Review: Raavan

HEADS OVER HEELS

Raavan falls for Sita (and vice versa) in an intriguingly idiosyncratic take on the Ramayana – if you can get past the lead performances, that is.

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JUN 20, 2010 – WHEN I HEARD THAT MANI RATNAM WAS SHOOTING an antagonist-centric update of the Ramayana, titled Raavan, in the darkest hearts of distant jungles, I wondered if the attempt was to delineate the villain through his surroundings, like how the untamed moors are a manifestation of Heathcliff’s uncivilised inner life. As it turns out, it’s more an excuse to allow the cinematographers to run riot. No one, really, walks into a Mani Ratnam movie expecting a mumblecore aesthetic, but even by his skyscraping standards, Raavan is a spectacle – perhaps too much so.

We could have used more shots like the one in the Kata kata song sequence that contrasts the swirling colours of wedding revelry at an upper level with the khaki of swarming policemen below. The image is held for a mere instant and yet manages to hint at imminent dread – it’s simultaneously pretty and pragmatic. But take this other shot, of Ragini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), who’s been kidnapped by Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) and who screams for help from the edge of a lake whose shore is littered with gleaming shards of black rock. Instead of responding to her distress, you’re wondering how a similar tile-design would look in your living room. The image is so shabby-chic, it looks like the jungle as imagined by an interior decorator.

If there’s a movie that Mani Ratnam could have gone mumblecore with, it’s this one, a psychologically driven art film dressed up as glitzy, plot-motivated commercial cinema, with fussed-over Sabyasachi costumes on a heroine who’s never allowed to look anything less than breathtaking. Even her bruises are beautiful. It takes real effort to pull your eyes away from the sparkling surface and peer deep into the narrative, which reimagines the Ramayana in an intriguingly idiosyncratic fashion.

At first, you wonder what more can be done with this musty epic. There have been metaphorical extrapolations like Lajja, which dealt with multiple Sita figures strewn throughout the journey of a repressed Sita-figure rediscovering herself. Then there are the more literal adaptations like Neelkamal and Khalnayak. In the former, a chaste wife is suspected of infidelity, chased away while pregnant, and forced to take refuge at the feet of a holy man until the helpful Hanuman played by Mehmood engineers a deliverance. And Khalnayak had monkeys surrounding the hero and villain locked in mid-fight, along with a proto-feminist Sita who went after Raavan in order to nab him for her Ram. Pinjar, too, dealt with the gradual easing of anxieties between a hapless victim and her abductor, a Raavan who wasn’t a mythological moustache-twirler so much as a life-sized human being whose only blemish was being painted in grey shades.

So when we enter Raavan, it’s with the question whether Ratnam is going to do, again, what worked so winningly in Thalapathi, where he retold the Mahabharata without actually reimagining it. It was a straightforward interpretation situated in the modern day. Raavan, too, has its share of parallels with its source material – an exile based on the number fourteen, the villain’s sister being hauled up by the nose, a bridge connecting protagonist and antagonist, the lovable sidekick-monkey (cheerfully played by Govinda, and named Sanjeevini Kumar) who even rattles off couplets styled like the Chaleesa. And once again, Ram (a scowling Vikram, who doubtless had more opportunity to flex his acting chops in the Tamil version, as Raavanan) casts unjustified and uncharitable doubt on Sita-Ragini’s chastity, when she’s attired in virgin-white, no less.

But this Ram – named Dev (like the deity that he is), and employed as an SP (like the upholder of dharma that he is) – isn’t beyond torturing an armless man to extract information about his abducted wife’s whereabouts, or shooting a messenger of peace in the back after guaranteeing non-violent negotiations. No wonder the latter scene plays out in the dark of night, as befits the deeds of demons, witnessed only by a mute moon. Beera, on the other hand, is introduced with the sun shining over him, and even when he kidnaps Ragini, it’s in broad daylight (as opposed to the skulking maneuvers of a villain). The fight on the bridge may have these adversaries in their mythical colours – Ram in white, Raavan in black – but the narrative doesn’t paint them so conveniently.

Like Ram Gopal Varma did with his Sarkar films – trusting that we know the overall arc of the Godfather saga and therefore do not need to be shepherded through minutely detailed plot points – Ratnam abandons a linear this-happened-then-that-happened story in favour of flavourful highlights that simultaneously replay and reinterpret what we already know. How does Dev, in his quest to annihilate Beera, sniff out the location of the wedding of Beera’s sister (Priyamani)? Or how does Sanjeevini wend his way to Ragini in the midst of her armed captors? These are questions that need no answers. Ratnam knows that we know the answers in our heads, and this liberates him to pursue a level of narrative abstraction we haven’t witnessed since the first half of Dil Se.

Because of this approach, the outside-world issues that usually gnaw at us in this director’s films – like the political environment of the town of Laal Maati (Red Earth) – cease to matter. Ragini wonders if Beera is Raavan or Robin Hood, and that’s all we need to know, that this villain is for the exploited and against the establishment. (He is, in short, another Nayakan.) There’s little use pondering if the redness of this earth is an indication of Beera’s communist-Maoist leanings, because the story unfolds at an abstract-mythic level. The more urgent subtext is that of the moral victory of the uncivilised over the civilised. The educated Dev is more savage than the unlettered jungle dwellers – even Sanjeevini, with his halting English, seeks a peaceful resolution to the conflict, while Dev prefers to let his gun do the macho talking.

Ratnam hasn’t completely broken away from the homey style we’ve come to associate with him. An interlude with Beera, his sister and her fiancé is a typically endearing example of fleeting characters being established with colourful brushstrokes and too-quippy dialogue. And there are several moments so loaded with pointed detail that they reveal themselves only upon looking back – the rape victim who refuses to uncross her legs even after she reaches home, the poetic justice of a tragedy in water being avenged by an abduction in water, a bird’s eye view of Ragini turning out to be a literal bird’s eye view (and Ragini being associated, later on, with this bird; “chidiya ki tarah phadphada rahi hai”), or the whisper of a kinky sex life in the case of Dev and Ragini, whose bedroom is walled with mirrors.

Further familiarity comes from the invocations of images from earlier Mani Ratnam movies – the rains, the mirrors, the cigarette-smoking hero, the gargantuan statue in the wilderness (from Kannathil Muthamittal), the man slinging along huge fish (Aayitha Ezhuthu), the song sequence of boisterous revelers in the rain (Nayakan), the trauma of rape leading to terrorism (Dil Se), the camera swooping madly around a triangular formation of characters (from Thiruda Thiruda; what are the bets that the Jimmy Jib operator ended up with a six-pack after the Raavan shoot?), the song sequence featuring a spouse in an abandoned cottage dreaming of a loved one who dances with children (from Roja), and indeed, the plot of Roja itself, only gender-reversed this time around, the husband setting out in search of the kidnapped wife.

But these totemic images apart, Ratnam, in Raavan, doesn’t set out to pleasure his audience in ways we expect him to. There are, naturally for a story of this nature, the de rigueur masala moments, like the whistle-worthy scene where Dev burns holes in a newspaper image of Beera and his merry men – but the other must-haves of commercial cinema are glossed over. Ratnam stages AR Rahman’s songs as if they were perfunctory pit stops along the way, and were it not for commercial-film considerations, these speed-breaker music videos could have been dispensed with altogether. Ratnam is not terribly interested in genre thrills either. The action sequences are equally perfunctory, a hazy clutch of hyper-edited movement that registers at a corner of the eye.

Even the drama is free of detonations. You expect the abduction to be a frantic set piece, and instead, it’s a serene image of boats colliding on a lake. You expect Dev to come home and find his wife missing and go crazy with worry, and instead he receives the news over a walkie-talkie and signs out grimly, betraying not a flicker of emotion. (In fact, were it not for the snappy happier-times flashback, with those kinky mirrors, we might have wondered about the kind of marriage that Dev and Ragini had, and the stunning climax hints at more domestic trouble.) Even Hanuman’s withdrawal from Lanka (namely, Laal Maati) isn’t through a flaming circus act but a lengthy stretch of grown-up conversation.

The most interesting aspect of the narrative, however, is the way it holds back information in favour of later-on revelations that reshape our earlier experience. When we first see Beera, he has a plaster on his throat, but only later do we realise that this wound is a marker of how recent a tragedy was, a fact never spelled out in words. When a gold watch is given to someone, or when his hand is subsequently chopped off, or when a policeman is tonsured and tortured, we are outraged on their behalf, until later events inform us that they may well have deserved their fates. With commercial cinema, the expected style of narration is to establish a tragedy first, get the audience to empathise, and then punish the wrongdoers so that we can rejoice in their being brought to well-deserved justice. But here, our emotions are constantly confounded. Heroes turn villains at the bat of an eyelid, while villains display stoic reserves of heroism.

The equally unexpected love triangle is set up in one deft visual. Dev holds out a photograph of Ragini to tribals, asking if they’ve seen her. And slowly, he slides out a photograph of Beera that was hidden behind Ragini’s. Beera, now, has literally come between Dev and Ragini, and his thawing towards his victim is amongst the most extraordinary passages of Raavan. Ranjha ranjha echoes in the background – not the sprightly love song from the soundtrack album, but a lovelorn dirge that sounds as if rendered by a meth-addict whose fix has just kicked in. Over the refrain Jal jaa jal jaa ishq mein jal jaa, Beera is inflamed by Ragini’s attempts to escape – at one point, his hands hover over her breasts until sense prevails.

And she responds too, for in the next scene, she’s attired like one of them. She asks to be set free, but her request, now, is a statement, not the scream from before. Even she seems unconvinced. That’s why Ragini seeks reassurance that Dev still loves her, that the mere idea of him is still worth hanging on to in the presence of this new attraction in her life. When Beera says that he saw a picture in Dev’s tent, she looks at him expectantly, and her face falls when he says it was his picture. (The line, however, is hilarious: “Raja ke tambu mein rakshas ka photo.”) And later, when Sanjeevini appears just as she’s discovered that her husband may have contributed to her plight, she reacts not with happiness but hesitation. “Woh khud kyon nahin aaye?” she asks Sanjeevini. That’s what she wants to know first, why Dev did not come to claim her.

It’s tempting to think what a better actress, one less prone to dainty posturing, might have accomplished with this character, but Aishwarya, to her credit, at least, doesn’t frustrate you to the extent that her real-life husband does. The most baffling aspect of Raavan is Abhishek Bachchan’s embodiment of the eponymous villain. He has a superb scene where, after letting Ragini go in a fit of weakness, he imagines her in his clutches again and shoots at her, just to prove to himself that he’s still got his edge. He’s as still as death, his face a stony mask. The effect is chilling.

But elsewhere? Imagine Toshiri Mifune in a Noh-styled Kurosawa drama imbued with the gesticulations of a silent-film scoundrel, and hissing like a rattlesnake making furious love to a tambourine – and you have the general idea. (Bachchan’s scenes are often shot with a jittery camera, possibly to highlight how unhinged he is, but this only accentuates how off-putting the performance is.) If the attempt was to be crowd-pleasing in the mythical (or even masala) sense while staying true to character, he might have looked closer at costar Ravi Kishan, who plays Beera’s loyal brother. The latter, with half the effort, achieves twice the effect.

