Monday, June 21, 2010

Raavanan Take 3!


(Veeru sees Raagini in a way that Dev never will...)

I've already written
two reviews on Raavanan but I just can't seem to stop thinking about the film. Of the many reviews I've read, a a couple of complaints keep cycling up. One is that the story is too flimsy and the characters are stereotypes. The second involves the characterization of Dev and Veeru, with some feeling that they are too 'gray' and others that they are not 'gray' enough.

I'd answer the first by saying that
Raavanan was never intended to be about story and, besides, with the plot drawn from a devotional source, I'm assuming that we all knew the story going in anyways. With that kind of material, Raavanan requires a certain ability to watch a film on an emotional level and not a logical one. Why does Shahrukh follow Manisha Koirala around in Dil Se? There is no logic in it except his dil. And how do any of the gangs in the 1970s movies make money? How does Amitabh build an empire in twenty minutes in Trishul? Is it realistic that a man has a specific brain disease that requires him to refresh his memory every 15 minutes? Is a moustache and an Arabic headdress a convincing disguise?

In short, some things just need to be accepted as
filmi logic. Watching Raavanan for a look into the daily lives of Maoist rebels or for a thoughtful exploration of the mind of a Robin Hood-style bandit will not lead to a satisfying viewing experience. (And also leads me to believe that these reviewers have never seen a Mani Ratnam film before.)

That said, if you are going to build a film on an emotional narrative, you need good actors and
good performances, and I think Vikram, Aishwarya Rai, and Prithviraj all hit it out of the park on that one.

The one critique that I think is valid story-wise is that if Mani Ratnam was aiming at a more Southern
masala revenge saga feel, then it would have been good to go into Veeru's background like this reviewer wanted.

Onto the alleged shades of gray or alleged lack thereof, depending on your point of view.

I read one blog review (that I can't find - if this is you, speak up!) that I think hit the nail on the head. It said that what is really going on is that Dev is black and Veeru is white but we begin the film assuming the opposite, so that our impressions of the characters change as we learn more about them, rather than the characters changing themselves. Raagini is almost the audience substitute in this regard. As she realizes, we realize. Veeru might use some nasty tactics but he is essentially acting on the side of honor and justice while Dev has a badge and the authority of the state but is driven only by self-interest. White and Black - just not the combination you might have been expecting.

I didn't go into spoilers in my review(s) because I didn't want to ruin the film for people who haven't seen it yet but now I do want to discuss what happened.

Let's start with the Dev-Raagini relationship. I read a few reviews that expressed surprise that
Dev's romantic moments with Raagini were found wanting, but to me, I think that was the point. Raagini, like Sita, is in awe of her husband. She worships him - expressly in the case of the song "Kalvare," which shows Raagini performing for her husband as he goes about his daily life. He is not indifferent to her but rather he feels that she belongs to him. When Veeru kidnaps her, it is the blow to his pride more than concern for his wife that motivates Dev into action.

I think the last scenes of the film when Dev and Raagini are reunited that make their relationship expressly clear. She has been through a 14-day trial in the woods and he is
still more interested in taking revenge on Veeru than on helping his wife recover or in her general well-being. The difference between that scene and previous scenes of the two is that now Raagini realizes that her husband has no romantic love for her and she stands up for herself.

And now the Veeru-Raagini relationship. Let me preface this by saying that this film would not have worked if Aishwarya Rai and Vikram did not have the celluloid-melting chemistry that they do. At first, Raagini is just a pawn to Veeru. He captures her and is going to kill her to spite her husband. But, Raagini shows remarkable bravery and resilience and I think the clinching moment for Veeru is when he is facing her with the gun and she says that she is the only one with dominion over her life and throws herself off the cliff. Raagini must have reminded him of his sister - a strong woman determined to have her death on her own terms.

Is it Stockholm Syndrome that changes Raagini's mind about her kidnapper? I think it's more like a deprogramming. Her eyes are opened to the forest and the people who live within it. Raagini is tempted to get in touch with her inner
junglee, too. In the song "Kodu Poatta," where mud-covered Veeru and his men dance an ecstatic dance of one-ness with the natural world, Raagini watches from the sidelines her head covered. Gradually, she lets it slip and rain falls directly on her head - and the sparks that fly between her and Veeru as he catches her eye are palpable.

Raagini is given a choice, at the end. Veeru does set her free, much like the Beast in
Beauty and the Beast. It is her decision to come back. He will not force her, now matter how much he would like her to stay with him.

While the film is called
Raavanan, it is Raagini who is the protagonist in the strictest sense of the term. It is her journey we follow and she is the only person who undergoes some character growth. Aishwarya does a wonderful job, as she has done in all her films in recent years, and I hope she gets some recognition for it.

And I would like to deliver a tight slap or two to the reviewers who were criticizing Aishwarya's looks in the film. I thought she looked radiant, even covered in mud. 34 or 35 is not old and haggard by any means. And I think her mature look added to the character. What would it mean for a very young woman like Genelia D'Souza or Jiah Khan to be won over by the 40+ and very powerful Vikram? A Raagini played by someone so young would almost inevitably have a dash of wide-eyed naivety added to her character that would make Raagini seem like an impressionable woman taken in by a powerful and charismatic man. With an actress like Aishwarya, there is no danger of that - she is Veeru's equal.

I'm sure I'll have even more to say once I get the DVD. I would like to congratulate Mani Ratnam and the cast and crew of
Raavanan for making a film that has captured my heart. I honestly have not fallen this hard for a fictional universe since I saw Twilight: New Moon and understood the doomed inevitability of Jacob and Bella's relationship. That may not sound like praise for some of you reading but consider this - I saw Twilight: New Moon in the theater three times. And have seen it on DVD at least two more. You know how busy I am. That is praise.

I would love to see
Raavanan again in the theater, even with the wonky subtitles, but sadly, it is way too hard for me to get out there more than like once a week.

Still, I have devoted at least three thousand words to
Raavanan over the weekend. And that is something.

3 comments:

filmizest said...

You're on a roll. hehe...Great review on Raagini Dev and Veera. I agree with most. Not genelia or Jiah khan but there are many other actresses that I would have preferred. She did well enough anyway. I agree about the chemistry during those couple of scenes but I think that is pure Vikram and his eyes and body language. Woah!!

Anonlee said...

I'm glad to see you really delve into some of the subtleties of Raavanan. It was really upsetting to see how nasty some of the critics have been to Mani Ratnam and his wonderful hardworking cast and crew. At least he got appreciation from Western reviewers and audience members.

I loved the movie even with its minor flaws. It has so much meaning that is being overlooked by many people and it is visually stunning at the same time.

Actually I have seen Raavanan twice and Raavan once and plan to purchase the DVD when released. Hopefully Mani will include lots of deleted scenes.

Christine Menefee said...

Can't wait to see both of them and then reread your fine posts about them! Wonder how long it'll take before I finally see them (whine)

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