Star cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Vikram, Govinda, Ravi Kishan.
Plot: Abhishek has an axe to grind with police officer Vikram. So he abducts Vikram’s wife, Aishwarya. Vikram is hot on his trail, aided by Govinda.
What’s Good: The performances, the locations, the camerawork, music, Aishwarya’s dance.
What’s Bad: The one-track story, the slow pace, the poor climax.
Verdict: Raavan will appeal to only the class audience in the big cities, not to the masses.
Loo break: A couple in the first half which is slow.
Madras Talkies and Reliance Big Pictures’ Raavan is a modern-day story about characters which are inspired by characters of the epic, Ramayana. Dev Pratap Sharma (Vikram), a police officer, is married to Ragini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), a spunky classical dancer with a mind of her own. Dev is posted in Lal Maati, a small town in North India. In this town resides Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) who, over the years, has shifted the power equation from the rulers to the have-nots for whom he is the messiah.
Dev destroys Beera’s world when he strikes with his team at the wedding of Beera’s dear sister, Jamuniya (Priyamani). Beera is injured but the physical injury is nothing compared to his punctured ego. Beera swears revenge. Soon, he kidnaps Dev’s wife, Ragini. On the run with Ragini in the jungles of Lal Maati, Beera tortures Ragini even as Dev and his team are hot on his trail with the assistance of forest guard Sanjeevani (Govinda).
Is Dev able to rescue Ragini? Is he able to vanquish Beera? Does Ragini help Dev in accomplishing his task of wiping out Beera? Answers to these questions are provided in the second half of the film.
Dev Pratap Sharma and Ragini, quite obviously, play the characters of Ram and Sita in Ramayana while Beera is Raavan. The story and screenplay borrow heavily from the Indian epic but they also try to show that there is a Ram in Raavan and also that there is a Raavan in Ram. This is akin to treading a very slippery path and it could backfire, at least with the more orthodox audience which will not accept ‘distortion’ of mythology. And when one talks about mythological characters or even those obviously inspired by them, a large chunk of the public falls into the category of ‘orthodox audience’. It is because of this that Ragini’s reaction (in the climax) when her husband asks her whether Beera and she had had physical relations while she was held captive by him, will not go down well with the masses. The forward-thinking youth might treat Ragini’s reaction as very appropriate to hit back at a suspecting husband but their numbers would be less. The section of the audience which would feel repulsed by Ragini’s stand would feel so not just because it would be of the opinion that Dev was well within his rights to suspect his wife’s character and thereby convince himself about the reality but also because Beera is portrayed as the mythological evil character, Raavan, and Dev, as Ram. Even today, the older generation among the Indian audience feels, a male can put his wife to test of purity although she may not be at fault. And since there is a tinge of mythology involved, many among the younger generation may not like to question the epic and may, therefore, find it difficult to accept the ending.
Even otherwise, Ragini’s softening stand towards Beera is a bit disconcerting for the Indian audience. It is not clear why the two writers did not show scenes to very clearly establish why Beera is the enemy of law and what are his illegal activities for which he is being hunted by the police even before he has abducted Ragini.
The first half is very slow and boring after the initial couple of reels. Revealing the reasons for Beera’s revenge in flashbacks after interval may add to the intrigue value of the drama but it would also put off a section of the audience as it, in a way, confuses them till the flashback comes, and tests their patience. The post-interval portion is far more fast-paced than the first part but again, the writers trying to justify Beera’s action of kidnapping Ragini while also showing Dev Pratap Sharma in good light and trying to justify Ragini’s softening attitude towards Beera while still loving husband Dev is not the most intelligent thing to do – at least not when trying to appeal to the traditional audience. Dialogues (Vijay Krishna Acharya) are alright. The climax is, perhaps, the weakest part of the drama for the reasons cited above.
Abhishek Bachchan does well in the central role. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan shines. Looking resplendent, she acts so ably that it is a delight to watch her on the screen. Her dance on the ‘Khilli re khilli’ song (choreographed by Shobhana) is a brilliant piece of art and shows how flexible her body is and how great a dancer Aishwarya is. Vikram does justice to his role and although he is a newcomer for the audience in the rest of India, he adds star value for the audience down South. Govinda gets limited scope and even the lines he gets to mouth aren’t very entertaining. Nikhil Dwivedi is sincere in what he does. Ravi Kishan gives a first-rate performance, playing to the gallery. Priyamani is splendidly natural. Ajay Gehi is alright as Abhishek and Ravi Kishan’s brother.
Mani Ratnam’s direction, like the story and his screenplay, has sectional appeal. While his narration will be loved by the class audience, it will be found far less appealing by the masses. Also, his twist in the climax is a red mark on the film’s report card. A.R. Rahman’s music score is very good. ‘Beera Beera’ is a hit number. ‘Behene de’, ‘Kata kata’ and ‘Thok de killi’ are also appealing songs. ‘Khilli re khilli’ stands out for Aishwarya’s dance. Song picturisations, mostly on heavenly and unusual locations further enhance the appeal of the songs. Even otherwise, choreography (Ganesh Acharya, Brinda, Shobhana and Astad Deboo) is marvellous. Santosh Sivan and V. Manikandan’s cinematography befits the extraordinary locations on which the film has been shot, making the visual impact simply astounding. Action scenes (Peter Hein and Sham Kaushal) are very exciting. Sreekar Prasad’s editing is crisp.
On the whole, Raavan will remain a film for the classes mainly. It will do well in select multiplexes of big cities but not at many other places and in single-screen cinemas. Its weird climax is its biggest minus point and that will spell doom for the film. Considering its cost, it will entail huge losses to its worldwide distributor (Reliance Big Pictures).