Star Ratings

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157 thoughts on “Review: Raavan

  1. Shock! Surprise! Brangan disses a bachcha(n) performance. Unbelievable. But true.
    Perhaps, the much maligned regional cinema – incl bhojpuri – are better breeding ground for actors. Perhaps all the hyppe over bolly minor stars is finally showing itself for what it is – whew they are askd to do beyond the south mumbai dude. Let’s not fool ourselves that akshay saif or devgan would have done better as many bolly apologists seem to be consoling themselves while dissing abhishek’s performance.

    This blog must now be titled in which brangan is rescued from the spell or bollywood

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  2. Mani Ratnam is an overrated director. His films have been mediocre since Iruvar. He has been churning out one boring film after another, and to get all the media hype, he casts stars or star kids.

    Raavan is really comedy film, untentionally. Why lie detector test for Sita? Technology has advanced so much. He would have asked for narcoanalysis test and brain mapping because that is more accurate. Aish provided a good catching practice for Abhishek, falling down from trees and other things every 10 minutes. Anyway, there is no use in dissecting this crap of a film because he will go on to make another boring film and casts a start (of course from Bachan family) to get all the hype.

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  3. Wow :) You are the lone critic who looked beyond the lead performances and praised the film!! Even Nikhat Kazmi who liberally praises every film was guarded.

    I had thought that Mani Ratnam delivered a dud after reading one negative review after another. Now I must see this. But I will probably catch the Tamil version as it is supposed to be far better than the Hindi one, mostly due to Vikram

    I wonder why Mani Ratnam casts Abhishek and Aishwarya. Maybe for commercial reasons. But it makes for poor cinema :(

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  4. I think it is going to be mighty hard for the rest of us to look past the leading man and the woman. Somehow I think the presence of “stars” has taken away the opportunity to see meaningful cinema from Mani Ratnam in recent years. Box office considerations surely, but it does drive one crazy!

    Looking forward for your take (even if it is only on the blog) on Raavanan. And perhaps a compare and contrast of the leading men? :)

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  5. Baradwaj, Fantastic review! I was terribly disappointed when I walked out of the movie hall yesterday, but this review makes me see the movie in a completely different light. Anyway, why the hell did Mani Ratnam do this – how did he let Abhishek Bachchan ham and destroy the film completely. In my opinion AB ruined it, despite being the central character you do not feel anything for him. As you rightly said, Ravi Kishan was very impressive. Maybe Mani should have made a Bhojpuri film with Ravi Kishan as Raavan. Again songs were completely unnecessary, why did he picturise the songs (that too without any interest). I hope the Tamil version is better. Had high expectations after Guru, but a big letdown. Don’t know whether Mani will make another Hindi film after this, but I hope he does. Sodhapitiyae Mani!

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  6. Huh?
    During Raavanan all I could think of is whatttay boring movie. A movie really fails when you are not angry, or thrilled but bored and are looking at the dude in the row ahead marveling at how fast he’s munching the popcorn. And this was one such movie.

    Did the Hindi movie too have the Karthik character suddenly doing a Crouching Tiger sorta swinging from trees to beat it into our heads that this is Hanuman? Did it have all actors, except Vikram, looking quite uncomfortable, spouting strange dialogues?( Which made me later look at the credits and beg Ms. Suhasini to snap her quill. In fact, in the end Prabhu actually says “Nee inge varapdadu” — rebels in the jungle got a kutti training session in brahmana bhaashay. Now that would make interesting filming.)

    I could go on, but it means reliving it all over again. You thought of kinky sex seeing that mirrored bedroom. I thought where’s the chemistry dammit. That love story etched with few strokes which made epics out of movies such as Alaipaayude was missing.

    Yes, the movie seemed like a perfectly arranged feast. Except someone forgot the salt. And when that’s Mani Ratnam, some part of you wails just before the lights go on.

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  7. I believe Vikram with his more mature-physical acting might have fit the bill for the tamizh version…But i believe, its mani to blame that the effect of ‘abhishek’ character ‘s impact was not felt ..

    BTW , why pull the epic here ? It could have been titled anything , like how thalapathi was named without broadcasting that this is an re-interpretation of Mahabharata !

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  8. Well, this is a superb review, BR. Seems like you loved the movie with only minor reservations. I thought this was average. The idea is given to us cut and cried all along. Mani Ratnam’s intention in this film is to merely illustrate how bad Ram was and how good Beera is. I’m not sure how you find many of the plot points morally confounding. I thought it was all meh.

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  9. BR: What an outstanding review, I think you have outdone yourself. I hated the film, and your review has made me rethink about the entire experience. Fantastic..Now caqn we expect a BR for the Tamil version, which is definitely superior?

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  10. Surprised to note you didn’t draw a parallel between the mythical wingless Jatayu and the armless man..

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  11. Gr8 review. I have seen only Raavanan. And I think Vikram did a very decent job.
    Would love to hear ur thoughts on Raavanan.When’s the review coming?

    I wish there were some forum to register protests against Mani not including some very good tracks from the film albums as fully picturized songs. First, “Putham Pudu Poo” from Dalapathy, then “Ey Hairath-E-Ashique” in Guru and now “Ranjha Ranjha” and many more maybe there…

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  12. The movie did not work for me at all. I found none of the relationships well established. Be it the one between Dev – Raagini and more importantly the change of heart of Raagini towards Beera. It was way too shallow to be believable. Why is she even attracted towards him ?? After couple of hide and seek rounds ?? So i wasn’t least interested with whose sides Raaagini would take. Added he makes his characters completely simplistic. People in black are white and who are in white are black. Let down by Mani

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  13. “Jo marne se na darrein unhe maare kaise” – This statement is present in all Ratnam movies. Also, the similarities between Beera’s sister and Ragini were highlighted in typical Ratnam manner. How different is the Tamil version?

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  14. Pingback: Qalandar Reviews RAAVAN (Hindi; 2010) « SATYAMSHOT

  15. Nice review.Sounds like it wouldnt meet expectations but I will venture the tamil version to see if it leaves me with the same effect.

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  16. Waiting to know what you think of the Tamil version. Vikram kicked some serious ass in my opinion, so much so that I don’t even want to watch Abhishek and ruin it.

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  17. A much more thoughtful review than the rest. Putting your review together with the positives in this review( http://theseventhart.info/2010/06/18/ramayana-reloaded/ ) my belief in the fact that Mani has made an admirable film (not a masterpiece as one might have anticipated) is strengthened. It is depressing to read reviews where so called critics seem trigger happy to criticize the movie.

    Agreed that the movie has its flaws (forced analogies,cardboard characterization of Dev to a certain level for instance) but then the movie definitely has its moments which I personally think far outshines the negatives.

    With regards the statue in the wilderness, I am surprised you have mentioned it in the off-hand manner that you have, considering that unlike Kannathil Muthamital where it served more as a stunning visual (maybe also as a reminder of the peace that Buddha preached) here it plays a kind of central role in the scene, given that it is the statue of Vishnu. The dialogue between Beera and Raagini in this backdrop is to me one of the highlights of the movie.

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  18. Kishor: “Why lie detector test for Sita?” This isn’t to be taken literally. More a device to make her disgusted with him and return to Raavan, so he can finally do what he came to Laal Maati for — which is to kill Beera.

    anantha/priti/shanz/Ajay: yes, looking forward to seeing Raavanan. But won’t be able to until next week.

    Just Another Film Buff: Allow me to return the compliment. Yours is a mighty fine analysis too. Happy to see you write about Indian movies too. For some reason, I kept thinking you’re more into foreign films :-)

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  19. “…Ratnam, in Raavan, doesn’t set out to pleasure his audience in ways we expect him to.”
    That, i think, sums it up the best.

    Why did he just package an old shoe in a new box? Why did he expect us to be content with just those breathtaking visuals? Why was i not satisfied when I stepped out? Were you?

    Where was that experience, that you so fondly described in ‘Madras Male’ (I swelled up with pride after reading that!)? Did Raavan do what Agni Nakshatram (or, say Thalapathi) did to you?
    What happened to the Mani who pushed boundaries?

    I saw Raavanan @ Rohini two hours back. Did you see the Tamil version?

    Ever since he started doing these bilingual projects…

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  20. I think many are going overboard with criticism of the leads here. If the movie fails on any level it is not due to them but the director. I quite liked Aishwarya Rai here and Abhishek made quite an impression on me in the end.

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  21. just caught Raavanan…thought it was amazing…I won’t see the hindi version b/c there is no way Abhishek could top VIkram’s masterful performance…in fact, all the actors did well…best Mani film since the masterpiece Kannathil Muthamittal (2002)….all those who say Mani has been out of form since Iruvar are seriously overlooking Kannathil (which I think is his best, closely followed by Iruvar)!

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  22. Hmmm, after all the pressure everyone put on you, the Raavan review is here finally. Maybe its just me, or are there a couple of paras missing ? There are some reviews or between reviews (happy?) that you write with all your soul. I felt that way about your VTV or Aayirathil Oruvan ones, when you just plain salute the film, wholly. Great analysis here but this movie dint quite elicit THAT kind of response, I guess.

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  23. Awesome Read,Rangan. Haven’t seen the Hindi version yet. Vikram’s acting was kickass in Raavanan! Aishwarya-the less spoken about her acting skills(or the lack of it)the better. Commercially considerations probably was a big factor to cast her Hindi version but in the Tamil version couldn’t they have casted a better actress?And did Karthik have to literally “monkey” around to establish him as Hanuman-would have never expected this from MR. Have mixed feelings about the whole movie.

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  24. I haven’t seen the Tamil version, I think I should see it before I say AB’s performance is below par. I feel the characterisation is the problem… He doesn’t talk! Has he done something really evil in the past? Does he actually deserve the gunshot from the SP?
    AB was excellent in some scenes-the dawning admiration on his face as tries to escape, the love which flowers ONLY after he sees her grit-he doesn’t fall for her pretty face alone… The scene where his brothers ask him why he hasn’t killed raagini, his expression is great…
    The climax was the worst part of the movie for me!

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  25. I felt emotionally drained after leaving the screening. The technical brilliance and visual opulence that is being praised beyond limit imparts a ultimately visceral viewing experience that it makes us a part of the film and its palate. For some reason, it felt like I was there in those jungles, rivers, mountains, villages and this is the biggest achievement of the film and Mani. One aspect is unequivocally certain – Mani the director/film-maker has supplanted Mani the writer. Et tu Rangan?

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  26. Wow…superb review dude….I personally admire Raavan as better person than Ram…and this film also depicted the same…so I was able to correlate your review with my thoughts…

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  27. Thanks BR. Let’s just say that writing more on Indian mainstream films runs the risk of repeating oneself over and over. I find our mainstream films to be more cultural products than authorial ones. Hence they seem to share a fixed set of beliefs and prejudices.

    But I do make it a point to catch the important films. Just that blogging about them is sort of “uninviting”!

