It’s interesting to see how reviews and responses to Raavan/ Raavanan are so polarized and mixed. Most people either hate it or love it. Most people have either ripped it apart or raved about it.
I don’t understand the fuss or noise over a not so bad predictable film salvaged by inspired bouts of technical finesse and some performances (except the heavily made-up Aishwarya Rai who was over the top in both with randomly pulled down off-shoulder designer blouses, screaming and overacting all through – I was not the only guy laughing at her jump from the waterfall as she does a sprinting action in slow motion during the fall).
Good to see Vikram feast on one of his best roles in recent times (though I wish he had toned it down a notch during the animated bits) but I am not sure if the actors got two different briefs from the director.
While Abhishek as Raavan was trying to make the character more likeable – he was charming and likeable but not even remotely intimidating because every time he smiled boyishly, you knew the kidnapped screamer was in very safe hands. Vikram as Raavanan was menacing and intense, and with his broad shoulders, clearly seemed like the man more suited to play the tough forest badass and his credible accent instantly made him a part of the rural landscape.
Yet, the lines seemed far powerful in Hindi – there was brevity (“Raavan or Robinhood?”), there was style, rhythm and flavour (and Abhishek does sparkle in at least two of the monologues – the Galat one and the Jalan one) and certainly more effective for the meaning intended (Sample the climax where Raavanan tells Dev hanging from the bridge how they kept the man’s Pure Gold – sokka thangam wife safe in their yechchakkai hands. It just seems to translate better in Hindi where he says Humare Haath Gandhey Hai Lekin Humne Isse Sambhalke Rakha Hai and you realise dirty hands is more effective than yechchakkai is something everyone has, not just the poor).
I was very disappointed by the writing in Tamil because that’s usually one of the best parts of a Mani Ratnam film (Dialogues here are by Suhasini) but overall, purely because of the choice of lead and choice of dubbing artiste for Aishwarya (Rohini), Raavanan seems to be a slightly better film than Raavan.
Even Prithviraj speaks better Mallu-flavoured Tamil as Dev Pratap (why not name him Devan or something more Mallu?) than Vikram as Dev Pratap Singh (kidding me? The man says Ka for Kha… Katam karoonga) speaking Hindi. I wish, that like Ram Gopal Varma, Mani Ratnam too adapted his characters to suit the ethnicity of the actors playing them especially since the accent is obvious (like Mohanlal in Company or Suriya in Rakta Charitra)…
These are amateur casting mistakes if you just think for a second if a Mani Ratnam equivalent in Hollywood would ever cast a guy with a strong Italian accent and try to pass him off as Black American? But yes, there, actors are formally trained and put through accent training and here we work with whatever we get.
But I must admit that these are minor quibbles I have and ONLY because it’s Mani Ratnam we are talking about – arguably one of the best filmmakers we have. The issues I had the film are more basic.
Raavan/Raavanan is supposed to be the enemy’s perspective and the story, as insisted the maker, is based on one of the oldest Indian epics when it actually isn’t simply because the central conflict here happens in a very different context.
Even if you were to assume that Surphanaka’s pride and honour mean the same thing, the difference here is the ambiguity/vacuity or lack of characterization of Ram’s moral standpoint on the incident (the gang-rape of the protagonist’s sister). If he supported or justified the incident, we can safely assume Ram is evil. If he pulled up the people and got justice for the victim, we can say Ram is good. If he does not even know about it and never has to make his stand clear about it during the film, he is bloody irrelevant to the film.
I am not sure if Mani Ratnam chickened out to avoid getting his hands dirty or in the interest of national security or riots (but if you are saying Ram’s men are rapists, you owe Ram a chance to say “Yes, I know and I am sorry” or “No, I didn’t know about it and I am sorry” or “I don’t care” just so that we know how good, evil or grey he is.)
I was hoping the characters were grey as publicized by the actors. But, nope. The characters are not just black and white, they are cardboard cutouts.
Dev/Ram is never shown doing anything good (feeding a man tied up water during questioning does not count as a good deed) and Beera/Veera/Raavanan is never shown doing anything remotely evil (killing rapist cops doesn’t seem like evil after you’ve insisted they gang-raped a bride on the night of her wedding)
Ram lies and kills people on the sly consistently in the film, Ragini/Sita dances then screams and then has a monologue with a statue (where she spells out through character expository dialogue how she is going through a change – ha! Who would’ve thought Mani Ratnam would stoop to this) before realising than Ram is a liar and Raavan is a good man. And Raavan on paper and as per the character expository dialogue in the first half hour of the film comes across like a multiple-personality disorder patient but Mani Ratnam is too scared to manifest this personality literally and we are left with Vikram’s manic interpretations to see some shade of darkness in him.
Call it clever or safe, we never learn if Ram really suspected his wife or if his questioning was just to lead him to his enemy. Manipulating your wife to lead him to a criminal is a cheap shot all right but certainly a notch above suspecting her fidelity but Mani Ratnam is in no mood whatsoever to give Ram a chance to explain a thing.
According to his film/s, Ram is a cheating, conniving, diabolic, trigger-happy dirty cop who leads a team of gang-rapists, not to find his wife but to kill the men who took his wife. And Raavanan is just an uncouth screaming protector of the downtrodden who dies after avenging his sister’s honour because a dumb, confused woman battling Stockholm Syndrome led an army to his hideout (which, by the way, only she could find despite being left blindfolded).
The biggest piss-off point for me was if Mani Ratnam, the most respected, celebrated of filmmakers in the country, cannot get rid of Aishwarya’s water proof make-up, who the hell can?
Despite these basic issues, there’s a lot to like in the film (like Govinda’s Hanuman or Prabhu’s Kumbhakaran), some of the stunt choreography is mind-blowingly credible (but some of it – especially during Aishwarya’s fall is lame though), the cinematography and production in extreme conditions raises the bar for film production in India and hats off to Mani Ratnam for that.
If this wasn’t a Mani Ratnam film, I may have rated it a little higher (say 6.5/10) but given that I expect nothing short of brilliance from the best we have (and I hope I never have to say that in past tense), I’m going with 5.5/10 for both versions (will probably give the Hindi version 5.4/10 if you insist on knowing which I liked better).
But yes, was with all 5/10 films, watch it with absolutely no expectations, be entertained. There’s nothing in it to hate or love intensely simply because it’s not a film worth either of these intense emotions.