A quick comparative note on Raavanan

This is an addendum to the earlier review I had up.

The chief difference between the two versions of Ratnam’s latest film(s) are the casting choices and, of course, the language/writing. On the second count, the Tamil version tends to add much back-story to its dialogue, mapping out some of the logical gaps some folks might find in the Hindi version along with some mesmerizing poetry in the form of Vairamuthu’s lyrics, which, to my mind, outmatch Gulzar’s very strong work (on the whole) for resonance and an evocative feel. While I felt that the “gaps” in the Hindi version were a better way to go in the sense that they make the audience more active in working with the imagery in order to glean answers, and devise emotional, intellectual responses, the Tamil dialogue certainly feels more “straightforward” in this sense. To put it differently, the Hindi version relies more on its visual cues. The Tamil version seems to split the difference between that and giving the audience a few lines of dialogue to point them in a certain direction.

The set design doesn’t deviate much from the Hindi version, which might be a bit jarring at certain junctures, (though not more or less than Rahman’s superb but sometimes misplaced [here] background music) but it’s the preservation of the tone and atmosphere that’s most important here, and this is done remarkably well. Sivan’s cinematographic strategy doesn’t change any for this version, barring a few important or ravishingly beautiful shots added here and there. One really feels that this is more or less the same movie as the Hindi version. I can’t imagine having such a wildly divergent sense of things simply because of changes to dialogue and the central casting. I do prefer one over another here, though.

Ultimately, the most significant and immediately affecting difference is the male lead. Vikram owns this role through and through, bringing to it at least one thing that Abhishek Bachchan simply can’t–a face and bearing that seems to belong, plausibly, to a man who has lived in the forest, who has killed and defended and led for his people. No doubt, Vikram’s age and his wariness adds to the inherent maturity he brings here and especially in the first half, where he seems much more tortured than did Abhishek in the Hindi version, he has an immense weight and guilt on his shoulders that makes him perhaps more easy to empathize with. That said, Abhishek’s physical size and range make him the preferable “monster” in some ways. It might be as simple as the fact that I saw him first here, but overall I’d probably take Bachchan, even if Vikram turns the volume down and has some terrifically uninhibited moments while keeping it all “even” in a way Bachchan doesn’t. Aishwariya Rai more or less keeps it going along the same lines, while Karthik really outshines Govinda’s work–partly because he has better dialogue to work with, and partly because he is perhaps just plain better.

Prabhu meanwhile waddles around and is so bland he makes Ravi Kissen look like Mohanlal in comparison. Priyamani is every bit as superb here as she was in the Hindi version. Although I vastly prefer Vikram (one of the chief deficiencies of the Tamil version is in fact that it has a central antagonist that simply can’t create the same, epic, intense “balance” as Vikram did with Bachchan in the Hindi version) but Prithviraj nevertheless brings an interesting shade to the Dev character here–a nasty, deviant vibe I’ve always detected in his performances even when he’s the good guy! Here, he uses his smarmy-pervert effect rather perfectly in some instances. In one shot, he tackles one of Veera’s masked henchmen, and while grappling on top of him, Prithvi’s Dev unmasks him and for a moment he sees the illusion of Veera’s face superimposed on the henchman’s. The shot establishes what might verge on a homoerotic moment with Dev laying over “Veera” in exactly the same way Veera, at one point, (accidentally) lays over Dev’s wife as the latter pair grapple. Essentially the sexually-charged obsession Dev has with regard to capturing Veera seems more pronounced here.

I’d recommend that folks see both versions, (though it seems from the BO the opposite is happening!) it’s really a unique and interesting event in Indian cinema, and I’m all for this approach which, ideally, opens up a dialogue between the country’s different industries.

Advertisements

53 Responses to “A quick comparative note on Raavanan”

  1. Thanks for the note GF — I might add that it was very very very welcome relief to see a subtitled cinema print. This is standard for Hindi cinema in the West, and Tamil cinema has (puzzlingly) lagged behind (puzzling because the DVDs tend to be subtitled). Thrilled to see Madras Talkies subtitle this (heck, thrilled to hear they released subtitled prints in Bombay). Based on the translations, the Tamil lyrics are to die for, and go superbly with the action on screen (as in Alai Payuthey/Saathiya, seems to me Vairamuthu outdoes Gulzar). Will put up a more detailed note later, but (accounting for the shock that one feels when one encounters something new/for the first time) I was just about as impressed by the Tamil version as the Hindi one. Was surprised at how much “backstory” was added by the Tamil dialogs that was (clearly deliberately) omitted from the Hindi version — resulting in a more even, but straightforward work (Tamil) relative to the moodier, more economical (Hindi) version. A couple of scenes I definitely felt were better done in Tamil…

    Like

  2. I’d agree with just about everything here. Extremely useful piece. I’d only add that the Rahman song that wasn’t on the CD and was added later might well be the best on the entire soundtrack. One hopes to see this on a CD as well as that alternate Kattu Sirukki (Ranjha) number.

