On Raavan

21 Jun
On <i>Raavan</i>

Beera: “How do you kill someone who isn’t afraid to die?”

Ans: Show them Raavan.

Noooooooooooooooo. That’s not true. But it’s the lure of the low hanging fruit – I must reach. Here’s what I really think of the love story of Twinkle Toes McScreech and Scowly Caricatureson:

Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, evocatively shot by cinematographers Santosh Sivan and V. Manikandan, is an excellent bait-and-switch operation. You think you’re going in for an exciting Naxalite-ish Gangaajal  loosely based on the central conflict of the Ramayana, and you exit from a two hour meditation on what it means to be a human being.

This is a movie that will not be rushed. A magnificent bird of prey lands next to a beautiful woman on a boat, startling her. Ragini is being kidnapped by Beera, a man who seems determined to take his ongoing vendetta with the police shockingly personal. “Why should you kill me?” she asks him defiantly as he takes aim at her, choosing instead to dive off a cliff. It is an unexpected moment of bravery that leaves him spinning. “Will you stay here with me?” he asks. She does not know what to say, not when she knows he holds her captive by his mere presence. This was not the plan; he’d fully intended to kill her and she’d sworn to destroy him.


Posted by on June 21, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review


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18 responses to “On Raavan

  1. Gradwolf

    June 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Err Why that question answer? Or is it just to make the typical Interwebs cynic think he’s met yet another Raavan hater and feel all smug about it?

    I am at cross with about 80% of the Interwebs cynics all over the place with the kind of reactions they’ve meted out to this film.

    • Amrita

      June 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm

      You’re not far off 😀 I was sitting there surrounded by people who thought they were about to see Raajneeti: The Mani Ratnam Edition, and you should have seen their faces at intermission. :mrgreen: I’ve never enjoyed an audience more.

      Oh, I’m so evil. Bwahahahah!

  2. Chum's the word!

    June 21, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Lovely, lovely, lovely write-up on Raavan over at WomensWeb, Amrita. (Symbolically saying this is the story of one man’s travails, trapped in one woman’s web, huh?) 😀

    “You think you’re going in for an exciting Naxalite-ish Gangaajal loosely based on the central conflict of the Ramayana, and you exit from a two hour meditation on what it means to be a human being.” TRUE

    “Why should you kill me? she asks him defiantly as he takes aim at her, choosing instead to dive off a cliff. It is an unexpected moment of bravery that leaves him spinning.” LOVED how this sequence (minus screech of course) played out on screen. And her dive off the cliff does remind me of a zen saying, “Leap, and the net will appear.” TRUE

    “[Aishwarya] is terrific in the moments where she brings Ragini’s dawning self-awareness to the fore” — TOTALLY! Wasn’t her transformation to an emotional wreck such a surrealistic exercise in self-restraint? The smoldering volcano that’s her heart, erupts, and you can see the lava come out thru her eyes… Every other facial muscle, controlled beyond belief (see, we knew this woman had a thing or two to teach Hrithik of Kites fame).

    Lastly, “Raavan is an excellent bait-and-switch operation.” ain’t that TRUE

    It totally gave me another reason to love the word “chum” that I’d all along only associated with “close friend” or “menstrual period” (slangishly speaking; remember all those middleschool-days girl-talk centering around who got their ‘chums’ when?)!

    PS: Speaking of “I must reach”, tell me you didn’t wonder for a second how this movie ends where Magadheera begins! 😀

    PPS: Which brings me to how Beera’s cliff dive bookends the movie, making its universe a self-contained whole — He majesctically leaps, face down… He’s cast away limply, chin up…

  3. sachita

    June 21, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    ow, just ow did you manage to skip the loud ‘thrust in your face’ Ramayana references and manage to stay along ragini’s track?

    It was a different story here at the intermission, even a friend’s mom i bumped into at the movie hall was excited.
    But at the end, people werent even getting up expecting the movie to continue – that is how ambiguous it was.

    ps: Priya mani and Vikram’s craft … orgasmic.