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  28. sir your tske on vikram is important for us to understand the interpretation of characters and my sincere opinion is that mani sir has never had a hold on the hindi medium as much as much and brilliant in tamil.One scene that comes to my mind is in Ayutha ezhuthu between Suriya and Bharathiraja in college.please tell us about raavanan

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  29. am not writing a review, because the film does not deserve one. Just some random thoughts. First off: The film is horrible. Much worse than I thought. Did not think I will live to see a Mani film this bad. I thought Dil Se was bad and Yuva was only marginally better. But i thought with Guru , he had learnt his lesson. But he has gone all the way back, and what was a blemish in Dil Se has become a full-blown malaise. What exactly was the problem with Dil se or Yuva? The arrognace to start a film on just a few images or a concept. Let’s place the film against the backdrop of terrorism. Let’s have a climax where the hero and heroine are blown to smithereens. Let’s have a song on the top of a moving train. In Yuva it is, Let’s take the structure of amores perros. A spectacular accident scene on the Howrah Bridge. and since we have the Howrah Bridge, let’s bring in the Kolkata politics. Let’s have frenzied disco song. Let’s have a song with the wild sea waves and two young lovers. The focus is on all these ‘ items’ rather than build a credible, detailed relationship between the lovers, give them a context, some geographical roots. In Guru, the script and the story of Gurukant Desai was allowed to take centre stage. There were spectacular moments: the rainy AGM in the stadium, the moment of epiphany for the young Guru in Abu Dhabi, The scene of Mithun running on the beach with hie dhoti pulled up…But the human aspect was always predominant.

    In Raavan, it is back to broad strokes. There is no attempt at establishing the terrain or the characters. The character of Veera is written in such a juvenile manner. There is no detailing of any kind. too much rain and mist and too little human emotion. The writers should have worked on little moments between Veera and Raagini in her days of captivity, which would have given Raagini an opportunity to compare Veera with Dev. The character of Givinda, or Ravi Kishen are all cardboard. all atht effort on that fight on the bridge..what for? If yiu want to show off spectacular cation, make an Indiana Jones and prove yourself. why this fakery?

    Though I am the biggest admirer of rahman on the planet, I am getting tired of his Arabic and African chants in the background score, pointlessly used. Give me Ilayarajas haunting violin strains from Paa any day. Of course the songs are exquisite. The scenes that go with Behne do and Khili re are the only enjoyable moments in the film for me. but what was that Thok De Gilli doing juat after interval, when the much more meaningful and relevant Kataa Katta was coming up in a few minutes. elementary punctuation marks, Mani saar!

    but the death nail on the film’s coffin is Abhishek Bachchan. Once again, I am the biggest fan of Amitabh and consider him one of our greatest actors. I like abhishek as a decent guy off screen. But I am quite convinced he does not have a single acting bone in his body. His body language is so casual, his eyes are so blank. His creams, his scowls are all on the surface. Vikram even without knowing any Hnidi is so much more compelling to watch. Guru must be some kind of miracle, because i don’t think in Yuva too Abhi did any acting. It was just the styling that made him look. I think the best he can do is roles like Dostana or KANK, where he can bea normal urban character…in other words, where he is not expected to do much acting. Jackie Shroff managed fine doing stuff like that, letting co-stars like Anil Kapoor do the real ‘acting’. but this was the worst vehicle fora non-actor like Abhishek. Badly written the role may have been, but someone like ajay Devgan would have made the performance a little more believable, and created some empathy for the character.

    When people were talking of the film being Mani Ratnam’s Aag, i thought it was just Mani baiters getting their chance to jump on him. But after having seen the film, I must admit the comment is quite apt.

    I can take films that bet heavily on style. Only genuine artists can attempt that. But i sinply don’t see anyone in Indian filmdom capable of delivering on that expectation. After some hope in HDDCS and a lot less hope in Devdas, Bhansali wiped it all off with Sawariya. Now I know what is Bhansali is capable of at his best. Had to write off Ramgopal Varma after Aag and Shiva, after glimpses of promise in Naach and Kyun . And now I have to write off Mani too. Sad. Who else is there?

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  30. I wrote the previous comment with just reading your review. After watching Raavanan now, I totally agree with Naresh, who had commented before me. Were you really happy with the movie, BR ? Is your inner Mani fan smiling?

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  31. I am amused reading all the different reviews and opinions. What the move gets praised for in one review becomes the exact reason for why it gets panned in another. For instance Raja Sen talks about the polygraph test as a ridiculously literal take on the myth. Looks like the movie is a mixed bag much like Rahman’s music for it.

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  32. am not sure what the ‘clockwork orange’ tatoo means..and the nods to other movies incl his own are something of a staple now no?and oh, did u get the dialogue bit b/w Vikram and Ash on their bed when Vikram talks about ‘Bandook’ and ‘Biwi’?..wondering if that’s a wink at ‘Hey Ram’!Qalandar might be interested..

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  33. All Mani needed to do was have intensely scripted close up shots instead of moving the camera all over the place and make ash, abhi and vikram squeak all the time.. there were few moments of awesome chemistry though (more were required!)

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  34. Hello Mr. Rangan.

    I am a regular reader of your reviews, but this is the first time I am commenting on one of them. You are the reviewer I trust to locate the nuances, positives, as well as the flaws in a film that other reviewers don’t notice or gloss over. And regardless of whether I agree with your view on a particular film or not, your pieces are never less than engaging.

    I am posting this, specifically, to thank you for this review. ‘Raavan’, for me, was definitely not as good as Mani Ratnam’s other works, but nor was it as awful as the other critics find it to be. The film has its strengths, and you have mentioned and explained them in a way far better than any other film critic in this country can ever manage.
    As for Abhishek Bachchan’s performance, however, I think he merits a little more praise. Agreed, that mannerism of bringing his palm close to his head and then shaking both wildly, muttering “chak-chak-chak-chak” is irritating. But let’s face it, any actor would look ridiculous doing that. But in the scenes where he is allowed to reveal Beera’s humane side (his conversation with Ragini when she is dressed like one of the tribal women, his interactions with his sister, his monologue on how happy he is to be jealous in love, and even in the climactic fight on the bridge with Dev), he does quite a good job. Not a great performance by any means, but nor a horrible one either.

    Anyway, thanks again for the review.

    With regards,
    Abhirup.

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  35. In your Rajneeti review you talk about how just because Prakash Jha and Karan Johar are perceived as directors of different calibre, their, well, errors in film-making are received differently.

    Raavan is as hollow and superficial a movie as could be made based on Ramayan – at times it looks like a kid’s been made to write the screenplay with the sole instruction of finding parallels to the epic in the modern world, logic be damned – not helped at all by the lead caste, which Mani Ratnam seems to have an unreasonable fondness for. Yet, you spend words upon pointless words trying to salvage it. Trying to find symbols and meaning where there are none.

    Wonder if this review would have been as sparingly critical if it had been made by Prakash Jha. Or Karan Johar.

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  36. Mani Ratnam & the reviewer missed in judging the North Indian emotional attachment with Ram & Sita. Reinterpretation of Ram is a risky matter but to touch Sita is a disaster. In the context of film, two things are important, first this film is about Stockholm Syndrome, second the moment one interprets Ram & Sita he lays bare his lack of understanding of the original story.

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  37. JAFB: You’re right about that. Writing weekly about mainstream cinema (Hindi, Tamil, whatever) does become painful after a point because you run out of ways to say the same things. A movie with fresh thoughts will help fresh writing, but those are few are far between.

    Naresh: I did not say that he expects us to be “content with just those breathtaking visuals.” The triumph of the film, more than the visuals, is in the structure of the narrative. A very unusual narrative for Mani Ratnam. As for satisfaction, the film gave me lots to think about, lots to enjoy — so yes, despite certain reservations, I was quite “satisfied.”

    Hermione Granger: It’s easier to be soulful about warm films like VTV, films that talk instantly and directly to you. But with “cold” films like Raavan or even Saawariya, which are deliberately paced and stylised and reveal themselves fully only after many viewings, it’s not that easy to be all-out gung-ho. You know you’ve seen something very different and you try to grasp at the essence, and that’s not always easy to translate into a deadline-driven review. Sometimes the thoughts coalesce nicely, sometimes they don’t.

    Parijata/Abhirup: AB’s was not a “horrible” performance. I did mention that his still moments worked very well, and as Parijata says, that scene with the brothers is indeed very well acted by everyone. My problem was in the “insane” moments, where his various “heads” are trying to talk to each other. It’s the kind of conceit that’s easy to write about in a novel (where we’d imagine this inside our heads) but very difficult to render on screen (where the image becomes “literal”). I am, in general, not a fan of externally showy performances, especially when the actor is called upon to display animalistic tendencies. It yanks me out of the character and makes me confront the “actor”, and that’s very distracting.

    From what I remember of the animalistic character in Pithamagan, I do think Vikram will be better in this part in the Tamil version, though I doubt, event there, if I’ll be able to fully enjoy the performance — simply because I’m not a great fan of “look ma I’m acting” histrionics. I’ll be happy to be proved wrong though.

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  38. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is a total discovery. Always hated her. But I feel she is a great actress if the script has scope for a female lead character. She can excel in any such role! I think she deserves the National award for her potrayal of the fiesty “Ragini Sharma”.

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  39. Thanks for your reply, Mr. Rangan.

    Yes, Abhishek’s performance in the “insane” moments was off-putting; I said so in my comment as well. What I was trying to say is that while critics are happy to seize upon those moments and slam him for it, few have bothered to take a look at the “still moments” you mentioned, or in the scenes of his interaction with Ragini and his sister.

    So all in all, what’s the rating you have given to this film?

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  40. vikram is miles ahead of abhishek, in the tamil version, but this is nowhere close to his best role.

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  41. Pingback: Raavan « How things …

  42. i really dont get it. all reviews i seem to hav read till now make this point ‘Mani is more comfortable makin films in tamil, he doesnt quite get the hindi bit right’. Honestly hindi isnt d first language to most of our BIG film makers. i stil remmbr how an entire row erupted wen katrina said ‘ansh’ in Raajneeti. Language has very lil to do with dis.

    and of course arm chair critics r goin ga ga abt how Mani’s tamil works r bettr. wonder if all of dis is borrowed knowledge. dint know tamil was easy for a shekhar n Masand :P

    As for it being a bore/slow: no body said Ramayan was fast n engrossing. And we’re a country who made Avataar a hit in 3 languages, here we get d ‘real’ thing without 3D, dat too made in India :-)

    Guess nobody looks at movies so objectively. Or perhaps most look at it very trivially. i think dis is getting grey now :-p

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  43. ohh d good thing is..some reviews quote Thiruda Thiruda n Yuva to be far better pieces. wonder y such kindness wasnt extended to those movies wen they released :)

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  44. ‘jafb : authorial vs cultural texts. This is just so much nonsense. It’s more like WE end up reading the authorial elements in non indian films more naturally.

    rohit: tamil is not a language it is a culture . This is like when they talk about iyengaaru veetu azzage they could easily be talking about a malayalee girl, right?

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  45. Ramesh: You don’t mean to say that you don’t see any authorial consistency in certain Hollywood directors? DO you say that ALL of them could be broken down like most of our films? I think the ratio is much better there…

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  46. JAFB

    im saying i see authorial elements in most indian directors of some basic competence. some DO have cliche’d world views, but doesn’t michael bay…or quienten tarantino?

    no I think perhaps youre reacting somewhat strongly when you watch a film full of genre markers, to the cultural elements. (not that there is anything wrong with that, people watch the films they like) . This is something like saying ” I think westerns are full of fucking cowboys wearing fucking hats and fucking boots” when thinking about John ford films. Its true but it sort of misses the point.