    But definitely both versions deserve to be seen. The Tamil ‘evens’ out more as a whole because of the Vikram performance and those ‘explanatory’ elements. It is certainly a very authoritative Vikram performance, possibly beating all his Bala work. But his character is also more ‘humanized’, more ‘rational’ in his interpretation. Abhishek’s is the ‘stranger’ character and certainly one that ‘interested’ me more though this takes away nothing from Vikram. Agreed on the height element as well which makes some kinds of framing just spectacular with Abhishek. But also having seen Raavanan I can see why the two films have had different reactions (though I don’t believe the Tamil is on its way to a hit it has had a vastly better reception than the Hindi) in terms of the lead performances. I think what Abhishek does here is really ‘new’. Not really assimilable to his Lallan archetype or any other. And because he also keeps the character more ‘unhinged’ than Vikram the audience doesn’t quite have the anchor here into the performance or the registers to rely upon as they do with Vikram. The latter has a great outing here but here doesn’t necessarily ‘surprise’ for someone who is familiar with his work. I’d even say that Vikram in the Hindi version is more ‘interesting’ than the Tamil version because here he really does reveal something ‘new’ and with great ‘economy’.

    Either way I loved both films, preferred the Hindi like yourself. It’s just more oblique at points which coupled with Abhishek’s more surprising turns makes it perhaps more of a director’s work. ‘Auteurist’ is maybe the word I’m looking for. Vikram is a force of nature in the Tamil and I certainly don’t have anything against the film but it just seemed less ‘radical’ specially within the context of its industry. Barring of course Rathnam’s awesome visual grammar. In this context I have been wary of the emphasis on ‘visuals’ when it comes to so many critics, even those who’ve praised it. Yes a lot of the locales are gorgeous but this isn’t a film about the ‘aestheticization’ of nature. At least those are not the principal moments of the film. It is much more one where the visuals offer cues to fill in the blanks as it were. Without serious attention to these the film appears opaque in all the wrong ways. Certainly it’s a very carefully thought out film in this sense, even by Rathnam’s lofty standards.

    About the film as a whole and having liked it more with reviewing I am quite comfortable confirming the importance of this film in more ways than one. It easily supersedes Yuva and Guru to my mind. Don’t even think it’s close. And I don’t just mean ‘visually.

    And yes both versions should be seen. The two leads ensure that no version is superfluous here irrespective of what one prefers. And of course Vikram’s Hindi outing is a revelation in some ways.

    For what it’s worth, and for anyone interested in checking this out in India or elsewhere, the Tamil prints (outside TN of course) have subs. At least in the US I saw a Tamil film with subs for the very first time. This wasn’t true even for Sivaji. Something to thank Reliance/Big Pictures for!

    I would love to see a director’s cut here but on further reflection I am unsure whether extra Beera/Veera scenes would necessarily add to the film’s strength though one is likely to gain more insights into the character.

    Like

    • Incidentally I have just seen each version once so far. Will revisit the Hindi. The Tamil one becomes more unlikely because of the much longer drive which is a pity. Even moreso is the fact that films don’t play for very long at this end (much less this one.. even for Raavan there were barely 10-12 people!). I could easily see this film half a dozen times between the two versions (or even one!) given enough time.

      Honestly, I just cannot imagine this film being dubbed ‘boring’ or ‘lacking script’ or what have you. The true sign of the authentic is that it isn’t immediately absorbed! There are exceptions but rare ones. Rathnam’s own Nayagan but even this latter most seminal of Tamil films is nonetheless not the equal of something like Iruvar (which too was rejected). And Iruvar has assuredly been gaining ground with viewers ever since its release, certainly those who ‘think’ cinema.

      Like

    • Excellent note Satyam, not least because you privilege both works and performances. I enjoyed both of these guys, personally preferred Abhishek, thoroughly enjoyed both films, personally preferred Raavan.

      As you say, a director’s cut would be useful but I think we’re looking a “The New World” situation here where even if it does offer a good deal of added insight, it won’t take away from the original’s rather wonderful impact.

      Like

  3. Movie Review – Raavan

    Raavan: Definitely Abhishek’s Best, Rating: 3.5 out of 5*,
    Starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Govinda, Ravi Kissen and introducing Vikram, Director: Mani Ratnam

    Since the time of the announcement of Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, curiosity about how India’s most accomplished filmmaker manages to do a modern day adaptation of the mythological epic, Ramayan, has known no bounds. Thankfully, Mani succeeds in his own inimitable way. His team’s painstaking hard work shows in every frame of the film and his actors help him raise the film’s bar.

    The film opens with policemen killed at various places around Lal Maati, a small town in Northern India. This is followed by abduction of the local police chief Dev’s (Vikram) wife Raagini (Aishwarya Rai). The dreaded low cast tribal lord Beera (Abhishek) is behind the kidnapping. Dev (Vikram) immediately gets hot on the trail of Beera with trusted lieutenant Hemant (Nikhil Dwivedi) and seeks the help of the jovial forest guard Sanjeevani (Govinda). Beera knows the dense jungle like the back of his hand and is helped by the tribals, managing to stay just one step ahead of Dev and his team. But as the cat and mouse chase proceeds between Beera and Dev, the initial hate of Raagini for Beera subsides. As Dev inches closer, the near maniacal Beera shows he has a heart too and Raagini almost loses hers to him. What follows after Beera and Dev come face to face forms the rest of the film.