  4. Srinivas

    June 22, 2010 at 4:26 am

    You and Baradwaj Rangan are finding all sorts of nuances i the movie that, I feel, were completely destroyed by the lead performers.
    I cannot believe how Aishwarya Rai keeps getting movies considering the fact that she is a horrible performer. And the same goes for her husband now.
    The way they were beating us up with the Ramayan references was just ridiculous. That scene where Govinda is introduced and he “flies” through the trees was ridiculous.
    I would have walked out, but for Priyamani’s scene. That 10 minutes convinced me to hold on – perhaps Mani Ratnam would wrap it all up together. But it was not to be.
    Hats off to her – she would have definitely made a much better Sita than the plastic doll. 🙂

  5. Temple

    June 22, 2010 at 6:18 am

    I haven’t seen Raavan, but did get to see Ravanan (without subs) last week and I loved it. Even Aish was excellent – a great surprise to me, I must say! And Vikram is fully deserving of all the praise being heaped on his performance. I am finding it hard (OK impossible) to imagine Abhishek being a patch on Vikram but will probably see the Hindi version for contrast, and subtitles. I am interested in why people found the Ramayana references to be so obvious/OTT when all along the film has been publicised as a retelling?

  6. le embrouille blogueur

    June 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Excellent piece on Women’s Web. I am yet to watch the movie. Have been reading reviews on several blogs and none have defined it the way you have. I am especially excited to know Priyamani is in the movie. My feeling is she is one of those rare actors who is brilliant and yet holds it all together.Thanks for keeping my excitement alive.From the time MR started working on this, there have been so many events in his life (personally and film making wise) and I am sure glad that writers like you do full justice to his efforts and do not trash it on commercial value.

  7. Amrita

    June 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Chum’sTW – thank you! glad you enjoyed the movie! I totally missed the bookend dive! It’s been three days and I’m still running through all the visuals, discovering new nuances. I really didnt think I was going to like Aishwarya going in thanks to her horrific screeching. It was completely flat to go with. And the dialogues were stilted with weird construction issues. But then, that moment where Ranjha Ranjha plays in the background (my fave track from the OST btw) happens and it was all good from there on.

    Sachita and Srinivas – ha, yes the movie would have been better with less “boutique” actors in the lead. Especially when the first half depends entirely on their performances and the whole movie is structured on letting that first half play out.
    I guess the reason I didn’t feel bludgeoned to death with the Ramayana-ness of it all is because from the moment I saw that eagle on Aish’s boat, I felt this was not going to be a straight up retelling but a symbolic interpretation.
    It really felt like an Impressionist painting brought to celluloid. Obviously Govinda leaping from the trees was ridiculous and would be even more ridiculous if this was your normal Mani Ratnam film. But if you see the characters as broad brush strokes that carry within themselves a distilled understanding of their counterparts in the Ramayana, the way Sanjeevani is portrayed is just perfect: a forest creature of independent motivations.

    Temple – I think the reason why so many people find it so hard is because they expected exactly that: a retelling a la Thalapathy (have you seen it yet? SO good!) or Rajneeti or Kalyug et al. Raavan is a lot more “arty” for lack of a better term than that. It’s an interpretation. And it throws people off.
    I totally have to see the Tamil version. The whole time I was watching the Hindi one, I kept thinking “I bet Vikram would have knocked that scene out of the park!” Glad to hear that’s true!

    LEB – I don’t know about his personal life but I think if a man has spent two decades honing his craft, delivering crowd pleaser after crowd pleaser, then he deserves to have at least one film for his own. This really felt like he was stretching his wings. In fact, it felt like an amalgamation of Santosh Sivan and MR. For all I know you’ll hate it 😀 but it’s worth watching a man do what he loves at least once imo.

    • le embrouille blogueur

      June 22, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      Totally agree. I can never hate any movie of MR though. And mainly because I have no expectation as a viewer to achieve an ecstasy, like that from an awesome story (read:where all is well that ends well). Can we question life the way it is? We deal with it. My 2 cents : MR makes us look at life through his eyes. His personal health went really bad and there were several disruptions during the shoot for various reasons.Even today when I sit to watch Alai Payuthey… I enjoy it like I am watching it for the first time. Or Kannathil Mutthamithal… (pardon me if the spellings are incorrect).

    • Chum's the word!

      June 22, 2010 at 8:00 pm

      “It’s been three days” … “it’s worth watching a man do what he loves” — Touches like these are why I love reading you! 😛

    • sachita

      June 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm

      “straight up retelling ” – I can speak for others as well here i think, dont think that is the case at all. In tamil land, thanks to Raavanan being considered Dravidian by the dravidian parties(who also interpret secular as anti-hindu- not complaining abt this in this particular instance!), there has been a huge debate abt raavan, exploring the grey area and on agni pareeksha itself, so the extra periphery you are talking about, hardly mattered to me as much as the central straight reversal between good and bad when the Kamban ramyanam written in 11t century or before has more grey shades than this.

      ps: also, i normally dismiss off this mani shoud direct only tamil( for one, as uneasy as it might make the hindi belt feel with some tamilness that would creep in – it will be a good start towards realizing there are other cultures in india 🙂 – this is going to go well with you, isnt?) but i am starting to think may be this movie if was only in tamil would have given Mani lot more freedom.

