While the film has the razzle dazzle of glamour and technical wizardry, the absence of a genuine story leaves the viewer disappointed, says Allen Worwood
If Mani Ratnam’s latest film, Raavanan, was capable of living up to the monumental hype that it has been at the centre of, then it would truly be an epic. Released on June 18, 2010, it is a first. In a daring and ambitious move, Ratnam has not only had the film made in Tamil, but in Hindi (as Raavan) and in Telugu. This bold thinking is ultimately seeking to maximise the potential viewing audience, but with a slightly different cast in Raavan a lot hinges on who is playing the part of Veeraiya, or in Raavan Beera Munda. It is interesting to note that Vikram plays the part of Veeraiya in Raavanan and the opposite role of Dev Pratap Sharma in Raavan, his depictions of each lead role are vital in the deliverance of the films.
In the build-up to the release, Ratnam’s latest installment has certainly been given the full works in terms of expectation. With a mega all-star cast and with the legendary A.H Rahman reverberating through your eardrums throughout the film, this has all the makings of a classic, and it has been depicted as the biggest blockbuster to hit India in recent history.
The films are based on the famous Sanskrit epic, Ramayana. It would not be an exaggeration to say that almost every one in India grew up while being told the timeless saga and this is one of the main reasons that the movie has garnered so much attention.
A Let Down
With all of that being said, it is a terrible disappointment that Raavanan simply doesn’t stand up tall in the face of such expectation. From the offset, it is clear that the script doesn’t do justice to The Ramayana, as each scene has been haphazardly mashed together, with all the action and glorified stunts failing to cover the countless fissures that are painfully evident in the storyline. Add to that the fact that the roles of the characters have all been radically changed from those in Valmiki’s masterpiece, then the films seem to reek of commercialism, and Raavanan can be seen as a lousy attempt to entice the West while staying gravitated to Indian roots. The entire production lacks subtlety, the moments of violence end up being clumsy and vulgar, with everything from the burning policeman to the climax being poorly done. There is simply too much of a difference between wannabe Hollywood and Bolly/Kollywood and I don’t think you can’t get away with that when retelling one of the oldest and most renowned stories in Indian history.
There are, however, a lot of strong points in the production. The acting for one is incredibly powerful, with Vikram (Veeraiya), Aishwarya Rai (Raagini) and Prithviraj (Dev Prakash) all more than efficient in their roles. Through their raw feeling and indomitable on-screen presence, you are able to feel what they feel; the flashbacks in particular are frighteningly strong, and you are naturally able to empathise with Veeraiya’s plight with compassion and heartache. Prithviraj gives an accomplished performance as Dev Prakash and his portrayal of a remorseless police officer is unerringly accurate and clinical, resulting in the battle between him and Veeraiya being captivating throughout.
As strong as the casting is in Raavanan, upon seeing the Hindi version, it is clear to see that there is a lot of difference in how the roles are orchestrated. The quality is still good but the dynamics and the interaction between the main characters definitely contrast with Raavanan, which I believe is for the worst.
Undoubtedly Ratnam’s decision to cast Vikram as Veeraiya in Raavanan and Dev Pratap Sharma in Raavan is a risky choice. The roles are polar opposites, Veeraiya being almost animalistic, as he is supposed to replicate the demon Ravana in the Sanskrit tale. This seems to suit Vikram, his muscular, bullish presence seemingly made for the role, and he plays Veeraiya easily, with natural effortlessness. When he has to tackle ‘Dev Pratap Sharma’ in Raavan however, he simply doesn’t suit the role; the characteristics required are not in his comfort zone, and this is patently obvious every time you see him on-screen. Having Vikram as Dev Pratap Sharma also affects the relationships between the other characters in Raavanan. His and Aishwarya Rai’s marriage lacks authenticity and compassion, while Abhishek Bachchan’s crack at taking on the hero Beera Munda just seems to be a tad tame, in light of Vikram’s showing in Raavanan. Their subsequent duel in Raavan seems to be much weaker than that of Raavanan.
The areas that Raavanan undoubtedly excels in have to be the aesthetic and musical aspects. The settings in the film are staggering: from the forests of Karnataka to Kerala and Ooty, the sights in each scene are wondrous, mountains, waterfalls and the intimidating jungle all setting you up for an exciting ride. Ratnam is able to show the beauty of India, the scenery being breathtaking from start to finish, giving the story the ideal foundations with which to explode from, adding that vital ingredient to any film, drama, and a sense of importance.
A.R. Rahman once again delivers a mesmerising, heart pounding, incredibly moving soundtrack, the title song ‘Veera’ is pure musical gold. Each song is able to merge with the scenes fluently, adding to the suspense and tension.
All things considered, the Ramayana remake is definitely an attractive proposition for the mainstream, evidenced by its huge takings in barely a week after being released. The monumental efforts of the modern film industry result in some amazing visuals and exciting, no-holds barred scenes, but, if you are looking for a genuine story, for a realistic screen play, you will be left sorely unsatisfied.