    Taking on a mega epic like Ramayan and turning it on its head giving his own personal interpretation, Mani Ratnam dares to depart from the religious text and succeeds in showcasing how Ram can be a Raavan and how a Raavan can also be a Ram. Aided by the best technical crew of Indian cinema, Mani has made his multilayered film, a technical marvel to watch with awe. The first half moves on rapidly mostly focusing on Dev’s chase of Beera, but however it gets boring beyond a point since the story hardly moves ahead. Mani also fails to establish the exact setting of the outlaws. Are they Naxals or a modern day Robin hood gang? But it is the beginning of the second half where Mani begins to pack his solid punches and achieves the peak with an unusual climax. Beera’s background (the reason for Raagini’s abduction), Dev’s impatience to grab Beera, Raagini’s gradual change of perception about Beera and eventually the final face off between Dev and Beera have all been terrifically captured.

    Abhishek is nothing short of brilliant, portraying Beera. If you thought Abhishek delivered his best under Mani in Yuva and Guru, watch Raavan for his evolvement into an actor of true caliber. Aishwarya Rai delivers a top notch act. Makeup less and forever battered and bruised, Aishwarya’s eyes convey a lot more than the shrieking her character has to resort to most of the time. Vikram unfortunately is saddled with a one dimensional character for most part of the film until the climactic punch. He looks fearless and arouses enough curiosity as an actor to watch him play Beera in the Tamil version of the film. Govinda as Sanjeevani brings on the much required comic relief in the tense proceedings and succeeds. Ravi Kissen grabs the opportunity to impress with both his hands and does well. Priyamani playing Beera’s sister, in her brief role manages to bring out the pathos of her unfortunate character.

    Mani takes you to virgin locations within India never exposed before on screen. Be it the thick dense forests in Kerala or the same state’s dangerous Athirappally Waterfalls or the exotic Orcha in Madhya Pradesh and Malshej Ghat valley in Maharashtra, Santosh Sivan and Manikandan’s camera captures it all with super finesse. The action finale on the hanging bridge, a never seen before feat in Indian cinema makes your heart skip a beat.

    Oscar winner A.R. Rahman’s music coupled with Gulzar’s lyrics is mesmerizing but Mani hardly gives any time for any song to register any impact, as if in a quick hurry.

    The subtle statement Mani incorporates against the system on behalf of the low caste have-nots is laudable but could have been a little more elaborate. Nevertheless, as Mani Ratnam’s metaphoric interpretation of the grand epic, Raavan definitely deserves a visit to your nearest cinema hall for its plusses certainly over ride its minuses.

    Like

  4. Why_so_serious Says:

    Preferring Abhishek over Vikram (using qualifications such as ‘it seems auteuristic’) is only Satyamshot Possible..

    Like

    • What’s that supposed to mean? last time I checked you were on Satyamshot as well. Not to mention that for all this talk of “only on Satyamshot”, it is those who have expressed any kind of appreciation for Abhishek Bachchan that have been subjected to rudeness on this blog (not, as an initial matter, those who have criticized it). You yourself have been most incivil, targeting as agenda-driven (in the sense of running down Tamil stars/actors) anyone who offers any kind of qualification on peformers you hold dear. [I object to the tone — would be nice to discuss, rather than merely accuse and throw out rhetorical questions.] And no, a periodic “sorry if it sounds rude” doesn’t go far enough. If you are sorry if something sounds rude, there is a simple solution: don’t be rude.

      [Aside: Good luck trying to create an objective rule out of what is an unavoidably subjective domain: how one responds to an acting performance. We are in the realm of opinions (more or less informed; more or less persuasive), not facts.]

      Like

    • This sort of remark really doesn’t add anything to a discussion. I’m glad you wrote the note below about Vikam’s performances (doesn’t change a thing about my own subjective experience of his work here) because at least you concentrate on your response vis a vis mine or Satyam’s rather than a snide dismissal of the same.

      Like

  5. ‘Raavan’ rejected!

    Let’s come to the point pronto. Why has RAAVAN failed? What went wrong? In my individualistic opinion, RAAVAN has emerged a failure on two counts: Content and economics.

    RAAVAN has faced rejection, that’s the bitter truth. The content has come in for widespread criticism and if the writing is flawed, it gets difficult for any film to stand on its feet after the initial curiosity subsides. The exorbitant price is another factor that spelt doom for this keenly-anticipated film.

    First KITES and now RAAVAN have made a big hole in the pocket of its investors. The business of RAAVAN has been falling fast and furiously since Monday and at several plexes/stations, the film is not expected to last more than 1 or 2 weeks, which is very, very sad for a film that carries the burden of a heavy price.