      And i have no complaints against casting in this picture, Ash adds to the pretty picture and makes me think the beauty also added to Veera’s craze along with the bravery.

      • Amrita

        June 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm

        Oh, I didn’t mean the story itself by “straight up retelling”. I actually expected a Raavan-positive movie as far as story went. I meant it in terms of scripting.

        His earlier movies are very tight in terms of characterization. They’re very rooted in the reality of the characters. You know the drill – “here are these extraordinary events in the lives of these middle class people. watch them have meaningful conversations and take unexpected actions!”

        In Raavan on the other hand, he seems to have chosen to convey the “epic” nature of the story by creating an alternate world of the forest. Which is why it’s so visual heavy I think. Instead of defining his characters the way he usually does, he chooses instead to presume that the viewer knows who these people are and after the obligatory opening shots to introduce us to the characters, he jumps straightaway into the Beera-Raagini track choosing to show only the new shades he’s painted in on top of well known characters/stereotypes. It’s definitely not what I expect from a Mani Ratnam movie, at least.

        I could be reading too much into this :mrgreen: At a certain point it just comes down to: I liked it.

        As for directing in Tamil – I haven’t seen the Tamil version but I plan to – I think a good director isn’t a hostage to language. There are a few awkward syntax issues but they don’t jar you the way they would in the hands of a lesser director.

        • Chum'stW

          June 23, 2010 at 8:49 pm

          You know, you could be echoing collective sentiments the way you contrast Mani’s earlier movies with Raavan (I for one love how it validates my thinking that the movie’s universe is a self-contained whole).

          To add to what you say about Mani creating an alternate world that’s the forest, it’s probably akin to the forest from Avatar even — alive and aligned with its inhabitants’ emotions. (Similar to what another reviewer said about Santosh Sivan’s redcam being an active participant in all the Beera-Raagini goings on. The anthropomorphism angle is unmistakable — notice how even Govinda points early on to a forest-dept sign that “portends” (in the manner of an oracle) of things to come?)

          And rest assured, the last I heard from the gospel of truth, there is no such thing as “I could be reading too much into this”. 😛

    • Srinivas

      June 24, 2010 at 3:18 am

      That scene(s) where A.rai is kept in the pit and food is lowered down to her…she has just changed from a nice low cut yellow churidar kameez (rather pretty one) to a very sexy tribal outfit with the blouse off one shoulder that remains that way all the while….Could there be anything more affected than that???
      The setup, performance, clothes – everything was just irritating. She really should not be allowed to act 🙂

  8. pitu

    June 22, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    I just watched Raavan and I thought it was lazy, self-indulgent filmmaking. Ratnam may be brilliant but he needs to stop using Santosh Sivan’s cinematography as a crutch. Prettiness does not a film make. Vikram as the cop/husband was gypped by being given the most one-dimensional, half-baked role and he certainly didn’t exercise a single facial muscle beyond scowling. I did think Abhishek-Ash were very good (shocking, since I like neither) and Rahman’s music was pretty meh considering his wizardry in other films. Overall a big time disappointment. I actually thought Guru was better (and I really didn’t like Guru much). Meh, just meh!

  9. dhasmana

    June 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I just saw Raavan today .A film by Mani Ratnam. I cant even think one can make such a useless and bad film now days. May be Mr. Mani Ratnam should have made this film with his eyes and mind open. A boring and disgusting film on which we wasted our money and time.

  10. Amrita

    June 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    @ Pitu – I forgive you! :mrgreen:

    @ Dhasmana – ok, boring I can understand but why is it disgusting?

  11. Chum's TW

    June 24, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Yippee yay, I got the insider’s scoop today from my Canadian colleague, on what getting “screeched” actually means: It’s to down a shot of this special type of rum from Newfoundland and then kiss the codfish on the lips and say “long may your big jib draw” (whatever that means)!

    See? When this is the kind of (subliminal) message Ms. TT McScreech has been sending Scowly C, who can blame the poor guy for pining so piteously, feeling like a fish out of water?

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