Sunday, June 20, 2010

Raavan : A movie review

Ever since Subhash Ghai’s ‘Khalnayak’, there has been much said about the villain in a story. Notwithstanding the painfully obvious hint in such titles of apparent glorification of the stereotypical ‘villain’ of a tale just waiting to be exaggerated, there are, I have always believed, more creative ways to narrate a story which mixes up the definitions of a hero and his nemesis. Ways so beautifully meshed with the complicated lives of simple humans, that the glow in which they glisten is always a grand tribute to their creator – the director. Such a genius he has been, this down to earth South Indian man called Mani Ratnam. Hidden in his unassuming mannerisms and genuine smiles was this awe inspiring vein of realism that consistently struck a chord with us lesser mortals. Be it in the poetic renditions of Iruvar where friendship and love are held as beautiful hostages in a cage of brilliant screenplay. Be it in the looming silences of Nayagan where a self declared Godfather’s eyes moisten at hearing his estranged grandchild’s voice for the first time. Or be it in the innocence of a little girl’s subtle yet helpless rage on being reunited with her long lost, now militia, mother in Kannathil Muthamittal. Yes – Mani’s genius was never in the mindless cacophony that has ruled the roost in Indian cinema. His craft was in using his keen eye for detail and pecking out those few but memorable moments where life’s complexities get refreshingly redefined each time.

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.





20 reflections:

smitha's said...

Oh no...i had lot of hopes on Raavan,
Thanks for the caution Shashi..
-Smitha

ShaK said...

@Smitha

Yep. Although I cant say I was totally surprised by the outcome given what I'd seen in the trailers.

Thanks for the comment. :)

Cheers,

SK

Nishanth Gaddam said...

Well written review ! my 2 cents

The way he has taken the inspiration from Ramayana is awesome. The way he connects govinda and priyamani in the movie are good to watch. I dont understand why you take cinematography and taking of the movie away from director. Cinematographer shows what director has visualized. Though there are few glitches in the movie, i felt i watched good movie at the end.

ShaK said...

@Nishanth

Thank you for the words, Nishanth.

Let me agree with you on the point you made about cinematography. I did not say I did not like it. In fact I mentioned it was a high point in the movie and certainly was possible only due to Mani's efforts. There are no 2 ways about it.

What I do feel we might disagree upon is the way the connections you mentioned were created to reflect direct references to the epic. According to me if a retelling of an epic is taking place then it happens in 2 ways - 1. Stick to the original and make a movie that follows it without mincing words. Like a textbook. And 2. Make a movie that pulls out the values that the epic talks about and redefine it in a way that is relatable with today's India - heck, today's world in fact. This is where, I felt, Mani's work left a lot to be desired. This product made no attempts to make the narration engaging, unpredictable and palpable to the viewer. Something, I am sure we agree, is Mani's signature effect.

I am certainly glad you enjoyed the movie and thanks again for the words.

Cheers,

SK

archu_bhag said...

review is gud as usual shakri :)...mani is known for good casting and acting naturally..but abhi's and ash's acting is annoying throughout the movie..

Sreekanth Challam said...

But this is not the first time Maniratnam did this kind of blatant copying old puranas. Dalapathi (except fro some great performances and even greater music) is exact copy of Karna from Maha Bharata. I was very disappointed then and not that disappinted now as I didn't expect anything more. .. hmm let me correct myself here, I did expect great performances from Vikram and Prithvi, obviously not from ABJr and Aish. Mani sir has to first look for alternative talent than AB housememebers and work with a new-age writers for some novel story lines. Also, start looking for a next ARR.,

Sreekanth Challam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ShaK said...

@Archu

I guess a lot of the blame also goes to the screenplay. All said and done an actor can never (ideally!) get away with BS unless the director allows it and/or the screenplay demands it. Both of each, as we realize, is counter productive. My suspicion is the same happened here as well. I also know Mani was ill for a long time during the shoot - so maybe that affected his creative process further?

Thanks for the words. :)Nice talking 2 u after a long time!

Cheers,

SK

Maharana Ganesh said...

What made me disappointed is that, I felt, with the betterment of some scenes and some parts, the same movie could have been a far better creation. And how could a genius like Mani Ratnam miss on that?!

Bad acting barring 'Priyamani' made the movie even more awful. Unfortunately only cinematography and music can't save a movie. Yes, I am not quite disappointed by A R Rehman.. who gave two more ever-green songs "Ranjha Ranjha" and "Bahne De"..

ShaK said...

@Sreekanth Challam

Agreed. There is so much beauty being dished out at film school level scripts that its almost appalling what the main stream film makers are creating these days. The veterans need to tap into unexplored talents and I am convinced we can definitely produce much better world class cinema that showcases India in a more realistic light. Saw a short film recently by an FTII diploma films called "When this man dies" as part of the Lensight collection. It was brilliant! I'd definitely recommend it.

Thanks for the words.

Cheers,

SK

ShaK said...