    The debacle of RAAVAN will hit Mani Ratnan… not financially, though. Like Rakesh Roshan, Mani Ratnam has sold the film and recovered his investment, but the reputation takes a beating when a biggie falls flat on its face. But I’d like to add that Mani Ratnam continues to enjoy the reputation of being the dream director. And I’m more than confident that distributors would be more than enthusiastic to acquire the rights of his next film, the moment he announces it. He’s a genius, no two opinions on that!

    The failure of RAAVAN will harm Abhishek Bachchan the most. His solo attempts, after GURU, haven’t worked at the ticket window [DELHI 6, DRONA and now RAAVAN] and if Abhishek wants to emerge a strong player in an industry that forgives but doesn’t forget easily, he will have to prove his mettle in his forthcoming movies. Especially in solo hero projects.

    http://www.bollywoodhungama.com/trade/business_talk/index.html

    Like

  6. ^^^ now i know why they wrot KATTA KATTA SONG

    Like

  7. Look at Ghajini, a boxoffice success in both the versions. Surya was more appreciated and on the otherhand the hindi version became an alltime blockbuster. It also received a lot of negative reviews. If Mani has taken promising new comers to cut costs and if he made Ravan a sinister villain instead of a comic villain and if he had done away with music for once(this type of movie requires a macho treatment). Abhishek is an extremely urbanised and polished star and as such he shines in roles suited to his demeanour. Unlike his father. His father is too versatile and thus he was comfortable in sorts of roles. Also take SRK’s Baazigar and Darr where the villain was really a villain inspite of excuses. A sambhar without sambhar masala is no sambhar and a villain without really villainish acts is no villain and thus disappoints. I would attribute this failure not to Abhishek but to Maniratnam for turning a beautiful film into a mega budget film and thus faced boxoffice failure. And casting husband and wife does not work always as there is a de javu feeling. Amitabh Jaya starrers are different as both are highly gifted.

    Like

  8. ^^^ that’s why i liked heath ledger’s act in TDK

    now that’s how villian should be

    Like

  9. Strangly only some prints were subtitled or maybe it is a choice that some cinemas didn’t show the subs. Same thing happened for Singam, that is some cities had subs and others didn’t. Gautham’s VTV was also subtitled.

    Like

  10. Why_so_serious Says:

    a face and bearing that seems to belong, plausibly, to a man who has lived in the forest, who has killed and defended and led for his people. No doubt, Vikram’s age and his wariness adds to the inherent maturity he brings here
    ———
    Disagree.

    Nothing to do with age or maturity. About 9 years back, he did show the side of his in ‘Moongil Kaadugale’ from Samurai, the song itself was wonderfully conceived with a restraint ‘Samourai’, despite the sadness inside, splits to nature’s son, the ‘other’ of his restraint persona to enjoy its beauty. Naturally imbibed and rendered Vairamuthu’s lyrics, an ode to nature and wonderfully composed by Harris Jeyaraj.
    Shot in Hogenakkal Falls (Dharmapuri)

    Then a year later, he was, in many ways, an ‘indifferent nature’s son’, the wildchild who is confined to creamation ground. As see in PiraiyE PiraiyE from Pithamagan (shot in Alemparai fort, Kadapakkam), the only emotion that is in access to this wildchild is ‘death’ and associated emotion exhibited by numerous ‘strangers’ to him, that it is only possible that in his upbringing, it’s completely ‘desensitized’ to the point it’s inaccessible to him.

    The reversal of which, the ‘evolution’ to man, is the point of the whole film. Of course, ‘nature’ itself and the associated ‘beauty’ (That Sangeetha and Surya ‘revel’ in ‘Elankathu Veesuthe’, the song, an ode of sorts to lush nature of Tamil Nadu) is still inaccessible to him, but he does evolve and access ’emotion’ slowly (in “Elankathu Veesuthe”). The mirror movement is the final cremation of Surya’s character. That is the Siththan in PiraiyE song, his indifference to the dead cadaver, the ‘face’ before and the ‘skull’ after, is completely reversed in the denouement. That it all made ‘fully’ accessible to him. Of course, ‘death’ as a concept is fascinating to all the best artists. Bala and Vikram’s interpretation of this character is exemplary by world standards.

    Like

    • Why_so_serious Says:

      Vikram’s introductory shot in the film, is with the ‘fire’ of dead corpse in foreground.

      Like

      • Why_so_serious Says:

        In the split-person of the Samourai, he belongs so much to ‘Nature’.

        In Pithamagan, he is a part of nature itself, indifferent to nature of ‘human emotions’ – all that mattered to him was to just ‘be’. The switch-over is extraordinarily rendered by Vikram. Within the character’s limitations.

        Basically, a much talented actor despite having a lot of Kamal and Rajini in him. Which he had recognized himself in interviews.

        Like

        • Why_so_serious Says:

          It’d turn uglier (than Raavan) if Bachchan did that sort of role, Vikram’s abstraction is on a whole new level, and only this sort of a performance could be said to have fully dignified ‘auteuristic’ vision of the filmmaker (in this case, Bala)

          Like

    • “Nothing to do with age or maturity.”

