Dear Mani Sir,
As we bring this blogathon to an end with your last offering Raavan, I would like to request you to give us back the Mani sir who was once touted as the Spielberg of India. Who tried to change the conventions of mainstream cinema by replacing drama with subtlety. Who chose bold themes like younger boy falling for older lady (Pallavi Anu Pallavi), chose an specially abled child character as the protagonist of a film (Anjali), robbed off Rajnikant of his demi-god like stardom and gave his fans that one chance to see the actor inside him (Thalapati). And that scene in Nayagan where Kamal Hassan looks at his son’s dead body and turns away his eyes with cry of disbeilef. Gosh !!! I would give my arm to watch that scene over and over again.
And then your ambitions grew bigger. Which was good for Indian Cinema. Because we needed someone to tackle national issues with some honesty and sincerity on celluloid. But that also meant reaching out to a larger audience. So you started simplifying the plot. Dramatizing the scenes. Introducing item numbers. Which we did not mind. Who would do that if those item numbers have Sonali Bendre dancing and Remo Fernandes exercising his vocal chords to his coolest best. Or the epic song on the top of a train which even Spike Lee could not resist from including in the opening credits of his film.
As always there was much hype surrounding a Mani Ratnam film. A.R. Rahman and Gulzaar saab had already weaved the magic with the songs. Personally being a Abhishek Bachchan fan I really wanted him to outshine his own performance in Guru. The preview shows had already created a positive buzz. ‘Raavan is not a story. Its a world.’
Wow ! That seemed to be picked up from the tag line of Avatar. Never mind. With hopes held high we entered the theatre and sat quitely as the grand opening visual came up.
The camera lifts up to show the silhouette of Abhishek standing above the cliff. And then he quitely pushes a pebble from there into the river. The background score has still not come up. Rahman is holding it back. Letting Tapas Nayak’s sound design do the talking. Cut to montages of people blocking the road with a stone. A village lass luring some police officers in a fair into a tent. A person in hand-cuffs being taken into a police lock-up.
Beera jumps off the cliff. A police bike tumbles over the stone and the police van following it is set to fire. A group of intruders attack the police officers, following the girl, inside the tent. The man in hand-cuffs breaks them open and open fires on the officers inside the police-station. Background score has been put to full volume. Beera plays a dhol like a maniac. The grandeur and fear of his character has been established.
But the mastery does not stop here. The epic kidnapping of Sita is yet to happen. So we will first have an eagle landing on Sita’s boat (Has that something to do with Pushpak Vimaan, Mani Sir ?). Mr. Manikandan zooms in and out the silhoutte of Beera, takes a shot from beneath the water to show one boat clashing into the other and Mr Rahman deftly plays the music to race up the pulses of the audience. Another master scene is created. Cut to opening credits. Wow again ! As different still shots of Beera dance to the tunes of the title song deftly mixed with tribal lyrics and sounds we know we are ready for another great film from you.
And then the downfall begins. The writers did not know where to take it from there. Beera is said to be a modern-day avatar of Raavan. But not for once do we feel afraid of him. And that “chak-chak-chak-chak-bhak-bhak-bhak-bhak” thing makes him all the more funny Mani sir. Did no one in the unit tell you so ?
But wait Manikandan and Santosh Sivan have not given up yet. They will take the most amazing shots of the waterfall, capture the locations in forest like visual poetry and present Aishwarya like the most beautiful thing to have happenned since Helen of Troy. In one shot the camera even goes inside the exhaust pipe of the car to show the trap Beera’s men had put for the police in there. And Mr. Rahman will not leave a single moment to come up with a background score to heighten the drama. If I am not wrong he must have pioneered the concept of using vocals for background score as well. Take this sequence for example. (Producers of Rahman films – do release an album containing only the background score.. will sell like hot cakes .Trust me !)
I did not even feel the movie drag for a single moment. Sreekar Prasad’s scissors really kept it taut. I was sort of giving in to the technical strengths of the film and also enjoying it despite all the flaws when someone besides me whispered into my ears “Kya jhand movie hai yaar!” I looked around and saw people with their hands on heads – boredom writ large on their faces. Now no matter how critical I am of you Mani sir I can’t tolerate anyone else doing it. I would jump to your defence even if I don’t personally like the film. But I hardly had anything to say over here so I quietly slipped back into the seat and kept watching the film.
So you have Sanjeevani (Govinda) reaching Beera’s den but no one bothers to justify how he could ever find the route. You will show Beera as the Robin Hood of Lal Maati. But not for once will you show him creating havoc on the law of the land or distributing wealth amongst the poor. But the kids will still dance behind him as if he is a Pied Piper. And yes this very concept of Laal Maati. Some reference to Naxalbaari, is it ? The villagers even look and speak like people from eastern parts of the country. But the locales seem to resemble southern part of India. And with a land so fertile and stream so perennial I wonder what exactly is the problem of the villagers on whose behalf you are fighting against the system. And then you take a leap of faith to justify the title of the film. Why is Beera called Raavan. Ohh! Because he can be at ten places at the same time. No because his mind can think of ten different things at the same time.
The fault finding can go on forever sir. I am not even half as qualified as you to do that. But there comes a phase in every film maker’s life where the team around him is so much in awe of him that they will dare not correct him even if they sense something wrong. And that is what exactly happened with this film.
As I sit back recalling the film there are quite a few scenes which I feel were amazingly executed. And it is because of such scenes that Raavan, despite of being your most flawed film, will outshine some people’s best efforts.
1. The screenplay in this scene – where we cut back and forth between the original incident and Beera’s narration of it. The dialogue begins in one scene but the next line is completed in the flashback before we cut back to the original scene again. And do listen to the Maestro’s choice of instrument for the background score. Lifts up the level of the scene.
2. The original song Ranjha Ranjha was already a hit before the film released . But seems was left out of the final edit. Instead the makers used a sad version of the song (originally inspired by a Bulle Shah poetry) where Rekha Bharadwaj’s rustic vocals have been put to best use. You left no stone unturned to marry rawness and sensuality so beautifully in this scene. Beera is mesmerised by Raginis’s beauty and her fearlessness but will not touch her without her consent.
3. And this last song in the film which remains unreleased till date, is my favourite one from the album. (Only the Tamil version is available on Youtube. If someone finds the hindi one do post it below in the comments section). Who would not sympathise with the character as they walk out of the theatre with this playing in the background ?
As I said earlier even your worst is better than the best of many. Come back again sir. We are waiting.
Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:
1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Take 1 Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal(Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil) 20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan(Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)