasavatharam, Anbe Sivam, Nala Damayanti, and of course Hey Ram! (the flip side to Dil Se, and while Kamal’s film is more prosaic, it is also the more fully realized work; many films have damned fascism — but this film demonstrates fascism’s seductive power too. But I digress…). Virumaandi is perhaps the best example (of a film that is far from what a Gautam Menon does): I am having trouble articulating exactly how, but Virumaandi is steeped in “the local” — and yet does not feel provincial in the way that a (for instance) Paruthiveeran does (that can be good and bad: the lens in Virumaandi introduces a certain distance that seems to be utterly lacking where a Cheran film is concerned; in the latter instance, you feel you are in Cheran’s world); Virumaandi is such a cosmopolitan film that little prevents audiences very far afield from accessing it. [Personally, I have always been able to successfully use it, as well as Kannathil Muthamittal, as a “crossover” introduction to popular Indian cinema for non-Indian colleagues and friends]…

          [Aside: on Menon, I was pleasantly surprised by Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya: may he long make films like that one, or Minnale, rather than Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu.]


        • Qalandar,
          The charges of “inauthenticity” have been leveled against Mani Ratnam for years now. So bits of inauthenticity in terms of scene locations etc. wouldn’t have come off as a surprise for anyone who’s familiar with Mani Ratnam’s films. But yes, ever since Mani Ratnam started to make Hindi films, people keep talking about how his films are best made in Tamil, they have a sense of indelible Tamil-ness etc. I’ve always sensed some anxiety among many Tamil film buffs about Mani Ratnam “crossing over” to making Hindi films. I think this is often the undercurrent behind such criticisms being placed in case of Raavanan too. Funnily, when it comes to Mani Ratnam, most of his fans, Tamil and non-Tamil, always seem to hark back to an older Mani Ratnam when he used to make films in Tamil. Which to my mind is very unfortunate because Mani Ratnam’s later accomplishments are never given their due!


      • I too have a similar sense on this point..


      • Oh, I completely agree, Qalandar. Right from the beginning, Vikram clearly had a sense of history (that Abhishek lacked) for this role. But again, (similar to the point about the portrayal of class politics) I think this is also an “immediate” characteristic of the Tamil film world as a whole, at least much more so than the Hindi film world.


    • It’s because the same pain that makes him a demon also makes him human.
      — great comment which we discussed in GF/Rooney/Qualander;s reviews.

      Satyam, I am sorry didn’t mention your name. Your review is too complicated to me. It is my fault.

      raavan ia ratedd Must see.


      • Well-chosen line there ted; in fact, I love that entire paragraph:

        “Beera and Dev are not the black-and-white characters of the Ramayana. Bachchan gives an over-the-top performance befitting the crazed Beera, who can’t bring himself to kill Ragini—although he doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone else—and it’s not because of her beauty or her fiery inner strength. It’s because the same pain that makes him a demon also makes him human. Vikram’s Dev is strong and remote—as a god should be—but far from righteous. Neither man changes much during the course of the story; it’s our perception of them that does.”


      • Ted, not showing enough clarity and rambling far too long is always a fault with me.. so you have absolutely nothing to be apologetic about!


  28. Mani makes it clear
    IndiaGlitz [Tuesday, June 22, 2010]

    Even as a controversy is brewing over Mani Ratnam’s interpretation of ‘Ramayanam’ in his recent release ‘Raavanan’, the director has said he never wanted to glorify Raavanan, the villain of the epic, in his film.

    “My movie is about a mighty man whose behaviour is due to different attitudes that strike his mind to adopt for a situation. It’s like 10 different persons sitting inside one man. Hence the title”, the ace filmmaker clarified.

    Meanwhile, Bollywood veteran Mahesh Bhatt came to the support of Amitabh Bachchan, who expressed unhappiness over the editing of the film’s Hindi version ‘Raavan’ which has his son Abhishek Bachchan in the lead.

    “A dad is a dad is a dad. Who else would come out but a father to protect his son from fires of perceived failure?” the filmmaker said. In the meantime, amidst reports that the movie has bombed at the box office, distributor Reliance Big Pictures has claimed that the film has grossed Rs 53 crore worldwide with in three days of its release.