      That’s fine but I don’t see your subsequent point in any way refuting mine – not that it’s capable of doing that because to me (the “to me” is important here, buddy) it’s obvious that Vikram plays an older guy and uses that to effectively create a more plausible character than Abhishek in some ways. Note Ratnam gives Abhishek an age here explicitly, but not Vikram.

      That Samurai moment is a terrific one, and In fact your own point about Vikram’s screen history vis a vis “the forest” or the natural world only adds to the general idea of the plausibility, the belief that this guy emerges from the forest because Vikram, from his screen history, has taken on this terrain before. This actually, as I see it, also confirms Satyam’s point about this being a less “surprising” role for Vikram.

      I personally think Abhishek fit in more with Ratnam’s fragmented, uneven vision with this film. That makes the performance as frustrating (and awkard and rich) as the film in some ways, but I don’t see this as being a negative.

      All this is subjective, I should add, before you start turning this into a “star wars” kind of deal.. I’m not out to convince you to come over to my side. Wouldn’t attempt that even if I thought it were possible.

      Like

      • GF, I am glad you liked Abhishek’s performance. equally. I’ve watched twice with non AB fans , they all liked Ab’s performance.
        I am not sure why critics were so harsh

        Like

  11. w_s_ s – I think preference for Abhishek vs Vikram is a fan thing. If you are a fan of X, you are bound to reduce others in comparison so this is understandable. I know many Vikram fans who rubbished Abhishek even before either movie released. This is just – not exactly the opposite end – but another bandwidth of the same spectrum. There could be other die-hard Abhishek fans who rubbish Vikram’s Veera as pathetic in comparison to Beera.

    What matters is the opinion of neutrals – on which Vikram seems to have scored more 🙂

    Like

  12. [quote]There could be other die-hard Abhishek fans who rubbish Vikram’s Veera as pathetic in comparison to Beera.
    [/quote]
    On second thoughts, unlikely that Junior possesses that much of charisma!

    Like

    • Why_so_serious Says:

      Actually I don’t see Jr exuding ‘charisma’ at all. I say that knowing he covers a lot of the frame like Raghuvaran. But the purported ‘screen presence’ remains inaccessible to me.

      Vikram, despite his lesser height, has the body frame and physicality to cover the frame. But his persona in itself (even with deadpanned eyes) produces an unmatched charisma. It’s a credit to Bala that he effaced all that to create the Siththan role in Pithamagan. OTOH, Mani worked some of Vikram’s natural charisma to his benefit.

      But in Abhishek’s case, I don’t see the supposed genealogy or his father’s deja-vu (Sr. had it) that could translate as ‘charisma’ or ‘iconic aura’. So, it’s a never a point that Mani used him as a puppet for variations, the different ‘heads’ so to speak. But the problem is within each head, there’s an effect that reeks of awkwardness and hilarity. Basically poor acting.

      Like

  13. Mani and RGV are irresponsible when they try to glorify criminals and portraying them as wronged and innocent. In that sense even Hitler was innocent as he felt that jews wronged honest Germans. There is nothing wrong if one holds such opinions in individual capacity but if they distort facts to suit their whims and present them as facts in the form of a movie, then they become irresponsible acts. They will get the taste of medicine they are dishing out if they themselves are subjected to such violent acts by anti social elements.

    Like

  14. Satyam – It is fascinating how each one of the contributors on the blog have a different take on Raavan. Must say, enjoyed lapping it all up. Your blog also takes cinematic discussions to another level and educates novices like me. Interesting how many points have been raised on Vikram’s performance, I see myself nodding to each. This is how I saw Raavanan with my eyes, it pales in comparison to the marvelous pieces I have read here in the last few days.

    A predatory bird, perched on the canoe that Ragini sits in looks around the swirling muddy river. It then swoops, screeching in its flight towards Veera who is on a bigger reed boat, casting a sinister apparition on the brown waters. Alas, this Jatayu is the harbinger of Ragini’s fate to come, playing the role of a herald and not a protector. But, there was no need for Jatayu to protect Raagini from the clutches of Veera for Veera was Raginis’ protector in her battle for dharma.

    Veera (Veeraiya) could well be modeled more after the notorious sandal wood smuggler Veerapan, living in deep jungles, embodied in his rustic tribal ways and playing Robinhood to his community. Dressed in shades of grey and black, he represents the darker side in all of us. But hues of black during the course of this epic become grey and even flirt with dazzling white more than just once. Veera is not one who allows himself to impose his dark, malevolent self on Ragini even if he wished he would. Through his darkness he allows light to fall on his gory ways. Veera is consistent with the larger world; he is as erratic in his emotions. He is a mystery only under the undulating spell of Ragini. He shakes off every whim that emerges in him in rapid succession when it comes to the soulful Ragini and reveals a mysterious visage. Veera is the “other” classical dancer of this love ballad, adorning himself with a flurry of emotions or Shringaram ( decorations ) that range from the initial “ Bheebatsa ( disgust ) to Rowdram ( violence ) to Veeram ( valor ) to Adbhuta ( wonder ) to Hasya ( joy ) to Karuna ( kindness ) to bhayanaka” ( fear ) to Shantham ( peace ). These are the nine “rasas” Veera conveys (almost in the same order). The tenth in my opinion is “guhya “(mystery), for in Veera remained a mystery till the end, was it love or wonder (respect) for this Sita. (Recall how different men from Veera’s tribe sit in front of a questioning Dev and summarize these emotions )