    (I could be wrong, of course)

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  47. Ramesh: Agreed, since genre cinema is made for a native audience, it is invariably constructed upon cultural symbols and cliches. But there is also, many times, a voice that shapes them. What did Ford do with those hatted men in boots? What did Hitchcock do with those cool, flamboyant men? The thing that I find in many of our movies is that most of them work towards the same set of conclusions that keep reassuring that what we know are right and there’s nothing to be changed. Yes, there is always a Ramanarayanan or a Velu Prabhakaran who presents a consistent vision. But to what end?

    Both authorial vision (for the sake of authorial vision) and open text (as Robin Wood says, if every text could be opened, why bother making films?) are deeply flawed techniques adhering to which will only result in compromise and contradictions. We should be able to find a middle ground, IMO.

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  48. Oh I agree! no one approach is a dogmatic singularity when it comes to creating texts- cinematic or othervice. and Im open to all textual combinations .. thats whaty gives memes biodiversity haha.

    but re “reassuring us that our way is right”, my immediate glib answer was : so do fairy tales, but that does not do justice to your concern. A serious answer, I would venture that that is a very Indian means of story telling. To give you a “western ” example of this, read “no fullstops in India” (mark tully) who’se like a kind massa burra sahib gone native in India , with a sweet (and unacknowledgible hehe)indian mistress and digs in London and delhi, from his sojourn as the BBC correspondent in india until the 90’s.

    Every story would use the three act structure to : Act 1: set up the issues Act 2: Raise all the concerns relating to the issue Act 3: Happy resolution, reassuring everyone that they(and everything with the world) was right all along. This is one reason some redneck ruperts from the australian academia charecterize(to this day) indian films as “escapist” entretainment. The narratives are constructed to give closure(of one sort or another) and not to mimic reality, like verite does.(again people need not like this, but we are(to quote my drinking buddy manigundan, may he rest in 5000 addled peace somewhere in south India) like that vonly.

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  49. I think it is high time Mani Ratnam should take a decision, he wants to make powerful feature films or pretty music videos. He should learn from people like Shimit Amin,Dibakar Banerjee, Prakash Jha and Rakeysh Mehra, and see how it is possible to create powerful drama, even poetic drama, without elaborately staged songs,

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  50. while doing all this – packing so much details in each scenes – some just for the sake of it, some to form the connection for the non-linear structure, some to display the underlying meaning isn’t he testing the audience’s patience. Someone told me – Mani has successfully made a fast paced film with a run time of 2hrs which is dragging. Not that i complain about it. But by choosing Ramayan as base isn’t he demoralising things on the front and also insulting his depth script? Tamil la solanum na – ramayanama oorga madri vendrache touch madri image yen? doesn’t it look like trying too much with too little on your plate. It’s basically a small thread and its being woven into a complex web. Besides he is desperately painting a white picture for Veera at the expense of back staging Dev. But again as a writer it’s his wish to wade stories in a way he envisages. By doing so isn’t he alienating his story from facts like he alienates his characters to nether land where only their emotions are shown.

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  51. If the aim was to reinterpret the Ramayana, Mani has failed totally with his superficial writing. The scope for going against the popular grain convincingly was in the Ramayana itself. Rama’s unethical killing of Vali, his coming to the forest with Sita, but not ensuring that Urmila accompanies her husband Laxman, going foolishly after the golden dear on Sita’s request could be contrasted with Raavan’s miltary prowess, his reputation as a revered Brahmin ( it is siad when rama was conducting a puja before his Lanka expedition, he had to have a Brahmin of Raavan’s calibre to conduct the yoga..and so on. The grey shades of Rama and Raavan’s characters should have been painted in more detail, more realistically, with some context of time and place. This was just amateurish and lazy writing.

    And there were some real sloppy plot holes and cringe-worthy dialogues by Vijya Krishna

    1. Why does Vikram open fire on Beera after having him surrounded by an entire army? Why not capture him and send him for trial which is the norm?
    2. all the bullets strike abhi but none hit ash who is right beside raavan?
    3. I am amazed at how silly some ramayan references are here! Govinda jumps from tree to roof to top of the car because he is playing hanuman?
    4. Earth opening up and swallowing Sita is refered to as Raavan pushing sita vertically down from the head when Ram opens fire????
    5. The lead falling down from the cliff in the end is as cliche as it can get in bollywood, cant Mani do better than this?
    6. Another cliche was ram asking a polygraph test when the train is entering a tunnel … what does sita do? instantly pull the chain, stop the train, get down (without her luggage) in the middle of nowhere and start walking!
    I havent seen all of mani’s movie … but please someone tell me Raavan is an exception and Mani isnt so juvenile by nature!

    Examples of clunky dialogues:

    When Vikram comes to rescue Aish, she asks him “14 din lagaye mujh tak pahunchne mein, 14 minute mein kyun nahi aaye?” my goodness, what exactly does that mean.
    One more – Abhishek is jealous of Vikram as he has wife like Aish. That is fine. But what does this dialog means “Main jal raha hoon, jalan hai mujhe, meri jalan se dharti garam ho gayi hai, aesi jalan ke liye bhi kismat chahiye” ???

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  52. Oh, Will keep an eye open for the Tully book.

    I’m all for escapism. Escapism is what makes us survive. But do the cynicism addicted modern Hollywood and Bollywood films really make us escape? (A Tati is as rare as a Godard). They only reassure us (thanks to the three act structure that neatly closes what it opens) that we all lead miserable lives and we are best put that way. More than telling us we are right, it tells us that we do not deserve to escape our condition. As Adorno puts it, there is a “necessity inherent in the system not to leave the customer alone, not for a moment to allow him any suspicion that resistance is possible.”. That is, the three-act exploitative genre filmmaking packs up the problems it opens and assured that we have to live with it. That’s not the kind of escape I really want.

    But even then, we have films that trouble us, that make us re-open the package. Even those that don’t have such ambitions can be highly optimistic and assuring (Chaplin for instance).

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  53. But this Ram – named Dev (like the deity that he is), and employed as an SP (like the upholder of dharma that he is) – isn’t beyond … shooting a messenger of peace in the back after guaranteeing non-violent negotiations.

    That might be Mani Ratnam’s take on how Rama treated Vaali in the Ramayana. Not sure if Rama tortured any unarmed people, but Lakshmana was of course not above cutting off an unarmed Surpanakha’s nose.

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  54. Mifune was the first thing that came to mind (especially Mifune in Rashomon) when I saw Junior B’s snarl in the previews. Thanks for writing about most things that other reviews around haven’t even bothered to get around to. It’s always good to read such a long piece that is not building up to a simple one-liner about whether the film was good or bad.

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  55. jafb,

    then, is it cinema that you want, really, because i think all cinema is somewht mastrubatory illusion…all art is. (mature thesis of robert bresson, in both four nights and l’argent..)

    maybe some (kim ki duk films, kiyoshi ding his thang, godard’s essays..) less obviously so, and more honest than others, but like they say in madison ave, if you don’t like gay people get out of te drama club.

    lekhini,
    That was an insightful observation. notice also in both films, when dev shoots the younger brother, the imagery is of tall trees , bringing to mnd the parable of rama shooting an arrow thhrough seven trees to convince sugreeva of his prowess.

    george,

    kurosawa and mifune was the first thing that came to my mind when i started watching the film, and also when they did the clever ” he said she said in the climax, but i attributed it to the ‘western influence” of the stuntmaster guy..wassis name.

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  56. Thank you sir…
    You have provided the much needed rest to my mind.

    I watched the movie today and couldn’t find the time and peace of mind to ponder over it.It’s bloody difficult to watch a film like Raavan and think over it at the same time,when you have people around you passing “Funny” comments about the on screen happenings.

    Your review beautifully connects all the random thoughts that I had while watching the movie. Scene after scene I was trying to gauge Mani Ratnam’s thinking behind it and somehow it eluded me.
    But your review makes thing clearer.

    I won’t say that I loved the film, and it’s definitely not a bad film too.

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  57. Just watched the Tamil version, did not leave any big impact and had the pretty same effect the hindi version had. Vikram has a much better screen presence and does slightly better than Abhishek. Karthik was a let down while Prabhus charecter is well etched and acted out. The biggest let down in the Tamil version was its dialogues. Suhasini makes a mess out of it.

    And i feel there is always a un due criticism on Ash in the media. She is always been a directors actor, who does justice to the character under an able director..Raincoat and Guru stand out. She is much more than the looks which many fail to notice. Watching the Tamil version made me wonder how much of an improved actress she is from her early days. She brings out a variety of emotions really well ( lookout for the ‘ bak bak bak’ scene in the climax). And to think of the physical effort put by her especially to re shoot several scenes for both the versions, her dedication is worthy.

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  58. “But with “cold” films like Raavan or even Saawariya, which are deliberately paced and stylised and reveal themselves fully only after many viewings,”

    BR, why do you assume(or think) that Raavan is going to reveal more after multiple viewings? How do you conclude that even before multiple viewings?

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  59. “From what I remember of the animalistic character in Pithamagan, I do think Vikram will be better in this part in the Tamil version, though I doubt, event there, if I’ll be able to fully enjoy the performance — simply because I’m not a great fan of “look ma I’m acting” histrionics. I’ll be happy to be proved wrong though.”

    First of all Vikram is a pretty limited actor.(I thought he was borderline awful in Pithamagan) That he is better than Abhishek here(according to many) doesn’t say much.

    Second, I don’t think Mani Ratnam is much of an actor’s director at all. Especially, I cant remember the last time he elicited a great performance out of his male lead.Probably Nayagan, thanks to Kamal. His male leads have traditionally possessed good looks and limited acting chops(Arvind Swamy, Madhavan, Sidharth and so on). He has probably had more success with child actors – Keerthana in Kannathil Muthamittal and Shamili in Anjali.And if you believe Mallu movie buffs, Mohanlal’s performance in Iruvar is nowhere near his supposed best in Malayalam.

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  60. Very nice review… Mani actually brought out some aspects of Ramayana that has never been touched in movies…

    That Rama was the Karma Veera avatar in which he single minded in his pursuit to destroy Ravanan come what may. In doing so he does a lot of things that are against the Dharma of the times.

    Ramayana is a sort of cat and mouse game. Ravanan is not a typical demon. He is not all evil. But the evil in him comes out in certain stages. And like any imperialist he wanted to conquer all worlds and rule them. That didn’t sit well with Devas and that’s the reason for the Ram avatar. That’s also the reason for the Karma Veer part of Ram wherein he never wavers from his pursuit of killing Ravanan.

    To make Ravanan show his evil side Ram had to do so many amoral things of those times… Like the attack on Vali… Mani changes this a bit… Ram attacks Ravanan himself in the marriage scene. Ravanan admired Vaali for his valor and that killing did disturb Ravanan.

    Then the surpanaka thingy really took him over the edge when surpanaka narrates her story to him.

    Also one may argue that the fact that Rama abandoned his dad even against his dad’s wishes in the name of keeping his dad’s promise is cruel. But that comes with the Karma Veer aspect.