    • Bhatt tends to pop up at odd points.. just wish so much Bachchan hadn’t said this.. I think he’s wrong on the merits inasmuch as this would not have led to a different box office result or much better reviews for Abhishek. But also a director like Rathnam cannot be questioned on this score. Of course I hope to see a director’s cut here. On a related note though it’s quite clear that he thinks highly of the film and which is why the box office reaction has shocked him. On D6 he again liked the film, wrote a long post on it but didn’t say anything at all on the role or characterization. If anything Mehra completely changed the ending here and has since admitted it was a mistake.


      • Yes, Amitabh should not have said what he did. In the filmmaking process, ruthless decisions have to be taken — when Mani had the focused vision to take out “Ranjha Ranjha” and replace it with a less accessible, stranger version, that tells one all one needs to know about the seriousness of purpose the man brought to his work.

        Second, no amount of editing or whatever could have saved this film at the box office. It’s a pipe dream to think otherwise.


  29. Munna:

    If you’re right, prove it: Amitabh
    Jun 23, 2010, 12.00am IST

    Five things Amitabh Bachchan did not tweet or blog about in response to the criticism Raavan has faced…

    1. If there have been rabid remarks on Raavan then that is what the people who made these observations have felt. When you are in the public arena, you will always be vulnerable to adverse comment and accusation. You will also be the idol of several, loved and admired equally. You cannot have it good all the time. You must learn to live with it or stop being a member of the celebrity club. Take it on the chin and smile. If you are right, get up and prove it. If you are wrong, acknowledge and accept it.

    2. Mani Ratnam is an exceptional talent, even his so called ‘worst’ is a million times better than many so called ‘bests’. When one sets such high standards of credibility, you garner high expectation also. And when the audience feels that that standard has been even minutely compromised, it expresses disappointment. Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan may have disappointed you in Mela and Paheli, respectively. But that never stopped you from loving them for box office excellence in 3 Idiots and Kabhie Alvida na Kehna.

    3. The film is an astonishing mix of mythology and politics put out in ethereal poetry. It is an intelligent film that the ticket- paying audience and the box office pundits are not necessarily impressed with. Hence the adverse reactions. Fair enough. It is Mani’s vision. We may not like his creativity, but we do not have the right to tell him not to create, as has been most harshly expressed by some.

    4. Abhishek and Aishwarya have come in for flak. There is diverse opinion. Two critics from two different prestigious print mediums have on the same day tabulated two exactly opposite reactions! One says ‘Abhishek has hammed his way through the film’ and the other expresses that ‘This is Abhishek’s best performance to date’. One castigates Aishwarya’s ‘silent and stone presence’ in film, the other gushes that the most endearing quality of the film is her ‘stunning performance, never seen before’. Whom do you believe?

    5. Abhishek and Aishwarya will perform according to what the director demands. Critics have an onerous and difficult task. They have to be producer, director, actor, screenplay writer, dialogue writer, musician, playback singer, stunt co-ordinator all in one, and some more – they need to have the ability to assimilate all of this in an opinion and put it down against time lines within 500-600 words. It’s a tough ask. Commenting on their credibility would unnecessarily stir up sensationalized ‘breaking news’ bulletins for a hungry and starved idiot box ogre. So I shall refrain. But personally, I liked both their performances.


    • glad he said all of this…


    • Very well put and extremely dignified, unlike the detractors.


      • absolutely.. and he also does well to point out the critical disparities. Yes probably only 30% of critics gave it a good review but there were those who found it Abhishek’s finest performance or at least an extraordinary one. This kind of divergence is on the one hand a little disconcerting (not because there aren’t very opposing views in this sense elsewhere in the world, in Hollywood for example, but one would be hard pressed to find instances where critics on the one hand say he was terrible in the film and others say it was the best ever!) but on the other hand indicates the authenticity of a film that can give rise to such extraordinarily different takes. Which is by the way different from most other films even in India where even when critics are negative on an actor they are not so extraordinarily harsh. There is definitely that gratuitous bit that comes to the fore when Abhishek is involved.


    • Very solid response here. agree with rajen.


  30. Not sure if you guys already have a copy of this song.

    “Jaa re ud jaa re” from Raavan: http://bit.ly/aQ2OL7


  31. Satyam, salutes to you again.
    It as become a common now Amitjis is acknowledging you.
    I’am very glad that your reviews will be read by many and it deserves that . Way to go!!
    Boss, Take a bow !