    Ragini is an epitomizing beauty. She is feisty, spirited like the Scarlett ‘O Hara of Georgia, effusive with unsurpassable determination. Even if Veera pleads with himself to despise her, her soulful radiance traps him like a spider in a silver web. In this ballad of Raavanan, every character digresses from the epical conformity of goodness and evil in equal measure, thereby safely allowing the viewer to empathize with both goodness and evil in an unequivocal fashion. But, in this ballad of love and hate, goodness triumphs over evil in a physical sense yet begs to restrain this judgment on a metaphysical plane. Ragini as some rightfully state, is the soul of the movie. She is quite literally the same bridge ( Ram Sethu )that suspends in the climax scene connecting two different rugged terrains over which both the victor and vanquished have the final duel. Interestingly, Ragini acts as the cross over for both Dev and Veera. I do not believe Ragini loved Veera, she remains in awe his vulnerability and sympathizes partly with his cause.

    Raagini’s husband Dev is seen as an able man, a deliverer from evil. He is as “fair” as Ragini and belongs to the upper echelons of society unlike Veera. He is the watch guard and a protector of his environs. His call of duty for his society outweighs his obligations as a dutiful husband. He remains affront with his ambitions of being an able officer and adamant in catching the out-law. His choice looms ominously until the very end, feigning to doubt the integrity of the chaste wife who is ignorant of his manipulation. Via his conniving ways, he channels the physical end of Veera. Dev is the upholder of “dharma” and operates within his own pre defined dharmic code of conduct. He is not compassionate like the Ram who stopped to stroke a meek squirrel at Rameshwaram but this Dev is one who twists an armless victim of Veera and instigates more pain.

    Gnanaprakasam ( the forest ranger ) is the mediator between Dev and Veera and cautions one from the other. He divagates entirely from any semblance of loyalty. He is an opportunist and is instrumental in the fruition of the final war between Veera and Dev. Quite pointless to compare this character to Hanuman besides his tree jumping antics and informing Raagini of Dev’s intentions. Vennila, the younger sister to Veera is the instigator for Veera’s kidnapping of Ragini.

    The above is my interpretation of Rathnam’s characters. At this point I would like to think that I was able to formulate my opinion on these characters without any knowledge of what portions have been edited. The story had its desired ebb and flow craftily handled by the master Director. For me, it was more important to understand each of these characters the way I wished to. I am given to believe that this was the director’s motive as well or I may be entirely off the mark here. Even if I am off the mark in understanding what the Director wished to convey, I am thoroughly gratified with this Raavanan experience in allowing us to get a peek into Rathnam’s unconventional thinking. I did not prefer the character of Dev over Veera or vice versa at any point of time; I only digested their subtle emotions and tried to relate it to our every day way of life. It is easy for us to be as flippant as either Dev or Veera depending on our needs and circumstances, allowing shades of grey to stay somewhere in this comfortable bourgeois area.

    Rathnam is a genius for allowing us to think beyond realms of our limited imaginations. If there are two other areas which remain splendiferous, they are Santosh Sivan’s cinematography and Viram’s performance/

    The camera has not only captured the colors of the deep, wet jungles but also the shades of human emotions scintillatingly. I enjoyed trying to understand the colors that adorned Ragini and what they each symbolized. Ragini emerges in orange (bordering towards saffron) when she is in captivity announcing her renunciation into Veera’s jungles. Raagini is then seen in black at the time that she has a duel with Veera near the rugged cliffs during one of her attempts to escape. This duel is unintentionally seductive and in more ways than one borders on eroticism, the dark (black) colors play with the mood here. Veera’s eyes convey a lot in this scene and there is a point where Ragini appears to be captivated by those eyes for a few seconds. A bit later, Ragini then is seen in shades of red at the time when celebrations are galore in the tribal camp, by this time she has had a better understanding of Veera and almost appears quite participative in the festivities as she watches the proceedings calmly. It is right at the very end that she is in white implying her chastity and allowing herself to be stained by the red of Veera’s death. If not for Santosh Sivan’s master craftsmanship it would have been quite difficult to notice the subtle play of these colors. On another note, I lament not seeing the entire reclining Vishnu that was erected on the sets and cannot understand why only the damaged Vishnu was used.

    Vikram is outstanding. His penchant for perfection is obvious in his every move. From his stained teeth (reminded me of Pithamagan) to his outlandish demeanor as a tribal rebel, he has gotten into the skin of this role. He has wonderfully portrayed a myriad of emotions and quite clearly communicates this to the viewer, I do not think there is any confusion with his characterization. Vikram has raised the bar with this performance in Tamil cinema. I can confidently state he sits almost alongside to Kamal Haasan at this time. His eccentricity was at par with Kamal’s own eccentric behavior in “ Guna” ,after all Ragini was Abirami in a subtle way.

