Sunday, June 20, 2010


While the epic Ramayana, which the film has for its storyline but in modern settings, is a victor's account of the quest for supremacy of Aryans over Dravidians, Raavan does the magic trick of pushing the same struggle between state administration and guerrilla justice at the periphery, rather simply a context. Foremost, Raavan is the story of truth: and of truths. The absolute is in the eyes of Ragini, which make Beera transcend himself: and the moment he attains it, it is then that Ragini must face and live with the pain of that truth. And taut between this continuum of absolutes, there are the truths: in the name of dharma (duty), in the name of possession, in the name of revenge.

Raavan as a film is primarily designed for being a visual treat: but the design has not been done through any visual effects, but through the stunning nature and diversity of the Western Ghats, one of the countable few remaining ecological hotspots and treasuries in the world. The camera does not play tricks: rather, it brings out every beauty. From the creatures endemic to the Ghats, to the roaring southern rivers amid wild herbs and mists, to the drops of water, mud, turmeric, tear, sweat, fear on the protagonists' faces - the camera is in an observant mode, as the story of stoicism plays out. If Ragini had not been as pure as her cries that only come back to her in this world where man and nature share a home's warmth, if she had been more afraid of the vulture who comes near to pounce, then this could have been a mere Thomas Hardy story: where the frailties of humanity are mourned; or a modern counterpart, where they are celebrated. But, even if Beera is a dacoit steeped in blood, even if Ragini has been immune to the truths around her and yet dares to think herself as true, even if the Superintendent of Police plays with life and its denizens like a cat with mice: even then, the desire to win the water that shall sweep everything away, the battle to win a heart, the scorn for the hand to protect for it seems a master reign the field, as if nature has gained ascendance over them and imbued each of them with an own freedom, an own whim, a liberty defined by the furthest mountain, the most treacherous cascade. To which, there is no end.

The character built for Beera deserves special mention, and I also think Abhishek Bachchan has played it to a difficult perfection. It is a hero unlike any hero or anti-hero or even any character role that I've seen in any film across the world and Hollywood cinema; he is built as if to alienate audiences! Except for his staunch figure often silhouetted on the screen, he has hardly any dialogues: and when he has, they are noises, they are his irritations and his amusements and his angers venting forth in the form of some of his typical mannerisms, which do not change but keep repeating throughout the duration of the film. His smouldering eyes are probably the only indication of how alone he is within himself, of how much depth he is capable, and how quick he is to divine things. The opening half-hour of the film, and Beera throughout, also reminds a lot of Peer Gynt: there's the same lyrical drama structure, and while Peer Gynt plays around with girls and doesn't know where his happiness could have been till late, Beera plays around with blood and doesn't know where his actual death would come from - Ragini, the woman he respects and desires - till late.

Talking of the other actors, Aishwarya Rai fits in the film well; somehow, her kind of beauty and figure blend in with the story, and her eyes always seem to say as if she thinks herself superior, so they match with the character of Ragini. The remaining however, except for Priyamani, do not fit; and there lies a major weakness of the film. The greatest weakness of the film is however in its loose editing: but Ratnam lapsed with this job even with Dil Se, which I consider to be his best ever, and was probably only on the mark, to some extent, with Guru. Rahman's music is again brilliant, though most of the scores also feel to me a rehash of his old ones: in particular Beera has an echo in Dil Se. But Gulzar's lyrics light a fire unparalleled: he has probably surpassed even himself with the lyrics of Behene de.

The one aspect where Ratnam disappointed me the most was his sudden use of northern Indian motifs, in and around Jamuniya's marriage scenes. From Maharashtra to Kerala, the coverage of Western Ghats that is present in this film is in itself locating the story at too many places, because the Ghats differ a lot as one moves a few hundred kilometres; but to show houses and ceremonies in a manner which could not happen in that Indian world, and on top of that to show a highly rich and bourgeois style of marriage considering that it's a guerrilla leader's sister who's getting married, is a bit jarring and offputting to say the least. One of the marks of a good film is consistency, and I am afraid Raavan does not have it in many respects. However, if for nothing else, the film is a must-watch for the exploration of one of the most dangerous and beautiful places in the world: the Western Ghats.