Sunday, June 20, 2010

Raavan: Maniratnam's most uninspiring work

For someone who grew up watching and enjoying Maniratnam's movies, it is difficult to like his latest - 'Raavan'. Steadily over the years, the nuances and silences of his Tamil movies disappeared to make way for painstaking Hindi dialogue and loud background scores. And gone with them are the fleshed out characters and we now see the cardboarded ones in 'Raavan'. For an analogy, Raavan is far too simplistic. Ironically, the Ram like character of Vikram shows little benevolence while the Bachchan Jr.'s Raavan has little if not no evil. The movies does not explain why the 'Raavan' is a feared lot and what drives him. Instead the character dishes silly antics, as sillier as most of the dialogues in the movie.

In fact the movie would have made more sense if it stressed on the conflict between forces of establishment and anti-establishment and how the lines between good and evil blur. The movie's excellent camerawork in the hinterlands would have wonderfully reflected the turf war between these forces as does the background score. But all the technical work has been wasted on a confused plot. The award winning editor Sreekar Prasad looks completely uninspired in the first half. He just let the boat sail. I really hope this is Mani's last work with AB Jr. It was a pain watching him in almost every frame in the first half, trying to interpret his character and act. This is a casting blunder. I understand that the Bachchan brand is the only factor in Maniratnam repeating AB Jr. for marketing his movies. This is turning as nightmarish as RGV' stint with Big B.

I hope Vikram did a better job in the Tamil version as 'Raavanan'. Would like to catch up with that sometime and see if Maniratnam indeed had a plot which could have been lost in translation from Tamil to Hindi!

I seriously think Hindi movies are weighing down Maniratnam as his style of making changed adversely in this transition. His movies have now become dialogue driven in Hindi, a language he is not too comfortable with. Maybe his ideas does not quite translate coherently in this scenario and so we get to see a mishmash. Compare the character graphs of Sooriya in 'Ayutha Ezhuthu' (Yuva in Telugu) and Ajay Devgan's in 'Yuva' and you will understand my point. I just wish Mani takes a break now as he did after 'Dil Se' to make a Tamil movie like 'Alaipayuthey' and get his bearings right before he ties himself into another Hindi movie project. This is from an admirer of his.

14 comments:

Murali said...

watched the telugu version(dubbed from tamil). And felt it was a good movie and the plot was very subtle and it was first time i felt vikram(hero) shined more than Mani Ratnam!!

Ammara said...

i saw the promo
nd found it so
boring...
the concept
of a kidnapper nd
the kidnapped
one expects so much more...

jayakrishna.reddy said...

I have seen the Tamil version on first day , I felt the story lineup was not proper , I was left to think is it a film of RGV or mani this would be the worst work of mani till date , aishwarya looked very artificial in her role , she was having her eyelash and makeup intact even when she was drowned in water , vikram was good but there was no logic for his role some times , mani just tried to get the epic ramayana into picture with out any proper imagination of the story . I wud recommend not to see Tamil version too ra ....

prasad said...

I'd try to refrain using adjectives to describe the 'Raavan' experience in fear that I might run out of words.
Seems everyone is hell-bent on only comparing it to the epic Ramayan and being massively disappointed at the so-called literal
adaptations.But for me the film simply worked. And Oh Boy,how did it?
The opening collage was masterly—cut with such precision that it gets things off to a pulsating start.
Every single shot here—from the tribal woman luring two policemen into a trap to the human bodies set aflame to the
hugely energetic sight of Abhishek Bachchan rattling drums to the sight of a hawk’s graceful flight past his towering frame,
is important and carefully chosen. This coupled with the opening credits in sepia tone with a dynamic background score in
itself is complete paisa vasool.
The non-linear narrative,tight editing,brilliant bg score with Mani at his best makes Raavan a memorable experience.
I can go on and on and on - IMHO it has to be up there with Iruvar and KM.
Going to watch it a second time now...

Amar said...

@Prasad,

Buddy, I am shocked! U r a real fanatic, a Mani fanatic!

/it has to be up there with Iruvar and KM/

For me, Iruvar is Mani's best; Raavan his worst. In fact, for me, this is only badly-made movie of Mani. Some movies may not have fared well at BO but they were well-made. They had a soul and they left a feeling in us after viewing. Raavan is pointless.

/Seems everyone is hell-bent on only comparing it to the epic Ramayan and being massively disappointed at the so-called literal adaptations/

Maybe a few. But mostly the disappointment stems from Mani discarding story-telling for style and for whom, AB Jr! He assaults the viewers in scene after scene in a poorly etched character. If it is hard to digest for a Mani fan like me, then the regular viewer's plight has to be understood.

/The non-linear narrative,tight editing../

Well its not just folks like me who didn't like the movie, now Big B blames the editor! Poor Srikar Prasad what would he do when the movie is pointless. What should guide him to edit it and dude how pathetic it is when the editor is blames when the movie is hardly 2 hours 10 min long. It speaks for the vacuum in the movie.