    And then the Vibeeshana part… In fact Mani, IMO, combines Vibeeshana and Indrajeet in one character to add to the single mindedness of the pursuit. And that’s brilliant. In Ramayana Indrajeet was not fighting Lakshman when he is killed. In Mani’s version, Munna is a reasonable guy (ala Vibeeshana) and tries to negotiate peace by talking to Rama (a deviation from the epic) and he is mercilessly eliminated (Indrajeet).

    Again that’s to bring the evil out…

    But now who is evil… Ram or Ravan. Or in his single minded pursuit, did Ram become the Ravan… What a concept. Amazing story telling.

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  61. Awesome Review. This is exactly how I viewed Mani’s treatment of Ramayana. I get slightly miffed when people mention the plot. I have seen both the Tamizh and Hindi versions. Raavanan is most definitely the superior of the two. Vikram has absolutely nailed Veeraiyya. Suhasini’s dialogues are crisper, challenging you to read between the lines.

    Obviously Mifune’s gnarling war face is his most recognisable. If you have seen High and Low, you’d know he would easily pull off the subtlety needed for Behne De.

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  62. Hmmm…..Thanks for your thoughtful reply. It will interesting to see what you would deduce after seeing Raavanan.

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  63. Hmm! Are you saying your Mani fan craving was satisfied? Or are you trying to push up the positives? To me, it was a feeling of eating a sumaaraana saapaadu in an awesome plate. The locales! I thought Abhishek was one of the positives of the movie, although couldn’t figure out if he was slightly off, or just a Robinhood char. Were those shallow waters a reflection of the theme?

    Shankar for the last few movies, has been reinventing the same storyline. I have to say Mani seems to have joined him at some level.

    BTW, did Vikram speak hindi here? Sounded like him.

    Loved parts of the BGM, although that forced infusion of a muslim tune here and there didn’t jive.

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  64. and let it be said My friend manigundan would always say “undancing koother is squaring as hexagon.”

    he was a zen master. that gundan.

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  65. Ahh, thought so…After watching the hindi version am damn curious to see what Vikram does of the “beera” role…Sigh! If I only understood Tamil…

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  66. Rangan,
    You are perhaps the only critic who saw through the film. The rest barely scratched the surface and made no sense of it. However, AB (jr.) has single handedly ruined another effort after Delhi-6. He was mediocre to say the least. This is not to say that Aishwarya did a lot better but she was tolerable. I like your drawing the parallel with Toshiro Mifune in Throne of Blood…even his performance in Rashomon…however, I wonder whether AB (jr.) has at all seen those performances…his depiction of Raavan killed the character without any help from Ram…;)…while watching the film I so wished that Mani Ratnam for once had put aside commercial considerations and cast someone else…however, I don’t know who from our current crop of actors (if I may call them so) would have essayed this role…also the writing in the second half could have been better…it was too prosaic when seen in comparison to the first one…I loved the first half but the second sort of dispensed the poetry in favor of more easily understood narrative forms…

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  67. you knowwhat the film wanted? and really badly? an incisive, intelligent ascerbic three person narration.

    for example ” one day when i was on a boat, and my husband was away chasing bandits in the jungles of nilgiris, raavanan came for me. i had never seen someone so wild brutish uncivilized….and then he recited from silappathikaram in his guttural voice. ”

    “She was prettier than i imagined. Did he wives of gods have sex like us? i wondered, surely we are all the same”

    ” Oh you bastard…Bastard ! Bastard! Bastard! now I have to kill you , don’t I! and your brothers…and that bitch yur eunuch”

    cut to eunuch cursing sita/ragini

    not all the time, judiciously.

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  68. vijay

    “First of all Vikram is a pretty limited actor.(I thought he was borderline awful in Pithamagan)”

    Woot! haha

    “I don’t think Mani Ratnam is much of an actor’s director at all”

    Double woot!!

    How’s the fox news studio Mr hannity?

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  69. Satyam: “also the writing in the second half could have been better…it was too prosaic when seen in comparison to the first one…I loved the first half but the second sort of dispensed the poetry in favor of more easily understood narrative forms…” Even though I thought the film was downright bad, I agree with you on this.The first half was poetic and I could go on watching it even if nothing happened, just the captor and captive locked in an inseparable bond in the mysterious, magical jungle and waters. That would have been an experiment I could go with., Not this second rate , soulless Ramayana mish-mash.

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  70. but but.. this narrative style alone isnt enough to justify a Maniratnam movie, isnt it? We have come to expect so much out of it, he hasnt offered any of that for you to cover in your review, isnt that dissapointing?

    But as usual this was a good review. “is the way it holds back information in favour of later-on revelations that reshape our earlier experience.” apt description. The gold watch,bullet wound are somethings I enjoyed but almost forgot.

    Also, didnt he just shy away from raising the whole agni pariksha by closing it as just a cunning plan?

    Vikram was a treat to watch.
    ps: I so miss Sujatha.

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  71. Did the Raavan(an) marathon this weekend. Saw the tamil version first before AB baby! Must say the Tamil version was much much better, may be because I connect to it more. I thought Vikram (while he shouted hoarse) was a better interpretation of the same part. I felt Prithviraj was better than Vikram. Two very different interpretations of the same role by Prabhu and Ravi Kisen.

    Since every other reviewer had trashed Raavan, I thought I will go and see it without someone telling me it was actually Ramayan. If someone had called it Veera then I feel half the criticism would be gone. I think Mani and team believed their own publicity and had the crouching tiger moments of Karthik in there. Other than a first half that was 5 min longer than what was required, Raavanan was a good movie to watch. Especially for the end. Surprisingly, would not say the same for Raavan…it was a yawn!

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  72. Pingback: Maniratnam Demonised Aboriginal Icon...

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  74. Saw the tamil version. Thought it was meh. Didnt really understand why he fell for her in the first place. Was it because of her grit/determination? Its not that he’d never seen it in a woman. His own sister and the rest of the women in his clan obviously had it.

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  75. george thomas: Thank you for saying that, because I get a lot of “yes, yes, I see all that, but is the film good or bad?” :-)

    vijay: Actually, I do think he directs actors well. An actor, however good, needs someone at the other end of the camera to shape the pitch of the performance. See the difference of Kamal in Nayakan/Moondram Pirai and Kamal in, say, Sathya. The latter is a solid performance too, but the former is at a different level altogether.

    Hermione Granger: I’ll let you know. Seeing it in a couple of days :-)

    munimma: In general, I though the score was too loud. That “sim sim sim” cry was very annoying, and like something HJ would dream up. It didn’t go with the film at all.

    arijit: “loved the first half but the second sort of dispensed the poetry in favor of more easily understood narrative forms” – just like Dil Se, no? BTW, I didn’t draw a “parallel with Toshiro Mifune.” I have no idea if AB or Mani even went in that direction. It’s just that the performance “seemed” that way at times, with its highly gestural tone.

    rameshram: See, that’s why you should have written the movie :-)

    BTW, in an earlier post, I had speculated about Raavan being conceived in Hindi. Here’s the conformation:

    The film was initially to be made in Hindi. “When Mani decided to make Raavan, it was meant to be only in Hindi. The idea of a Tamil version came later…

    Also, a very nice letter that came to the paper…

    Hi Mr.Rangan,

    I once emailed you about my joy of finding your blog online.

    I have a little too much time on my hands these days and watched Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and Vaaranam Aayiram. I can’t understand Tamil. My native language is Telugu. I watched with subtitles. So, I watched those films and I was curious to know what you had written about those films. I went to your blog and read the reviews. It was an incredible feeling. I usually read reviews of the films I watch on your blog and am passive. I almost never commented. I found your reviews so close to my own thoughts on the films that I am so happy right now and I’m drafting this letter!

    I was arguing with my friend who was adamant that the Telugu version was better, which has a happy ending. The one shown in the movie within the movie. I don’t usually care if other reviewers agree with my thoughts or not(when I read them of course!), except you. I get this high I can’t describe when I find that you liked the same things in a movie I did! One other good thing that came out of reading your reviews today is my wish to learn Tamil. I’ve always wanted to. But never more than now. I feel, otherwise I might miss out on the joy of watching future Tamil movies which you foretell could be better.

    I started reading you ever since you first started writing on IE. I don’t know where, if you worked before that. I thank IE, thank my dear dad who worked for IE. I am 25 now. I don’t remember how I was back then. I am pretty sure, still in school because I remember the amused laughter of my father when I and my younger sister expressed a fervent wish to meet you :) One reviewer did come to Vijayawada, the city where my dad worked, and I was pretty excited. I don’t know if it was Serish Nanisetty, who wrote the Telugu reviews or if it was you. Let me know if you remember coming down to Vijayawada.

    May you continue to write and flourish! I don’t know if you like Roger Ebert or not. I do and I have this feeling that you are Indian cinema’s Ebert! I am sorry, if offends you in anyway. I’m just glad I know of your reviews :)

    cheers,
    ACN, an ardent fan

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  76. Apparently Amitabh Bachchan is pissed with Mani. So no AB-Ash and no mega budget for his next venture?

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  77. BR : “I have this feeling that you are Indian cinema’s Ebert” – very high praise indeed.

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  78. Talking about Toshiro Mifune and Abhishek Bachchan (or any Bachchan) on the same line / paragraph must be completely banned !!! Infact I would go to say that Abhishek Bachchan and the word ‘actor’ on the same line should be banned !! If we allow this comparison with Mifune, someone will come with, “the way he sits with two fingers supporting his chin reminds me of Robert De Niro in Godfather.” Let us compare non actors with non actors please.

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  79. I couldn’t fathom the very thought of Dev playing a trick to nab Veera by putting his own wife on the line. Considering the fact that Veera is murderous and volatile. He comes across as a dumb cop, who doesn’t really have sound brains between his ears, although I guess it was an attempt by the writer to make him look ‘cool’when he walks in with coolers. More over, I have people going on and on about how these 2 characters have shades of grey in them. Where I wonder? I kind of agree to your comment on Toshiro Mifune playing Veera, but I felt Ratnam could have done far more in terms of writing, especially since we were promised that it would showcase good side of Raavan too. The characters that were ‘good’ and ‘bad’ morally at the same time, but it was it was not so, The cop was never good, and Beera was never bad, except for the initial scenes, where Aishwarya gushes and pants as Vikram’s dark image looms over her. Once, it is established that Vikram is a righteous outlaw, the movie falls flat at some levels.

    And finally, the subtle Ratnam was missing throughout. The references to the epic was on the face, I felt. He could have very well done away without it.

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  80. Dear BR,

    Enjoyed your excellent review of the film. I wish the movie was at least 1/10-th as good as your review! It totally did not work for me. I saw the tamil version – Raavanan and I wished Vikram would come out of his “Pithamagan” histrionics!
    Anyway I thought Raavanan hit the rock bottom with Mani’s screenplay and then with her non-existent-dialogue-writing-talent Suhasini buried it under 50 feet of dirt. End of story.
    I hope Mani comes back with a bang with his next one. Hoping, sincerely.