    Aishwarya is very good, far removed from “histrionics” and convincing. Her rendition of classical dance is quite exquisite, reminded me of Waheeda Rehman in Guide in certain portions. Rathnam could not have found a more beautiful Sita, unless he did this movie ten years back and cast Shobana in it. Rathnam has completely capitalized on Aishwarya’s beauty and the camera has allowed for it in numerous ways. Her eyes tell their own story. My regret is the usage of eye make up for a few shots acting as a visual glitch when she is in captivity. If there is one actor who requires zero eye make up, she is the one. Aishwarya and Prithvi Raj share a splendid chemistry on screen. These are two very good looking actors. A couple in synchronization yet not adequately shown together. Prithvi Raj plays Dev aptly and oozes with masculine appeal. Priya Mani as Vennila, is strong with her performance without going over the edge. Prabhu and Karthik are effective and bring about the much needed lightness in certain scenes. Prabhu’s heaviness actually provides the right dose of lightness and so does Karthik’s banter. Good to see Karthik and Prabhu back in a Rathnam venture after such a long hiatus.

    In conclusion, this movie highlights Rathnam’s superior movie making skills. Even if this movie does not translate into a BO miracle, I wish Rathnam continues to juice his creativity with movies such as this. It is important for an outstanding movie maker to not compromise on his innate desires. Rathnam is an artist whose brush strokes are not just inimitable but remain to be cherished for years to come.

    Like

  15. Thanks very much for this comparative review, GF. Sandy, too, on NG, felt that Raavanan was superior to Ravan, due entirely to the performance of Vikram.

    This leads to a question I wanted to bring up here, that I’ve been wondering about. Some comments on another forum said Vikram deserves National Award for his performance in Raavanan. Now, what is the rule about that? I think that actors cannot be nominated for a performance in a remake of a film; is that correct? Here we don’t exactly have a remake, since both films were shot simultaneously. But, for the purpose of the awards, can one be considered a remake of the other, or will both be considered originals, so that both lead actors are eligible to be nominated?

    Like

    • “Sandy, too, on NG, felt that Raavanan was superior to Ravan, due entirely to the performance of Vikram.”

      I think GF feels the opposite..

      Like

      • OK, GF felt that Vikram’s was the stronger performance, though he preferred Abhishek’s.

        Like

        • don’t think he’s saying that.. I wouldn’t care if he was but I don’t read it that way.. actually on his central opposition here I don’t disagree.. that Vikram’s is the more empathetic performance or certainly one the audience can ‘connect’ to more easily.. or for that matter the ‘evenness’ which both he (or I) have not really put forth as a total positive..

          Again it wouldn’t matter to me if GF found Vikram twice as good as Abhishek. For one I love both stars but more importantly I have enough respect for GF’s opinions even when I might disagree. But the reason I am ‘arguing’ here is that I think we sometimes do violence when we reduced a nuanced view laid out at some length to a simple opposition of ‘better’ and so on. I think GF has a somewhat ‘complicated’ view of this which I too endorse.

          I will say this (and Qalandar even had a note on it yesterday) that after watching the Hindi I did have a sense of how the Tamil performance would work even before I had seen the latter.

          Like

        • SM “stronger” might not be the word. Vikram was certainly more “even” in his work here. I think he maintains a less erratic and unpredictable character tone, and for me this is missing in Abhishek’s work. That said, I still prefer Bachchan’s work because that sort of erratic unpredictability fits with the tone of the film as a whole, advances Ratnam’s vision more powerfully, and because I think more than Vikram, (who himself has plenty of physical gifts) Abhishek’s physicality cuts a more imposing figure on the landscape of this film.

          Incidentally, if you’re reading reviews, I take it you’ve seen the film? Have I missed your views? Would be nice to see a link if it slipped by my radar..

          Like

    • both movies are originals here.. it’s a bilingual.. no question of a remake..

      Like

      • Satyam, I guess SrAB is posting the links from your web site on twitter. It may be yours,/GF/Qualandr reviws and discussions.

        Like

      • SrBachchan on twitter:

        Checked if followers were ok with me to put up reviews on my Blog for ‘Raavan’. Most ok, some say no ! Feel I am promoting film despite its weak performance. No, that is not correct. These ‘reviews’ come from general film goers with nothing to provoke their writing but an extreme love and appreciation of cinema in its myriad forms. So, what say ? Do I ??

        Like

        • A digression here, but that tweet by AB is more than 140 characters, as have been other tweets that have been posted before. Are you combining multiple tweets that he has posted, or quoting from his blog?

          Like

  16. Abhishek being made the scapegoat for Raavan failure?

    There has to be something really flawed about a film which is based on ‘Ramayana’, has Mani Ratnam at the helm of affairs, stars the Bachchan couple, boasts of music by A.R. Rahman and has the who’s-who from the technical department. Still, ‘Raavan’ hasn’t worked with the audience. We analyse why!