I just hope Mani gets some real actors who challenge him in the next venture. Enough with the Bachchans.

prasad said...

Dude,
I dont even know where and how to start.The movie is completely littered with enough intelligence that I find it hard to
imagine you'd not like/understand it,no pun intended(by you, I mean a larger audience).
Roughly quoting Mani and many other film makers,
A film maker uses every tool at his disposal to tell the story better,to let know the characters,to stage scenes effectively.
They are the canvas on which the drama unfolds helping transport the viewer close to the character,to the action - style is
imperative to substance.Many talented film makers around the world recognize this fact and employ style so effectively that we
get to see such spectacles as Avatar,Titanic,Departed...et al.It completely baffles me as to why such negativism's attached to style.

Also,all that literal depictions of Ramayan are far and few, and are quite good, when taken in context.C'mon guyz - Here's a
film maker who’s allegedly retelling an incredibly well known epic in entire country. So, the first thing he would have thought
on is how to add value to something so common.
The plot point - Dev is after Beera with a vengeance,long before his wife is abducted,(only the abduction then serves as a
collateral damage) - is precisely that.And, this seemingly inconsequential point makes all the difference.

Mani teases us with seemingly oversimplified points from Ramayan, while they are completely beside the main plot and exist only
to challenge his viewers on looking beyond those, into the fantastic subtexts - packing enough variations all through.
Infact,I'd say that what Mani conceals, works far, far better, than what he shows.

I am appalled at the reaction its been garnering,especially by so-called intellectuals - I am pretty confident that
5,10 years down the line ppl would appreciate what this movie was all about,as was the case with Iruvar,Dilse et al.

Amar said...

@Prasad,

//Avatar,Titanic,Departed...et al.It completely baffles me as to why such negativism's attached to style..//

If indeed style is considered negative, Mani wouldn't have attained the respect he commands. All his work is littered with style from PC Srirams camerawork in 'garshana' to Rahaman's music and the picturizations. And he rightly employed style to present his stories just like in Avatar,Titanic,Departed. The problem with 'Raavan' is it has ONLY style and nothing to say despite Mani's intentions.

//5,10 years down the line ppl would appreciate what this movie was all about,as was the case with Iruvar,Dilse et al//

I am not sure even now Mani would admit the movie didn't work for him!

And Iruvar and Dil Se were well understood and appreciated right when they were released. It is just that they were commericially not huge hits. It is not the same with Raavan. I can't make out the predicament/conflict points in the movie that would engage any viewer.

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prasad said...

//I am not sure even now Mani would admit the movie didn't work for him!//
I'm pretty sure,he'd admit the movie didn't work, as majority rejected it-you only have to know/look at the humility of this genius.

//Iruvar and Dil Se were well understood and appreciated right when they were released. It is just that they were commericially
not huge hits//
Buddy,you're grossly mistaken-maybe you,me,a few understood it but again a larger audience cudn't-Many talk highly abt those
films NOW.Forget abt the commercial aspect as it wud be rendered pointless long after a film's initial release.

//For an analogy, Raavan is far too simplistic//
From my earlier comments,
Mani teases us with seemingly oversimplified points from Ramayan, while they are completely beside the main plot and exist only
to challenge his viewers on looking beyond those, into the fantastic subtexts - packing enough variations all through.
Infact,I'd say that what Mani conceals, works far, far better, than what he shows.
A case in point:the movie is book-ended by two moments of “blindness” being lifted from Ragini. The first time she is
blindfolded by Beera, in the very beginning, the cloth is removed so that she is exposed to a new world,its harsh lessons
about violence and oppression. The second time she is blindfolded, towards the end, the darkness is lifted to reveal a new and
even bleaker truth about the nature of Dev - The man she claims at one point to be her “bhagwan” exposes a dark, obsessed
side she sees for the first time, firsthand.

//I really hope this is Mani's last work with AB Jr. It was a pain watching him//
Hmmm...I thought he was a class act in Yuva/Guru - Raavan is his,sadly,easily misunderstood performance.(And NO I do not idolize
any actor/actress)

//Big B blames the editor//
It was very unfortunate of him to talk abt this-utterly disappointing,unprofessional and uncalled for.But sadly,thats how the Indian film industry is.
But what he laments at are the cuts during Beera's maniac blabber(which most ppl thought was confusing,psychotic),ten heads appearing with
various voices and then all of them disappearing.
Well,this reminds me that Raavan infact,is 'dasakantha' meaning ten voices,not ten heads-it might only be appropriate that was
edited out.Also this somewhat awkward gimmick finds place only in 2 events in the movie,both at do-or-die situations;one when he's going to shoot
Ragini and one when he has to decide to save Dev or not.
Hmmm...even the enchanting Ranjha Ranjha didn't find place in the movie - Mani is easily one of the most ruthless film makers
out there!

//lost in translation from Tamil to Hindi!//
As Gulzar saab says,Mani won't let even a single word in without completely understanding its meaning/relevance.
But yes maybe he trusts his Hindi writers a bit more than in Tamil.

