Film Review: Raavan

Directed by: Mani Ratnam

Starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram, Priyamani, and  Govinda

It is always a strange feeling when you see Bollywood stars in real life. In London, sometimes it catches you at the most unexpected times – I remember popping into Starbucks for a post exercise drink and seeing Shahrukh Khan in the queue (the phrase my jaw dropped is an understatement of sorts – Shahrukh – queuing – OMG). Or walking down Oxford Street past Karan Johar, Manish Malhotra and Sunil Shetty (not all together and for the record, I ran up and accosted a terrified Karan and Manish, with Karan being polite and Manish running away, though I ran away from Sunil!) It is just as surreal when a premiere is in town. Having caught a glimpse of Hrithik Roshan at the European Kites premiere last month, when I heard the world premiere for Raavan was going to be right next to my workplace, I knew I had to be there to see the stars for myself.

On the morning of the premiere, on my way to work, I stopped to watch the posters and banners go up and the tech guys wiring up the outside of the BFI  for the evening. This distraction not only meant I was late for work but I was unable to concentrate on anything knowing all this activity was happening close by  and lunchtime was spent walking round the BFI watching more preparations being made. Finally leaving the office slightly early, the venue was packed out but luckily I managed to get a  decent spot – and the wait began for the arrivals. So whilst I leave you with the image of me waiting for the stars to arrive, let’s fast forward a bit to Friday when I saw Raavan at the first day, first show of the day….

Raavan centres on Beera (Abhishek), an outlaw Robin Hood figure who kidnaps Ragini (Aishwarya), the wife of police officer Dev (Vikram). As Dev searches for Ragini with the help of Sanjeevani (Govinda), the forest warden, Ragini is at Beera’s mercy. But as time goes on, all is not what it seems and Ragini learns Beera is not quite the raavan figure he is purported to be…

Raavan is an ambitious film with strong characterisation at the centre of it all. The film has a very earthy feel, taking us into the world of the jungle and harsh rocky terrains, where a different kind of law prevails. I don’t remember seeing so much water used in a film since er, Water and Waterworld but I have to say, Raavan does make the best of its beautiful setting, with some beautiful cinematography and sequences. Note the underwater shots to show menace in Ragini’s kidnap scene or the way water provides a perfect setting for into the song Thok De Killi.

At times, the film forges ahead with a raw and intense energy that is compelling to watch but at times, it seems Ratnam is unsure of how to harness that energy –  something that sometimes works in the film’s favour – one gets the sense that the actors really had the chance to get their teeth into their characters and explore the darker side of their psyches. I liked the way Abhishek was shown as having a multiple personality and the way the characters had inner monologue that was totally opposed to their actions on the outside. I did wish that the film had been paced more evenly as I felt after the intermission, the film took a while to get started again and I wasn’t too keen on the subplot with Beera’s sister even though this was brilliantly enacted by Priyamani.

Mani Ratnam has said that Raavan is a modern take on  The Ramayana and this is perhaps its strongest point as it presents an alternative view of the well know epic – good and evil are not polar opposites but different stages on the same spectrum which The Ramayana hints at but never explicitly states. I loved the idea of making Dev  (the Lord Rama figure) egotistical and cocky and showing that he is not necessarily the moral guardian he attests to be in his actions, especially when he rejects the offer of peace from Beera’s brother and uses Ragini as bait at the end. Similarly, making Beera (the Raavan figure) a Robin Hood style character and as someone who is avenging his sister makes for an interesting point, and raises the question of who the real “raavan” is in the story. I thought Ragini was well written as a modern day Sita who fends off Beera’s advances and then is forced to prove herself to her husband. Also, her sympathy and affection for Beera also makes Ragini more real and relevant which is key to the story of the film and vital in making a successful interpretation of other source material.