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  81. I never write “reviews” but I am pained by Mani’s latest effort –

    I am almost tempted to call Raavanan “the much needed alternate ending for Valmiki’s epic”. Just like Roger Ebert saw Inglorious Basterds’ as one for WW II. But Raavanan (the movie) is replete with problems which are hindarances to enjoy whatever little there is left to enjoy in the movie. I was wondering if someone who never knew/read Ramayana would be able to enjoy the movie. No, they can’t. The anger one feels at the end of the movie is against Lord Rama. My mind was filled with questions like – How does a whole nation pray to Rama who dared to doubt his chaste wife ? Why is he revered as God when he acted as we mere mortals would ? Is Raavanan way better than Rama when it came to treating woman ? Raavanan, the movie, was only an excuse for these questions to crop up in my mind. The movie made me revisit the epic and find answers to the questions. If Mani wanted to kindle angst at Rama through the movie’s climax, he has succeeded. Otherwise, this movie precariously hangs in mid-air for the want of a strong story. Retro-fiiting too many things to keep the vague references intact (to the epic) has turned out to be plain boring. Like the stupid monkey gimmicks Karthik (the character “forest”) is made to do, while Mani tries to whip up some connection to the monkey brethren from the epic. It crops up time and again. Retro-fitting scenarios to the epic. Irritating after a point.

    I would like to see Mani stripped of all his star support crew. Can he make a movie with unknown faces, unknown technicians and still come out good ? Like where he solely banks on his story, screenplay and directorial abilities. Those days are long over. “Thiruda Thiruda” was his last when he “went-to-market” with a less than studded star cast (though the technical department was loaded with big names).

    With Raavanan, I felt Mani was more dependant on others to deliver than his own abilities. Cinematography, music (to an extent), star cast (just weighty names, perfomances were average). Dialogues were like “thoo”. His wife is criminally challenged of any creative juices. She should be shunned by any well-meaning movie-maker. For her to write dialogues for Raavanan is the most brutal stab Mani got himself on his own feet. Already people are wary of dialogues in Mani’s films. This one stoops to a new low.

    And Vairamuthu is a “well past expiry date” lyricist. It is sad to see Mani’s insecurity to try a new hand. Where did Ash play with her lips just before the “usure pogudhey” song ? Then why that cliched reference in the song ? It pains to see a rare and good tune from a fading Rahman pulled down by average lyrics. Other songs are yawn, except maybe “kalvare” – though ridden with cliched dance movements here and there. Heard Shobana choroegraphed this song.

    All in all, there are not too many “moments” that you can take back. Mani should try and regain his voice – the early pre-Roja one. This is at best an average work which is neither too boring (as some reviews point it out to be) nor a very engaging film. Best watched with a bunch of friends who can append better “punches” after every dialogue.

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  82. BR – You woould want to remove the “possibly related posts” setting. :)

    I was mildly disappointed by the film all through, but the finale was stunning. It should be one of the best-est of Mani. Along with that haunting song.

    Still chewing on the film. Your views helped, as usual. Thank you.

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  83. Udhav: Saw your piece today about the book launch. Didn’t see you at Landmark though… Did you interview her later?

    APALA: “and then with her non-existent-dialogue-writing-talent Suhasini buried it under 50 feet of dirt” – LOL!

    Aravindan: Tell me how, sir, and I’d be happy to :-)

    Jawa: Nope. But Malini Mannath, our Tamil film critic, has reviewed the film here.

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  84. “Second, I don’t think Mani Ratnam is much of an actor’s director at all”

    This can’t be true, since he extracted an above average performance from *Mohan* (no mean feat) in “Mouna Ragam”?!. As for “Raavan(an)”, Mani, the moral relativist, continues with his nth version of “Neenga nallavaraa, kettavaraa?” (are you a good man or a bad man?) meme. Now that he has the viewing public justifiably confused about right and wrong (can’t get better than this, right?), he should feel vindicated enough to move on. And btw, in “Pithamagan”, Surya did more justice to his character in a supporting role than Vikram did to his character.

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  85. @ All Suhasini critics :

    While one cannot disagree there was sloppy work evident at times in this movie, I do not think one can dismiss her totally. Remember Iruvar? ‘Namma Aatchi, monu mani naera thirai padam paarthu bayapudra maadri a aaydichu’. That one line would be enough fodder for any defense of Suhasini.

    If one was to claim that the dialogues for that movie were ghost written by someone else and deprive her of the credit, I am sure the same argument can be used here to defend her.

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  86. I agree with Ramesh on point that the tale needed a slightly subjective account. Some parties had compared stills from Raavan with those from Rashomon and claimed, even before Mani’s film released, that Raavan was based on that film. How I wish it was.

    And just a reminder if any body required it all: Officially, Suhasini was the dialogue writer for Iruvar also.

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  87. Rangan : I guess you won’t really echo my thoughts if I say I really liked the way the prelude to ‘Behne De’ was staged and the way later the song exploded on screen, bringing a lot of aesthetic quality and lyricism to it.
    Still, Can i know your opinion about the same?

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  88. brannigan:

    ‘rameshram: See, that’s why you should have written the movie :-)

    yen level enna all these mere flows nasty indian doks mani santosh etc level enna!

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  89. To Baradwaj Rangan-
    Sir, I agree with ACN. I trust your reviews. You have an uncanny instinct about why a movie works/not. After reading your review, we can really decide whether to go for a movie or not. (Thanks for ‘Kites’! You saved 3hrs!)

    By the way, your review doesn’t come in the kerala paper anymore- I wonder why! Missing the paper version. For a long time I thought you were tired of writing reviews…then I discovered this site!

    Thank you, you’ve given us a lot of pleasure.
    Sincerely yours,
    Parijata.

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  90. Some of the comments i see like ‘ Raavan should be like this , that ‘ etc … But while creating , the most difficult thing is to stay behind and see the baby even bfore it was born !

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  91. ramki,

    unlike a stageshow, people that make a film get to see it repeatedly. I should think when they re able to bring such technical virtuosity into the making of the film, they can bring in some of the benefit of their arts and classics education..and some reflectiveness…

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  92. BR,
    Yeah, I was there for the cute little performance by the kids. Spoke to her over phone.

    Saw the tamil version version ?

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  93. As many said above. I also thought that Ravanan is much much better than ravan. Do your review on that very soon. Looking forward to it. Btw it’s great to see this review. I actually read ramayana before watching the movie so that i could understand the nuances yet i missed some points that you’ve written.

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  94. BR – Dashboard -> Appearance -> Extras. You would see a ‘hide related links…’. This is a two way option, which means WordPress would not consider your posts to generate automated related links in other’s post. But, you should not be worrying about it, people already keep referring to your posts ;)

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  95. Awesome Review…. the best I have read .. made me re watch the movie for all the nuances…. amazing stuff!! you single handedly made me watch the movie again

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  96. can’t help but feel that over enthusiastic reviewers(rediff etc..review was posted even before 24hrs of the movie releasing!) and over informed people killed this movie :-(

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  97. I think you are the only reviewer of Indian cinema currently, the rest are just speculative trade analysts…another insightful review!

    The first thing the visuals and theme of moral ambiguity reminded me of were Aks…I am wondering how it compares?

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  98. fresh off your raajneeti review, i’m in a mood for debate ;). i watched raavanan not raavan, so i’ll stick to the mani’s approach to the story which i assume was the same rather than the specifics . i would’ve been impressed (as clearly you were!) with the non linear retelling of a beloved tale, the dribbling of bits of info to change the heart and mind of Ragini (and thru her the audience) if the characters themselves had some depth/nuance. To turn on its head the valence of Rama and Ravana as good and evil, hardly seems innovative to me. Now if Dev had some redeeming characteristics, Veera was slightly less than pure of heart or if Ragini was drawn in part to the bad boy in Veera, we’d have some ambiguity and conflict for Ragini and therefore the audience. It would force us to choose who to root for and face some difficulty with the choice. Now that would be an interesting retelling of the tale!

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  99. maru,

    allow me to interject. The Rama charecter, underplayed by both pritwiraj and vikram had plenty of nuance and not a little depth in this film.

    Forget for one moment that the film was upending ramayana, and look at pritviraj playing dev. Im not sure i have seen a more certain potrayal of relentless attacking and pure hate ( of raavanan) from a male charecter for some time in tamil films. forall this, rama is not shown as being blindly villainous. he has covetous motivations for which he is willing to destroy everything he doesnt own to get back his own. the moment he hears ragini is kidnapped, in his mind everyone associated are dead. there is no negotiating with him.

    That is not a one dimensional potreyal. it is a monolithic construction of a very impressive charecter played with restraint, and very differently by both actors.

    Rama was one charecter sketch i enjoyed.

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  100. B.H.Harsh: Oh I love that passage. Beera slides down the rock and into the water and swims towards this girl who’s fearlessly confounded all his expectations. Why did you think I would not echo your thoughts? :-)

    Incidentally, a lot of people told me that this came across as a negative review and that they were shocked to see the star rating. I thought I wrote a largely positive review. Hmmm!

    tech-gods aravind and NullPointer: Do you know how to make the “previous” and “next” links come before the comments? I searched WordPress support but couldn’t find a thing. Thanks.

    G: You’re right. Now that I think of it, Aks did have similar ambiguities and also a similar visual palette (if memory serves me right). I should watch it again. Haven’t seen it after the first viewing years ago.

    munimma: See, but the general impression I get from this recent trend of Hindi film reviews in reputed foreign publications is that of a mild condescension — like, these guys sing and dance and do all this crazy stuff, so let’s go easy on them.

    maru: As rameshram says, the characters did have depth. It’s not that Mani Ratnam made Ram 100% evil and Raavan 100% good. That wasn’t exactly turned on its head, like you claim. The film says that Beera killed all those people (which is why Dev landed up in Laal Maati in the first place) and it does say that Dev is a duty-conscious cop, like any encounter specialist who’d shoot first and ask questions later. I don’t think either was pointed all-good or all-bad. Just that the film showed us the good side of Beera (pure heart; plays with kids; is a poet; doesn’t molest Ragini) and the (relatively) bad side of Dev (shoots negotiators; uses wife to nab villain).

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  101. Rangan : Oh Sorry then :) I felt it was one of the best staged scenes of the film. and If I were to write such an elaborate review like this, It’d surely find a mention. Since It didn’t, I was force to think otherwise.
    And Somewhere in your review You also wrote about ‘Songs being used in a perfunctory manner’. So *that* give me the impression I had :)

    Speaking of the film, I am still intrigued by how at times this film look like a collection of visual-centric set-pieces (mostly differently styled).
    For instance, take the Police inquiry scene of Villagers. It is comic in nature [Govinda even has some witty remakrs there :)] And yet it doesn’t look out of place.
    Infact I felt that about MANY scenes where each of them had unique tone. And yet they came together quite well.

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  102. brilliant write up, and i also got to learn a new word mumblecore, going for the tamil version tomorrow.

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  103. rameshram/BR: sorry, perhaps i expressed myself poorly. i didn’t mean that that either Veera or Dev were all evil or all good – they both use brutal violence to achieve their means and if you reject that premise you can root for neither. I was referring to what ragini/the audience finds out thru each dribble of additional info – in veera’s case it only shed positive light on his motivation and in dev’s case negative. what does get turned on its head, is our prior on the ramayana characters – rama= god and ravana=demon. at the end, the idol has feet of clay and is ruthless and egotistic and the demon with ten heads has one that is selfless and giving. we’re meant to start with the valence from the epic and end with a diametrically opposite one.

    and no rameshram we can’t ignore even for a second that this is a retelling.of.the.ramayana. – mani doesn’t let us! in case the idiot audience doesn’t remember, we have countless helpful markers from the epic ;). at any rate, perhaps the reveal of the characters is interesting to some – as Dev is to rameshram and perhaps veera to others. my point is different – whether Dev/Veera grabbed you or not- the choice for ragini is clear. if she had a harder time of it or was even less “chokka thangam” (pure gold) herself we’d perhaps have what BR calls a “warmer” film that speaks more directly to the audience in terms of implicating in us making a more difficult choice, rather than this cold, visually stunning presentation.

