With such an impressive record to back him up, I began viewing ‘Raavan’ hoping that despite his mixed track record with making Hindi films he would still pull out a masterful trick from his seasoned hat. Alas, I was woefully wrong.
What doesn’t work for ‘Raavan’ is the nonsensical title. Considering the posters are plastered with faces of Abhishek Bachchan as ‘Raavan’, it takes no imagination to connect the rest of the dots in this mixed tale of the painfully obvious. Every kid in India is taught the story of the epic Ramayana before being potty trained so to attempt such an old wives’ tale in itself highlights Mani’s lack of a clear vision with this movie. And so, not surprisingly, we have almost everyone labeling it, rather crudely, as the ‘modern Ramayana’. What makes it worse is Mani’s pathetic attempts at playing to the galleries by smearing the story with laughable mentions to characters from the epic. Govinda jumping from one tree to another. Hmm. I wonder who he is! Priyamani is dragged by the nose to the police station by the hero’s junior police official. Wow – who could she (and he!) be playing! Villain’s brother comes to hero’s den to offer an olive branch. You see where I am going with this. It is in such cliché that Mani suddenly seems like just another director going through a bizarre mid-life crisis. A crisis so intense, that he doesn’t even attempt to make the proceedings a tad more original. Utterly and absolutely shameful.
What makes ‘Raavan’ more painful to watch are the performances. It was as if each character was given a collection of 1-3 expressions and told to keep repeating it throughout the movie. Vikram (yes, as Rama) has one standard scowl from frame 1 to n. Aishwarya’s only job is to stare with reddened eyes and scream like an animal when needed. And Abhishek? He is given the same license to ham as Shah Rukh was given in ‘Raam Jaane’. He seems more like a person with a serious anger management issue and a psychological disorder rather than a nemesis who has the wit and the gut to challenge the hero with something more creative than kidnapping his wife. Mani sir – come on! ‘Raavan’, thanks to such self indulgent caricatures and a lousy storyline successfully converts a brilliant pool of opportunities into a messy pit of over hyped mediocrity. Tragic.
There is enough mention about the brilliant cinematography which, I must admit, is possibly the only high point of the movie although I cant say I saw anything that made me hold my breathe. Music? Let’s just say Rahman shouldn’t have received an Oscar for what is arguably a very ordinary song at best. It seems like he has let that success, while earnestly pretending to still be the ‘musician next door’, go not only to his head but also to his ears. Nothing else can explain the noise and shrieks in an alien tongue he decided to call music for this overwhelmingly boring feature. Maybe its time Mani sir goes back to working with the true maestro Illayaraja and dumps this over marketed boy wonder who seems to be losing his exaggerated finesse rapidly.
I remember reading a comment somewhere on one of the forums that a more practical movie on highlighting the true shades of a stereotyped villain would be to portray Gandhi as a crafty Gujarati lawyer working as an agent for the British while a true patriot, Ghodse, takes on the entire country to fight a cause he is convinced is the truth. I, for one, would certainly pay to see that movie. It is indeed a shame that Mani could not see such blatantly obvious rationale before manufacturing this dish called ‘Raavan’ that eventually reached our ill-fated noses and eyes. But as Mani has always said through his movies – it is all about hope. Hope in humanity and more importantly, hope with oneself. And in that same spirit, here’s hoping that we get back the real Mani Ratnam with his next venture.
Go on, Mani Ratnam sir. We eagerly await yet again.