I also have to comment on the music for the film which scored by A.R. Rehman is naturally brilliant.It says something when I was waiting for the stars to arrive at the premiere that the soundtrack was played on loop, and didn’t annoy me and still sounds good. Whether it is Rekha Bhardwaj in the sublime Ranjha Ranjha, or the Beera track or Thok De Killi, the music is superb and combined with Mani Ratnam’s aesthetics, makes for a heady combination that will be remembered for a long time. I also loved the costume design by Sabayaschi which was so subtle but so covetable at the same time; note Aishwarya’s simple saris which have a patchwork design made up of some gorgeous linens, prints and colours, as well as the nehru collar top and pajama worn in her flashback song. I also loved Abhishek’s nehru waistcoat and black short sleeve kurta which really was in synch with the character. I liked how Vikram is styled totally differently, almost like Keanu Reeves in Speed with tight t-shirts, jeans, utility trousers and trusty Ray Bans.

In terms of performances, everyone brings their best to the table and it shows. Abhishek is very good as Beera, creating a character that is quite fearsome and deranged but at the same time, quite human and complex. There are shades of Heath Ledger’s Joker in the role but on the whole, Abhishek makes the role his own and I really couldn’t see anyone else playing this role with as much conviction. The combination of Mani Ratnam and Abhishek is a very good one as Ratnam seems to push Abhishek further and really tap into his potential, especially when playing grey characters. Vikram is very good as Dev, brooding and simmering away with a quiet intensity. He is the perfect foil to Abhishek’s Beera and pitches the role just right, never overacting and sharing a good chemistry with all the cast. Priyamani gives an excellent account of herself as Beera’s sister in the flashback sequence whilst Nikhil Diwedi is good as Lakshman too, providing competent support to Vikram. I wasn’t too sure of what to make of Govinda, his performance went between comedy and sinister and his rapid dialogue delivery did not sit easily with the rest of the film. Still, it is good to see him taking a risk with the role and is leagues above some of the mindless comedies he has done in recent times.

For me, my favourite performance of the film was  Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s. Whether it is her spirited fight against Beera’s mind games, her determination to keep her fate in her hands, or her simple doe eyed expressions to the camera,  Aishwarya makes Ragini a feisty modern day Sita who has a mind of her own and is not afraid to take risks. The role is incredibly physical and one can only wonder how much effort it must have taken to shoot some of the sequences a few times, once for the Hindi version, then for the Tamil version. Ragini is the real hero of the film and Aishwarya drives the film forward with her strong performance without overshadowing her co-stars. Whether it is with real life hubby Abhishek or with Vikram, or even in her scene with Govinda, Aishwarya brings Ragini’s fragile yet brave persona to life.

I have to admit, after watching Raavan, i didn’t have an immediate reaction to the film (in that I loved it or hated it) but it did get me thinking a lot and after sleeping on it, I think Raavan is a good film which deserves to do well. I think the film is very rich in detail and this can be a bit difficult to digest initially but once processed and stored, Raavan is a very intelligent film and executes its concept confidently and for the most part, coherently. I would definitely recommend this to Aishwarya and Abhishek fans but even to others, there is a decent film to see here.

And now, it’s back to the red carpet, where having secured a decent viewing spot, I was lucky enough to see Aishwarya and Abhishek close up as well as Vikram and Mani Ratnam. And if that wasn’t special enough Shahrukh Khan also turned up to the premiere which sent excitement levels to an all time high (there was no roof as we were outdoors) which almost reached spiritual levels when Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan arrived moments after. It all  felt very surreal and as I walked past the BFI to work the next day, the posters had beem taken down, and the red carpet had been removed, I did wonder if I had imagined the whole thing…anyway, I digress; Raavan in one word – recommended.

BTW: If you’d like to see some of the pics I took at the premiere, check out the link below!

3 thoughts on “Film Review: Raavan

  1. great write up = am excited to see raavan for myself on Monday! I wanna see raavana too but have to wait for the dvd of that – I heard Vikram does an amazing job in the ‘villain’ role.


    1. Hi Ness,

      Many thanks, can’t wait to hear what you think of it! Agree, I am going to wait for the Tamil version on DVD too but in general, Mani Ratnam’s Tamil films are amazing!


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