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  104. maru,

    even if we DIDN’T ignore the ramayana connection, can you see how chillingly close the charecter of dev is to the mythical rama? if you just took away the ‘good” and “evil” labels from either story, dev is probably a spitting image of what rama was concieved as in the myth.

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  105. BR / NullPointer – It’s theme dependent and cannot be changed. The links NP has provided is for wordpress.org, the open source provider. WordPress.com doesn’t allow you to change them, AFAIK. Will look for any possibilities.

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  106. rameshram: sure, dev and rama’s actions/approach are similar right down to the unswerving passion to duty — by construction, no? isn’t the point here that the labels of good and evil result from perspective taking, not from the actions per se (brute force in both cases)? from veera’s perspective and knowing the antecedents/motivation of both his and Dev’s behavior, the labels of good and evil flip around. i guess that might’ve been more interesting to me if it didn’t seem like a familiar theme of Mani’s :)

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  107. Pingback: Fit to Post: Yahoo! India News » Blog Archive Mani Ratnam’s Trial by Fire «

  108. “dev and rama’s actions/approach are similar right down to the unswerving passion to duty — by construction, no?”

    uh..no?

    duty is not the first or even the fiftieth thing that comes to mind when i look at dev. dev’s duty is first and foremost to himself. his war of vengence against veeriyah is personal.

    “i guess that might’ve been more interesting to me if it didn’t seem like a familiar theme of Mani’s :)”

    this is true. if the film was (say) a satyajit ray film, it might have been more accessible to the audience, even if it looked and sounded exactly like this. 9 yesterday being hlf- price tuesday, i went nd saw “villain” ( the third, dubbe identical to the tamil release ) and have come away thinking more than ever that this is the mani film that will stand the test of time.

    bear with me for a moment, and ill explain why.

    imagine smeonedidnt know much ramayana. he would enjoy this film as an entirely different experience. This might be how:

    A foreigner and his very fair(stands in for pretty) wife go into a jungle. the foreigner is an army guy from an invading force. a set of tribals ( who have balochistani codes of vendetta and vengence) kidnaps the wife. who has never seen the beauty of the local forest or the natural warmth of its people…and falls in love with THEIR(not just ravanan’s) way of life, before being rescued by a husband t whom the tribals mean nothing, and the wife is merely ornamentation in his colonial-elitist life.

    The ambiguous and lush (avatarlike) construction of the film lends itself to this interpretation, which is why , in my review, i had compared the film to a ram leela in delhi maidan. the ramayana is merely an excuse for writing in many other stories into the text.

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  109. so mani chittappa, in this film, is not only upending the ramayana, he’s also upending dil se and roja(imagine , if aravind swamy went and did a sawalangadi giri giri with the pankaj kapur tribals that kidnapped him in roja instead of doing a ” indha bharatm adhu onru than….” and falling on the tiranga!

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  110. Brangan,

    agree with the narration. this is new for manurathnam flims.

    do you think there was any depth in the characters?? I personally didn’t feel for any of the charactors. In Ayutha Ezhuthu, even the mhadavan brother’s character had some depth.

    where is the chemistry between the triangle dev – ragni – veera?

    do you justify the song usure poguthe right after ragni tries to jump off the cliff?

    things that gets thumbs up are the shooting locations, lighting, camera angles and shots!

    till intermisson, mani just keep us wondering what the movie is all about.

    till intermission, you just get to see the screen figuring out what is that you see that’s all about?

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  111. rr: That song fits perfectly in the Hindi version (behne de, being swept along…), but the lyrics in Tamil express the infatuation very explicitly (usure poguthey…) and that’s a tad too much emotion for that point, which makes it look like yet another love-at-first-sight in a Mani Ratnam film. Also, even literally, the slide from wet rocks into the water, that rush of being swept along is what behne de is about.

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  112. re usure poguthe,

    I think the use of it just there was deliberate and a masterstroke.

    it’s not, as popularly thought, Raavanan’s usuru that was pogifying.It was raagini’s. She doesn’t look like the kind of person that would feel a “wifely” shame, so why was her usuru going? Why did she jump? (hint: I think it was fr the same reason Raavanan jumped/ killed himself in the end.

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  113. rameshram: “duty is not the first or even the fiftieth thing that comes to mind when i look at dev. dev’s duty is first and foremost to himself. his war of vengence against veeriyah is personal.”

    i could not agree more, but that gets at dev’s motivation. i was pointing to the construction of Dev’s ACTIONS in Rama’s template. i feel a little like a stuck record, so i’ll try one last time to explain what i meant. dev is presented as a skilled encounter specialist, whose only mission when he is transferred to the tirunelveli/ thoothukudi area(i wasn’t sure of the exact setting) is to capture veera. to that end, he leaves no stone unturned —- on the surface, this is meant to signal unswerving passion to duty. as we learn more about his motives (and Veera’s) it becomes clear that he is a coldblooded egotist and his quest is personal. what burns him about his wife’s capture is that perhaps she is cavorting with veera, his chosen quarry.

    I figured that the actions here were constructed to mimic those of the central characters in the ramayana with the aim of getting us to recognize that our value judgements arise out the fact that the perspective is Rama’s. When we take Ravana’s perspective, our judgments change dramatically.

    As for how this film will figure in Mani’s legacy, I’m not sure. I don’t disagree on your broad sketch of the story , but it seems meh! – not exactly legacy building material ;) . in the interests of full disclosure, i didn’t like avatar. it was pretty and technically stunning, but terribly simplistic and worse yet employed terrible stereotypes. i think mani’s film is much better and i would be insulted by a comparison to avatar :P

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  114. Completely agree with RR could not care less to any of the main three characters. Even is we ignore the love at first sight kinda reaction from Bheera, why was Raagini even attracted towards Bheera. There is completely no justification for that. Which made none of the characters to root for and wouldn’t been a surprise/shock even if Raagini would have fled away jumping trees with Sanjeevani.

    And this one is a laugh riot. One not be missed for sure.
    http://www.thevigilidiot.com/2010/06/22/raavan/

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  115. maru,

    thanks for the explanation , i do understand the duty angle somewhat better although im not so sold on it because i see very little of the dutybound dev before veera kidnaps ragini… but then we see very little of ANYTHING before then..

    ‘ but it seems meh! – not exactly legacy building material .’

    depends on whom he’s building legacy with. someone like me would say if i looked past the ramayana the film is an enduring epic full of nuance and interpretation in a way newer and more intelligent audiences will discover themes in the years to come, that will fit into the ravanan template.

    I guess if he were trying to build his legace with you, he would need to make a very different film that makes the epic come alive and be a little less meh in his world view.

    Re avatar, i do think the film also upended avatar both in the propaganda and in its value. insult or no, i think the comparison is appropriate.

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  116. Got this nice review (on Facebook)-cum-message through email. Really like his phrase “blank verse” as applied to this film…

    Hello BR,

    I’ve been an avid follower of your writings on movies and film-making for a while now, and while I never commented on the blog till recently, I realize that perhaps not to partake in discussions would be something I would regret later. I can’t tell you the countless times when I’ve been to the movies with friends, and they’ve all but come out flaying the movie, and me for liking it (happened in the case of Delhi 6, and now Raavan), and then I come to your review on a Saturday night (here in the states) and it’s almost as I make peace with myself. While it’s true that only you need to be convinced about a movie, sometimes having someone else who sees your viewpoint helps in way I can’t put a word to. You blog and many readers are precisely that.

    I usually never share my written thoughts much, but after watching Raavan, I felt the need to get something out of my system. And so here it is….my take on the movie(s)

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=136397639704851

    (Don’t ask me why FB…..just…it’s public view though)

    I will understand if you don’t have time to comment, but will be elated if you do.

    Have a good one.

    Ajit

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  117. “Instead of responding to her distress, you’re wondering how a similar tile-design would look in your living room.”
    I thought this was in her head.The cry of distress while being helplessly holed up inside the pit,screaming for Dev to come and save her, the lake and the tile-like stones. I guess all this were her vision of how the edge of the forest would look like.

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  118. To refer back to Ramayana, the Ram Avatar was conceptualized with the sole intent of killing Ravana. In effect, Ram had no other choice. Forgiveness was not an option. Sita was an appendage, so to speak, who was used as an instrument to kill Ravana. If one were to interpret it from a Male-dominated Triumverate ruling the Hindu pantheon, combined with Valmiki, who is definitely not female, then what emerges is a Godfather of the ancient times. If one were to view the events from Sita’s point of view, she would definitely feel that Ram’s love for her was not as strong as hers towards him. When he had an opportunity Ram instead of negotiating for Sita’s release, started a war. Even while Sita was held captive by the enemy. And of course doubted her chastity after release. I am sure that her feelings towards Ravana would have softened a bit while in captivity. Wouldn’t Ravana have told her about the plight of Soorpanakha and why he had to kidnap Sita? Forget the “nautanki” interpretation of Ravana, but the fact is that he did not lay his hands on her. He just confesses that he is attracted to her. Sita toward the end of captivity would perhaps have felt a twinge of sadness over Ravana’s demise. Because of Ram’s insulting behaviour towards her, wouldn’t Sita have felt that the whole point of the war with Ravana was not to rescue her, but to restore the ego of Ram as the Man among men? No wonder Sita “divorced” Ram, because of his constant nagging and doubts about her conduct.

    The interpretation of Ramayana from Sita’s point of view is what I believe Mani attempted to capture. Somehow this bold idea got lost in translation – bad editing & acting as well as direction. I sometimes wonder how it would be, if MR could set aside his “avant-garde” ambitions of film making and just tell a good story in plain linear terms like Nayakan. This particular movie would actually have benefited from it.

    An interesting after-thought : Would Ragini have left Dev after the shoot-out? If she is true to her character, she would have. Sita did, even though the male story-tellers would have us believe that Ram sent her off to the forest.

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  119. Haven’t seen Raavan yet (am planning to do so this week), but I have never watched a Manirathnam film without liking *something* about it. So, since I go there prepared to be entertained, I usually am :)

    Rangan, what do you have to say about the credit being taken away from Rensil D’Silva for writing Raavan? Chumma controversy-a or is there something to it?

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  120. Anu: Don’t know anything about that. I did hear his name bandied about in the earlier stages, but no idea what happened after that. Read in some news item that Mani Ratnam rewrote a lot of the script while hospitalised after his heart attack. Maybe that has something to do with it.

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  121. Baradwaj: Just managed to catch Raavanan (yet to see Raavan) and I was sorely disappointed…somehow, something did not “complete” it is what I felt (probably MR went missing in the jungles?).

    For instance in Guru where there are references of Mallika much later in the movie telling us that some of the scenes at Turkey may have been left in the editor’s room similarly, here too we have scenes jump from one point to another. For instance, Dev’s vehicles are sabotaged…and the next scene is where some villagers enter a police camp.Surely, these things are not what MR expects us to understand by connecting the dots in the head – does he? Why, has the editing gone from bad to worse?