    Boring narrative?
    Everyone understands that ‘Ramayana’ was about the triumph of good over evil. As an audience you are prepared to see what is going to unfold. But pray, why make it all so boring?

    This is where ‘Raavan’ falters because a one dimensional storyline just doesn’t translate into a two hour film, which could hold your attention. All one gets to see is every actor in the film getting wet in the jungle and slipping or running through the rough terrain.

    Abhishek’s character – The weak link?
    As for the lead actors, Abhishek Bachchan has definitely tried hard. In fact one can clearly sense that he has followed Mani’s directions to the T and done whatever was asked of him. However, if the attempt was to bring the split personality side of his persona out, than sadly, it fails totally. It’s the character which fails here, not Abhishek as an actor.

    Aishwarya’s character – Contradictory?
    Aishwarya’s character is full of contradictions. Does she wish to end her life? Or does she not? Is the Stockholm’s syndrome catching up with her? Is she falling for ‘Raavan’? Does she really get to her husband in the end? Well, you don’t quite get it.

    Confusing plot?
    One never knows whether the outlaw (Abhishek Bachchan) is a Naxal, militant, rebel or something else? Yes, he the messiah of tribals but as it turns out, the entire drama revolves more around the personal enmity that he has with the cop (Vikram).

    But what about the bigger picture? Whatever happened to the entire Naxal angle? And if personal cause was supposed to be the driver of this entire episode, why have a Naxal angle at all? After all, the outlaw could well have been a corporate executive and that wouldn’t have made any difference to the film at all.

    Like

  17. On another note before watching the film and since I knew this would get a big initial I was reasonably sure it would be a hit in Tamil. However, after watching it (in Hindi) I was quite sure it wouldn’t be one over there either. Yesterday I spoke about how Raavanan though a great opening is actually behind Kandasamy which released a year ago. Surprising especially since Kandasamy was disliked by many multiplex audiences (Vikram here got a certain negativity that he didn’t for Anniyan) and hence had to have shown some weakness in these. Rathnam on the other hand in strongest in the very same theaters. Despite this it was behind. But leaving this aside I’ve been led to believe that the opening makes it a safe film so that it won’t lose money but it’s not going to be a hit in TN also. Which ought not to be surprising given how Rathnam’s box office track record in Tamil since the early 90s is actually not really better than in Hindi though again on something like Thalapathy a huge initial ensured recovery. Even Iruvar didn’t lose much if at all for the same reason. So that’s been a difference between his Tamil and Hindi box office. Of course in Hindi Yuva didn’t do all that badly. Dil Se and now Raavan were total washouts. Ironically, and as some of us have noted, there are some thematic overlaps between the two films. Getting back to this theater (US) where I saw the film there were only 10-12 people. I remember watching Shivaji also on a weekday and it was absolutely packed, sold out. I understand that there would be a difference but surely not this huge?!

    By the way Villain is a washout also. and in Telugu a couple of Vikram’s Tamil flops (by his standards) have fared much better.

    Like

  18. http://movies.indiatimes.com/news-gossip/interviews/others/I-was-too-attached-to-find-flaws-in-Raavan-Mani-Ratnam/articleshow/6081766.cms

    Mani Ratnam

    True, the accolades are pouring in but the critics too have their share of grudges with one of them being the absence of the chain of events leading to proclaiming Vikram as an offender in the eyes of the law. Draw his attention to this point and he responds, “As you go up in your career, you want to leave the flab out and get to the heart of the matter swiftly. This film starts at a high point. It starts with an abduction and proceeds at a fast pace. And when you are travelling at such a pace, you don’t want to stop to explain the basics. The audience is very intelligent these days and they are sure to understand what has been left out. We’ve started on a high point and done a tightrope walk.”

    Like

    • part of the beauty of the narrative is the sense in which these are narrative ellipses that are filled in later.. but not always in the Hindi version as GF rightly notes.. the Tamil provides just those little extra bits of commentary that make the version instantly less oblique.. my own hunch is Rathnam decided to be just a bit more explanatory to appeal to a wider audience in TN/AP whereas in Hindi he might have been shooting more for the multiplexes. To the same degree the Vikram performance is also ‘clear’ to the extent that we get a sense very early on of what he really is about as he seems more obviously agonized in some ways and so forth. So there are subtle differences between the two and yet the cumulative experience of the two films is altered greatly.. to wit Abhishek couldn’t have been the actor for the Tamil version and vice versa. In the very same sense I think Vikram too comes off as more opaque than Prithvi in the Ram outing. He’s obviously way better than Prithvi anyway but here I’m highlighting something else. Judging from the interviews though Rathnam was moving towards more ‘ellipsis’ when he got into the editing process, not less.

      Like

  19. masterpraz Says:

    I will really have to see RAAVAN a few times before I make the call on YUVA/GURU/RAAVAN…..though GURU on the whole still remains an overall performance all time favourite!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.