  32. TheSkeptic: One amusing thing about this conflict between me and Satyam: While he accuses me of having abandoned my own “terms” in rejecting Raavan, what I find funny is that at the same time Satyam has turned into a landscape-enthusiast and Q a lover of “pure cinema”, cinema as imagery. But aren’t their usual terms politics, subversion and the like, cinema as a pure text detached from its material manifestation?

    TheSkeptic: Consider another curious thing: When Q painstakingly read Tashan(!) in political terms (quite usefully, I should add), Satyam rejected it on “narrative” grounds! So why are these grounds not available to anyone else while judging Raavan?

    TheSkeptic: On more than one occasion Satyam has been critical of my championing of visuals over substance, but this is exactly what I see in both Satyam and Q’s reviews. Subversion is not by itself enough, given how conservative Indian cinema still is, it is not that hard to subvert some shibboleth or the other. We are still down to discussing if the execution worked, did it work on all the levels available to cinema, meaning not just the politics or idelogy, but other dimensions like structure, pace, wit, build-ups, payoffs, psychological plausibility and on and on. Just saying “ideology” does not finish off the argument.

    TheSkeptic: For example, some claim that Mani has employed the elements to symbolize, stand in or amplify the characters. Hence water, water everywhere for Beera. This is alright as an aim, but surely it remains to be decided if it “came off”? Aims are not results. For me it did not. To begin with I am not excited by such “welds” for all the anthropocentric reasons that I mentioned earlier, but also because this sort of imagery is so familiar from Mani’s and Sivan’s films, it cannot be immediately be divested of its previous meanings and effects and recruited to new ends. At least with someone of my history with their films.


    • Not going to repeat everything that I’ve already stated here:


      quite amazed as to how anyone could have the notion that I was simply privileging visuals over the ‘substance’ (and surely my point has always been that such a split is untenable!). Has one really read this piece of mine? Not to mention the countless comments in all the Raavan threads where I’ve engaged precisely with the substance of the film? Beyond this I have argue precisely for pace, for structure, and everything else you’ve mentioned when it comes to Raavan! But you keep popping up these straw men!

      Yes subversion by itself is not enough. Whoever asserted this?! If anything I have taken so many sides on so many films that I otherwise find extraordinary. Just in today’s piece on the Bachchans I have taken a somewhat different position on Raj Kapoor compared to the ones I did in all the pieces I wrote on his cinema not so long ago. I consider both valid. It’s a question of perspective.

      I wish ‘subversion’ were that easy. or I wish some of us were dumber to spot all those fake attempts at subversion. perhaps your description would then have had some merit!

      Nonetheless I also point out this Kaminey review as another film where I did stress the visuals but also saw it as part and parcel of the director’s program:


      One sometimes have the sense that you come up with a new set of reasons every day to advance your Raavan case. At the very least you do not address the responses some of us come up with to your objections. This is sounding more and more like a game where a lot can be asserted for the sake of argument. Surely the point isn’t to find any possible criticism one could against Raavan, just the ones that one is truly invested in?! So I can forgive certain problems in films and not others. Wouldn’t it be a bit cynical on my part to suddenly come up with reasons that normally don’t bother me only to argue against a film? I don’t indulge in such an exercise though. Anyone reading what I said on Rajneeti would be clear that I had problems with its representations at many levels but nonetheless found it very compelling as pure narrative.

      Clearly those who are arguing on whatever grounds ‘for’ Raavan think that Rathnam pulled it off. Not sure what the debate is about. It might not have worked for you. That’s fine. But it’s quite another to accuse Rathnam of incompetence which is more or less what much of your criticism amounts to. Or the stuff about the love story and so forth. Surely Rathnam ‘avoids’ the love story here?! Could he have shown lss than this?! And the reason I do not find you legible on Raavan in general is because I wonder how 99% of RGV’s cinema passes these tests with you! In what reasonable worldview can one constantly locate cutting edge cinema in most RGV efforts but not in Raavan?