@Ganesh

Nice to see you here mate! Well, as far as I could tell none of the songs were memorable enough to be listed among ARR's finer pieces. I am glad you found some worth in them but as you rightly said, there was so much focus given on how the movie should 'look' that it seeped, rather viciously, into the spine of what Ratnam is most famous for - a water proof narrative. Ironically, given the abundance of water in the movie we can safely assume it was anything but water proof. :)

Thanks for the words!

Cheers,

SK

Ismail said...

Hey good review except few points about AR Rahman. you cant succede unless you do experiments. Behen De and Ranja Ranjha is very good and catchy.

I am not sure Illayaraja should have done anything better..He lost when he was not trying to do experiments with the music. Remmember Geetanjali,Mouna Ragam etc good for certain time. U need to catch up with the changes..


Actually we need some one like "nana Patekar " style acting guy to be as Beera. (BUT NOT NANA PATEKAR him self, his looks r not good for the role)..

but seriously u take u r profession as writing , u have a good future. best of luck mate..

Ismail said...

Hey good review except few points about AR Rahman. you cant succede unless you do experiments. Behen De and Ranja Ranjha is very good and catchy.

I am not sure Illayaraja should have done anything better..He lost when he was not trying to do experiments with the music. Remmember Geetanjali,Mouna Ragam etc good for certain time. U need to catch up with the changes..


Actually we need some one like "nana Patekar " style acting guy to be as Beera. (BUT NOT NANA PATEKAR him self, his looks r not good for the role)..

but seriously u take u r profession as writing , u have a good future. best of luck mate..

ShaK said...

@Ismail

Evidently you found things in the movie you did appreciate. And that is certainly good to know. But I wouldnt necessarily put the songs you mentioned in a list that ARR is known for. We hum songs from Roja even today but I doubt we'd do the same for Raavan's songs 10 months from now - let alone 10 years. A song's quality relies heavily on its lifespan.

Bad casting was definitely a factor. But I feel with a stricter screenplay/directorial whip at play Abhishek could have done more justice to the role. I am reminded of his role in Yuva which, all aspects considered, wasn't all bad.

Thank you for the words. Much appreciated, mate.

Cheers,

SK

thyaagraj said...

nice yaar! can v get aby baby 2 read this review? LOLOL!!!1!

Ismail said...

Hey it's me again..Any chance u will be doing Vedam review?

Cheers,

Nag said...

I am seeing so many people are saying Raavan is not at all good. But I have seen the movie. Its not that bad. Screen play was not good. But cinematography and taking is top class. I can say i never this kind of work in any other indian films(of course its my opinion). I just want to say one thing, while reviewing we just need to review all the things about the movie, not just bad things.

sunil said...

Although i havent watched the hindi version, i thought Vikram did a gr8 job of it considering the weak content. Theres no doubt that mani is losin it.We can attribute it to his urge to cater to pan india audience which is not his apt target segment.

disagree with you on rahman, just listen to behne de , ranjha, khilli re they are awesome songs with unique experimentation.Yeah agree that the songs didnt quite fit in to the narrative.....but the music n bgm were awesome. abt hearing these songs after 10 years , all of rahmans songs hv that criticism whn they release that they wont survive time........its just that you need to give it a listen.....

ShaK said...

@Nag

With all due respect, friend, the technical aspect of a movie is by no means something that takes a back seat in the movie's eventual success. I agree with you that a film needs to have the right aesthetic look and feel as the storyline demands. This brings me to, and I quote, what you said 'Screen play was not good', and that's pretty much sums it all up for me. You will notice that I did not deny the fact that the cinematography was certainly a highlight but I also added it wasn't something that blew me away. Do check out the Telugu movie Magadheera or even Kannada's Gaalipata and you will see some spectacular shots seen quite possibly for the first time in Indian cinema. My point, to summarize, is that if the screenplay isn't competent, then all the eye candy will soon fade out. We dont remember Roja or Nayagan for its visual appeal (which, I must say, was certainly beautiful) but because of its storyline and narrative. That is where Raavan fails miserably.

Thank you for the words.

Cheers,

SK

ShaK said...

@Sunil

You raise a good point here Sunil. ARR's pieces definitely grow on you with time. I remember initially listening to a few songs from 'Delhi 6' and feeling they were strictly OK. But a few weeks later I found myself humming them without my own knowledge! So yes - ARR has that uncanny ability to impress upon the listening audience his unique flair. Nevertheless, I still feel using a couple of catchy songs as the rationale to keep his demi-God status consistent might be a tad hasty on our part. Nothing would make me happier if I am proven wrong with this since I am/have been a admirer of ARR too and have enjoyed many of his works including 'Jodha Akbar' et al. But I still feel his patterns have gotten repetitive especially with using Spanish, French or whatever other languages he chooses to use randomly all in the name of 'globalising' Indian music. A concept I simply cannot comprehend.

Thank you for your response. I appreciate it.

Cheers,

SK

 
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