//I just wish Mani takes a break now//
Ironically,Mani wanted to retire after this, we'd be gutted to see the back of the most celebrated,visionary film maker
- But it seems he's ready with his next.:)

Amar said...

@Prasad

//maybe you,me,a few understood it but again a larger audience cudn't..//

Isn't that always the case with movies? They cater to niche audience. Iruvar was appreciated by everyone who had an idea abt TN politics. Some may disagree with the portrayal of characters but as a movie product they gave the credit. That is my point. If the movie is well-made, it will reach its intended audience, not all audience. If it is not well-made, it wont and Raavan for me is that case.

//the movie is book-ended by two moments of “blindness” being lifted from Ragini//

Maybe thats the intention. But even for this particular point to succeed, Dev should have initially shown some bhagwan-like characteristics. Did he? I didn't see any. Infact he does not even have enough scenes to show his character. Where is the predicament that would engage a viewer? That is precisely what I referred to when I said Raavan is far too simplistic. I cudnt care less abt the scenes reminding us abt Ramayana. What matters is whether Mani gave the intended feeling to the viewer through his craft.

prasad said...

Amar
My point when I referred to 'larger audience' was not niche audience.They wud've definitely understood it right away,but the aam junta only started realizing their potential very much later.

And Dev is 'bhagwan' like in Ragini's perspective;she repeatedly mentions this to Beera and in one marvellously constructed scene,in front of the giant statue lying in repose.(one of umpteen strokes of visual genius)
This characteristic need not be portrayed in deeds - Infact, Mani and his movies were never, one's for juvenile spoon-feeding.
I'm gonna catch it for a second time today,then will counter u'r recent take...:)

Amar said...

@ Prasad

// Mani and his movies were never, one's for juvenile spoon-feeding//

I very well remember the dialogue dude. By then the scenes of Dev make u think otherwise so I felt that line of Ragini was out of place!

By proper characterization Mani would be doing the movie a favor, not the viewers who pay to watch it. After all, the movie is not intended to film students or for film festivals. It is at the end of day released in theaters for public to watch. If the Dev's characterization is done is Ragini's head and not screen, how would viewer relate to Dev especially when he does not show any Bhagwan-like characteristics. And then Beera does not create a feared picture. In absence of which viewer anyway would not be drawn into the story conflict. I thought the movie would have had some skin if there was more focus on characterization. For instance, let us recollect the envy, insecurity and pride that drove the duo in Iruvar and how that was conveyed even with nuanced acting and restrained dialogue.

prasad said...

//the viewers who pay to watch it...not intended to film students or for film festivals//
When did you start writing commercial reviews (general audience in perspective)? Just kiddin',nuthin personal
I remember our good old days, fascinated by 'intelligent','thinking' cinema;a cinema in which almost nuthin was stated obviously/explicitly-be it the characters,their intentions,dialogues(or lack thereof),images,songs.

//Dev's characterization is done is Ragini's head//
Beera is the film's enigmatic soul,it is his world,his order that Mani intends to explore-he is at the center of Ragini’s
fascination eventually,he is at the heart of Dev’s obsession,he is also a character importantly in dialogue with himself on key occasions.
Mani frames the movie's narration through Ragini who offers the only possible access into Beera’s realm,there is almost nuthin of Beera in the movie that is not mediated through Ragini's perspective-we never see a Beera that she does not.And all this is
structured in Beera's land 'Raavan's abode' - ironically,the tamil title was rumoured to be Ashokavanam !
And in this whole milieu,Dev's explicit personification,if not through Ragini, as Ram would have not been necessary.

Amar said...

@Prasad

//When did you start writing commercial reviews (general audience in perspective)? //

Mine are not exactly reviews. I see them as comments. And the comments are not about audience but story-telling. I see movies as a medium of story-telling using audio and video to the maximum advantage. When I enter the theatre and sit in the dark, I want to be taken in and engaged through the story-telling. So I think its the maker who has to reach out, not me! And that is where the craft comes in. Otherwise why are people studying movie-making? All I am saying is Mani is honest with this movie but failed in the craft. The failure in itself is normal for any great filmmaker. In a project not everything falls in place all the time. But bothers are the reasons -flawed script and ridiculously bad actor for the demanding lead role.

//I remember our good old days, fascinated by 'intelligent','thinking' cinema;//

R u implying Mani's earlier movies are unintelligent!?

All I can say is there are balances to strike. After all, movies-goers are not sitting for IQ/EQ tests! We discussed all Mani's movies earlier. They were intelligent and engaging at the same time. Thats the balance. It is because they were engaging they were embraced by public.

If you ask me whether I can live with unintelligent movies I shamelessly would say yes :) that is if the storyteller engages me.

//Dev's explicit personification,if not through Ragini, as Ram would have not been necessary//
Leave alone the bhagwan-like chacrateristics, the problem is he has been characterized the other way as ruthless and deceptive. Too lopsided to generate sympathy and create a conflict for the viewers to care.