      I did find Tashan a boring narrative. But that’s not your criticism of Raavan? Your point is that more or less nothing works in the film! I did not argue with Qalandar over the substance of his Tashan critique. I just didn’t find it compelling enough. But I did not introduce a whole host of reasons beyond this in a film where I could have done this.

      Finally I actually do privilege filmmakers who are great visual masters over those who aren’t. One of the reasons why I ultimately do not have a very high opinion of most of classic Hollywood because I don’t see anything revolutionary in it in this sense. But at the same time I have to be reasonable. In commercial Hindi cinema given that there is not that kind of stress on the visuals for the most part I can either dismiss most of the history or just extol the more interesting films given the convention. So yes I wish Deewar had been shot by Ramesh Sippy but very few films in Hindi cinema were shot by him! Do I then just dismiss Deewar or Trishul?

      So there is no split as far as I’m concerned which is why I rate these films a certain way only within their contexts and not necessarily in a universal sense whereas with a Kurosawa it’s both. For the same reason I have been puzzled by your single-mindedness when it comes to RGV because it’s almost as if you’ve not seen or at least forgotten all other cinema! I get back to an old point. If RGV is praised using the language you do you will have to find a new one for Eisenstein! If you find incredible thought in all of his shots or camera placements and so on wonder what new vocabulary you will have to discover for Red Desert! I am never in any doubt that Rathnam is not in the same universe as Ray! and I think my language reflects this. Just the other day someone suggested that Rathnam’s jungle representation was better than that of Herzog’s or Coppola’s and I immediately disagreed. Often there are not the contexts to discussion non-Indian filmmmakers here but I nonetheless introduce them as much as possible. But if there is a more ‘open’ structure as there is on any SB why does one only obsess with a RGV or a Ridley Scott? Why not others? Let’s be honest. You clearly have a ‘mission’ when it comes to RGV. which is fine. But let’s accept it. I will offer a wager here — I think you would not find a single critic anywhere in the world, not one, who would hold the opinions you do on so many RGV films and then also yours on Rathnam. Incidentally I have critiqued Rathnam negatively at very many points also and on many of his films. You keep asserting the same for RGV but I never hear the critique go the other way. The reason I introduce RGV once again here is not to play a tit for tat game but because I honestly believe this RGV-Rathnam double haunts you. and every statement made in the ‘credit’ of one is perceived by you, consciously or not, as a debit for the other and this really explains a great deal. I at least sense a ‘code’. Again I do not have an issue if you find RGV more to your taste than Rathnam. I am arguing about something else altogether. I too find, to use the older example again, Kurosawa more to my taste than Ozu. But I do not then introduce a subjective vocabulary to take down the latter. Ozu is a master filmmaker. There is no doubt about it. But someone who is radically other to Kurosawa in many ways. Actually I do have a great weakness for Ozu as well so this wasn’t probably the best example but it still serves the overall point. I could say ‘Ozu doesn’t excite me as much’, ‘his films don’t move quick enough’, ‘his cinema isn’t as visceral’ on and on. All of this is still merely descriptive and only references my personal response. There is nothing more to it. But if I then made the jump from this personal response and tried to equate this with more objective criticism of Ozu it would be deeply problematic.


  33. Hi,

    First up, an excellent review.

    I personally liked the Tamil version to the Hindi just because of Vikram’s interpretation of the Character. I think Vikram took it to an all new level giving it touches of Ledger’s joker. I do believe it is an intelligent film which tries to let audience decide on why certain scenes are the way it is (For instance, why was the climax fight on the bridge – Good & Evil fought in air in Ramayana & Ratnam simply outclassed himself here). If you try and look a little closer, scene where Beera expresses love, he is angry; scene where he is rude, he is funny. I think it was the most complicated performance of the year to understand & it required sheer guts & genius to come together.

    By now its known to everyone that this might be or is the greatest photographed movie in Indian Cinema or probably even in world cinema. Ratnam’s vision with Sivan & Manikandan’s gorgeous thought process, Samir’s believe it or not production design takes us one step closer to nirvana. That Nirvana is achieved through Rahman’s wonder background score(He should ideally get an oscar for this). Complicated & layered, this is the kind of cinema India needs. People may find Nolan, Scorcese & Mani slow but that is what makes them create visuals, etch immortal characters which separates good from the great.

    Keep writing.


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