Raavan Movie Review: Love-it-or-hate-it

Posted: June 21, 2010

Mani Ratnam’s Raavan gives the old story of Good vs. Evil a makeover, but the result may startle some viewers! 

By Amrita Rajan

Ragini Sharma (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) has a simple question for her husband Dev (Vikram): why doesn’t he just shoot Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) dead? Surely that’s the obvious choice for a police officer hunting down a notorious criminal in his own backyard, rather than wasting time debating whether his quarry is a Raavan or a Robin Hood.




Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, evocatively shot by cinematographers Santosh Sivan and V. Manikandan, is an excellent bait-and-switch operation. You think you’re going in for an exciting Naxalite-ish Gangaajal loosely based on the central conflict of the Ramayana, and you exit from a two hour meditation on what it means to be a human being.

Raavan Story

This is a movie that will not be rushed. A magnificent bird of prey lands next to a beautiful woman on a boat, startling her. Ragini is being kidnapped by Beera, a man who seems determined to take his ongoing vendetta with the police shockingly personal. “Why should you kill me?” she asks him defiantly as he takes aim at her, choosing instead to dive off a cliff. It is an unexpected moment of bravery that leaves him spinning. “Will you stay here with me?” he asks. She does not know what to say, not when she knows he holds her captive by his mere presence. This was not the plan; he’d fully intended to kill her and she’d sworn to destroy him.

The first half is entirely devoted to Ragini and Beera’s discovery of each other and the havoc this wreaks upon their internal life. The everyday Ragini is a cold-eyed pragmatist and an artiste who wonders where she fits into her husband’s world of justice at the point of a gun. Beera, likewise, is a man driven by the injustices of his life and his own punishing personal code.

With him, she is a woman transformed – she might tell her husband her bravery is an act, but every single day in Beera’s forest she chooses to be this other Ragini who will fight and scream and demand her dignity even in the face of certain death.

With him, she is a woman transformed – she might tell her husband her bravery is an act, but every single day in Beera’s forest she chooses to be this other Ragini who will fight and scream and demand her dignity even in the face of certain death. With her, he is consumed by a love he never expected to feel, exhilarated and elevated by his knowledge that here is a fight he cannot win.

It is in the second half that the movie begins to explore beyond the central event – what prompted Beera to choose this method of revenge? What part did Dev, the husband whose integrity she trusts absolutely, play in it? How important is she to him? And what will happen now that Beera and Ragini have met? And here, as the story moves towards its inevitable climax of death and destruction, is where all the weaves come together to finally make a pattern.

Ragini stands between two men: one righteous, the other flamboyantly emotional. And she begs God not to replace her anger with empathy because recognizing her enemy’s humanity weakens her. Neither one of the men, however, feel any such conflict. They have chosen their sides long ago. Dev is on the side of the Law and he will stoop as low as he needs to achieve the best results for it – be it murder, betrayal or torture. Beera is on the side of… well, Beera. And he will follow his heart right to his doom if that’s the way it goes.

 Aishwarya Rai Bachchan screeches until you wonder at Beera’s restraint in keeping his finger off the trigger but is terrific in the moments where she brings Ragini’s dawning self-awareness to the fore.

The irony of their enmity is that the two of them are fighting for fundamentally different stakes. Dev sees Beera as a threat to the society he has sworn to serve. Beera simply wants Ragini’s regard. She once flippantly likened her husband to God; all Beera desires is to be something more than a monster to her, the woman who once coolly counseled his murder.

Cast Of Mani Ratnam’s Raavan

Abhishek Bachchan pulls a succession of funny faces, aided and abetted by a thumping A.R. Rahman soundtrack heavy on the bass, but mostly settles down in the second half which caters to his talent for hidden vulnerability; Aishwarya Rai Bachchan screeches until you wonder at Beera’s restraint in keeping his finger off the trigger but is terrific in the moments where she brings Ragini’s dawning self-awareness to the fore. Vikram hides behind his shades and looks quietly capable; Govinda made me laugh in perhaps the best case of casting I’ve seen in a very long time; Ravi Kishan exists and I don’t object. The scene stealer for me was Priyamani as the strong-willed sister whose brutal assault, effected for the sole crime of mouthing off to a police officer while being Beera’s sister, sets the whole story in motion.

Raavan is an interesting variation on Mani Ratnam’s earlier movies. But it will make you work a lot harder than you expect as a viewer, so be prepared to either hate it or love it.

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