    And is it true that Suhasini writes dialogues or is it just a ploy for showing expenses etc.,? In either case, can we please ask MR not to employ her. If Sujatha is no more, get Balakumaran like Shankar or ask MR to write it himself.

    And why can’t he make a movie set in Chennai with no political references/epic retelling even if it is with Simbu?

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  122. I think maniratnam should emigrate. you fuggers dont want him…or dont deserve him anyway. theres tonnes of white women bloggers thatyearn for his films like (to quote her) “like Ragini in that hut in the village, trying to lean under a bamboo pipe and capture the few drops of rainwater that might fall.”

    http://filmiholic.com/2010/06/18/raavan/

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  123. Kishor… the film is set in the 90s… even if it isn’t said explicitly, one should be able to make that out by observing that the walkie-talkies used by the cops are from the 90s and that all the vehicles are from the 80s or 90s…. there is no use of cell phones anywhere in the film… there is a laptop shown in the film in one shot (do you know when?) and it was a 94 model laptop… as for the lie detector dialogue, indian interrogation techniques 15 years ago included lie detectors but nor narco analysis…. so that line is also consistent with the period the film is set in. if that is the only grouse you have with the film, you should give up and jump over to the other side. seriously, dude, you didn’t think you were smarter than mani ratnam, or, did you?

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  124. What a horrible movie review. This guy has apparently not watched Maniratnam’s earlier Tamil movies released in 80s and 90s. This movie was released with so much hype, like his earlier flops Yuva and Guru. Raavan is a complete flop and please learn to write movie reviews that people can read and understand. Rangan gives references to lot of Maniratnam’s old movies which have no relevance to Raavan. The nail in the coffin for Raavan was driven by this review http://www.thehindu.com/arts/cinema/article472313.ece. The review by Anuj Kumar was brilliant and you don’t need to watch the movie to appreciate Anuj’s description of the film. Directors like Maniratnam should quit making movies. This is his third flop in a row.

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  125. Sorry to intrude but I didnt get that. The epic had Ram running around in the forest yelling “seetay, seetay” and, when they get to Lanka, trying to get Ravan to return Sita. Dev does no such thing. Supremely assured (by God/ ManiRatnam?) that Beera isnt going to harm her, he goes around shooting people up including messengers from their side. He doesnt care. Sita is just a pretext by then to get Ravan.

    To me this played out as a (naive) bad guy’s reliance on the good guys (Beera) playing to higher standards of the game. The Ravanification of Dev was complete by that stage and the superRamization of Beera follows shortly when he spares Dev’s life (superRam since Ram actually kills Ravan in the epic).

    thanks,
    Jai
    Absolutely agree with several commenters here that this is a ‘cold’ movie

    Like

  126. Awesome review – The most balanced review I’ve seen – The first time Im reading your review so looked at your Rajneeti review to get perspective, and I fully agree with you

    Taking liberty to publish my comments:

    For years now Mani Ratnam has never been able to create a movie in the league of Nayagan, Iruvar, Anjali or Kannathil. With Raavanan (with the *an*), he has created a masterpiece which can stake a claim as one of his best Tamil films ever. Raavan (without the *an*) is good, but unfortunately Abhishek had to be pitted against Vikram and this is a no contest.

    Unlike what most reviews say, Raavanan is not to show how Vikram is a Robin Hood or the gray in his character. Its a typical Mani Ratnam movie where the audience effortlessly falls in love with the anti-hero (more effortlessly with every film of his – from the detailed story in Nayagan to not so detailed in Dalapathy to more and more crisp editing in Dil Se and Guru).

    Also, unlike what most reviews say, Raavanan is anything but slow – It shows editing at its best and crispiest – The Prithviraj – Ash romance in one song, the Naxal theme in one song, Vikrams character in a couple of frames and Vikram falling in love in one brilliantly choreographed song which is poetry in modern frames! The editing is so taut that its easy to miss a dialogue or a connection to the epic – Hanuman, Shurpanaka, Vibheeshan, Kumbhakarna, Jatayu. Blink and you miss a scene where Ash gets out of the train and waits for Prithviraj. Turn away and you miss the human side of Vikram falling in love with Ash.

    This is one movie where Mani Ratnam has deliberately left a lot of ambiguities. What does Sita go back for? What happens after the end? Who does she love, or does she love Raavanan at all? Who is Raavanan – A brilliant psycho? Millions of voices ringing in his head? Is the movie about Good vs Evil, about how love destroys, about the captive and captor? Or is it about the Naxals? Or a bit of everything? Or is it a simple love story? Is Prithviraj involved in the Shurpanaka incident? Is he just a righteous cop who’ll do anything for justice? Was Ash imagining Vikram falling on her and getting close to her, like the other dream sequences?

    Theres no point talking about the brilliantly backlit frames, excellent music or the sets or the cinematography – These are all taken for granted in a Mani Ratnam movie. As are good acting performances from the side cast, especially Priyamani, Prabhu, Karthik and Ravi Kishen.

    Finally, the point which most reviewers have missed. Ash’s performance – The best by any adult heroine in a Mani Ratnam film (along with maybe Manisha in Bombay), and the best by any heroine in recent times.

    And Raavanan vs Raavan – Raavan is by far better than any of the mindless stuff which comes out of Bollywood these days. And Abhishek doesn’t have a good PR manager like that fellow who played Arjun in Rajneeti :) Abhi isn’t as good as Vikram, but by any standards an Abhishek performance in a Mani Ratnam film is better than any other peer – Ranbir, Imran Khan etc.

    Mani Ratnam is way ahead of his time in filmmaking. He defines moviemaking style in India in terms of camerawork, choreography, music and themes. Nayagan came in years before Company and Sarkar or any Mafia movie in India. Look at Mammooty and Rajnikanth in Dalapathy versus Manoj Bajpai and Ajay Devgn in Raajneeti. Dil Se was way ahead of its time. When Yuva was released, Bollywood was still caught in the traditional fare. Now, six years after Yuva we have mainstream films which are not typical love stories. So we need to wait for a few years for critics to applaud Raavan (without the *an* – thats already a masterpiece) as a pathbreaking movie. Havent we waited years for critics to say Iruvar, Dil Se and Yuva were good movies after they were ripped apart when they were launched?

    Finally – Which other director in India would have the guts to present Ram as the villain and Raavan as the hero?

    Raavan makes you think. It requires you to keep up with its breakneck speed. Not a simple movie like Guru. Which is why it has flopped.

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  127. sorry about this late word, but really I never had the time to see this film upto now and im kicking myself for not drawing the obvious parelells in my review ..but really all the oil stained colors of santosh sivan’s pallate drew my attention away from seeing that the film , Ravan/ Raavanan is really a mani reworking of the steven sodenberg film che (of which there are two parts, worth every minute of the 254 odd , with a masterful benicio del toro performance.

    I usually think sodenberg is the coctail party socialist of hollywood, adept at raising funds for democratic causes as long as he doesn’t actually have to MEET a homeless man..or something, but this film is a beauty. it was launched without fanfare , except to a small limited release audience who embraced it like it was a cult offering, and it was. The leftist political commentary is only matched in its virtuosity by the swank hollywood faux docudrama style which we have come to know so well in films like traffic, or sodenberg’s own Syriana..or good night and good luck.

    I wonder if as originally reported, the film might have been exponentially more awesome if terrance malick had directed it but alas there IS such a thing a s too much of a good thing. who knows the world might have imploded into a singularity if malick had made a film about ernesto.

    As it is, the movie is a salt of the earth juxtapose the camera to che’s hat and beard, shoot the American scees in black and white and forensically dissect the geopolitics and all the associated treacheries of the cuban revolution film worthy of the tradition of hollywood leftist film which is getting less popular by the day even as the famous leftists of Hollywood(warren beatty) lose at the box office ..there still is george clooney…

    The reason im posting this freeform rant in the raavan thread is because ,,,,if mani ever reads this he might know why. ;)

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  128. rameshram, is that mugshot in your comment yours? If yes, are you related to “TV News” Varadarajan in any way?

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  129. @naughtynine,
    I have been wanting to ask rameshram the question (that whether he is related to Varadarajan!)!!!
    So I am not the only one who thinks he resembles him a lot!!!!

    Like

  130. apala,

    There’s two theories possible here. Theory 1 : triplicanela deevitty thokkara dadiyinagal ellarukkum ore saayala irukkum.

    Theory two: thaths went : vaa shanmughi! Vaa! and that flowery kodai rotated and varadu was born.

    They need not be mutually exclusive ;)

    Like

  131. rameshram,
    So this makes Raavanan a good film? Or does it make all of us (who could not take it)”kazhuthais”?!!!

    I am happy for Mani but the fact of the matter is Raavanan sucks big time. I am not talking about it’s popular appeal — in which case I would not rate Iruvar & Dil Se as one of the best films from Mani, apart from Nayagan, of course .

    I would rather be a donkey than eat this crap to be a human, boss!!!!!!!!!!

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  132. “Or does it make all of us (who could not take it)”kazhuthais”?!!!”

    oh THIS does not make you kazzuthais…just your not being able to get karpoora vaasanai…

    “I would rather be a donkey than eat this crap to be a human, boss!!!!!!!!!!”

    ok suit yourself..

    Like

  133. I also think that raavanan is a film festival movie(and not a popular film. i am happy it’s being recognized in film festivals.

    I do understand that tastes differ( for instance bergman would have been treated pretty cruelly if he had tried to cater to a telugu – maghadheera watching audience).Some telugu equivalent of branigan would have said” the chess game went on for so long i would have played in place of max van sandow just to finish it”; but im partial to festival quality films ( makes gun out of fingers and pulls trigger at forehead).

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  134. rameshram-NA,
    it’s festival worthy maybe only because of the cinematography — which is also too “clean”! Edho ennoda (namme-nu sonna, nInga kochupeenga!) aRivkku ettalai, vidunga!!!
    Ana, Raavanan popular film ille, festival movie-nu Mani-kitte solli pArunga, theriyum sEthi!!!! (Avar ungalai, kaRpoora vAsanai theriyathavannu sonnAlum solvAr!!!!).
    Festival-o, Popular-o ——- movie has to engage it’s audience. If the tale fails in that, it’s harder to look for “subtexts” and enjoy it further………….

    (But I do not undestand one important thing in the movie (seriously – I would take any clarification/explanation): Why Dev is so casual in his “search” for his wife? I mean, how sure he is of this Veera’s good character that he kills Veera’s “messanger” brother when his wife is still in captive? How? Why? I am really not getting it………
    enakkum kaRpoora vAsani kEkkuthungaNNA and kedaikka mAttEnguthE!!! Ennaththa seyya!!!! Sari vidunga, tholayuthu intha donkey-saniyan!!!! ;)

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  135. y enough! rama was more intent in killing ravana and didnt care what happenned to seetha.

    re telling mani, bin/done. read my ravana review.

    the film is a festival film all right, you are not such an accurate judge of what a festival film is.. that or youve been to some realllly sucky film festivals…

    Like

  136. Pingback: RAAVAN (Hindi; 2010) | Channel Desi Film News

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