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A mix of the good and not so good

Anuj Kumar

Wanted A better deal: Mani Ratnam's visually rich ‘Raavan' is a mixed show with shades of black


(BIG Odeon and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

We might take offence at cardboard characters in films but every year we do consign one such character to flames on Dussehra day. Good old Mani Ratnam, who as a perceptive film-maker has carved out a solid ground for himself in the estuary of the profound and the popular over the years, tries to make this eternally black character a few shades lighter in this new film of his as he looks at the crux of the epic from the opponent's point of view.

Unfortunately, he has gambled on the wrong actor to carry out a larger than life role. Abhishek Bachchan is best when he is understated and reserves his bouts of anger to a few scenes. This approach worked in Yuva and Guru but here, with little socio-political context to bank upon, Abhishek as Beera fails to find his feet.

To his credit, Mani has given him enough atmospherics to play with. In fact, riding on brilliant cinematography by the celebrated Santosh Sivan and Manikanandan, Mani spends the entire first half of the film on the build-up. Some of the scenery is pure visual delight, not seen in Hindi cinema before. Mani manages to take us inside the harsh world of Beera but not his mind. Abhishek can't portray that Beera is mad because of a cause. He seems to think that if he would keep on scratching his head he will turn Beera by the end. In the second half his performance does improve when he copies his father to the hilt but it is too little too late.

Vijay Krishna Acharya's ordinary dialogue doesn't help his case either. He is not consistent with the accent, and in the presence of actors like Ravi Kishan (as Beera's brother) and Govinda (in a modern-day Hanuman avatar), who know how to play with the turn of phrase in Bihari/Bhojpuri pretty well, Abhishek's limitations cry for attention.

Similarly his dance moves are more rap than rustic. Had he observed Ravi (impresses in an underwritten role) closely, he would have got the trick. The role required a man who could make a one-note character sound convincing.…somebody whose presence is enough to fill you with anticipation.

Vikram, who plays the good boy with increasing grey shades, shows how to do it in limited screen time. One hasn't seen the much talked about Tamil version of the film also made by Mani Ratnam (where Vikram plays Beera) but watching Vikram as Dev one could anticipate what magic he could conjure up with those facial muscles.

Aishwarya Rai as the supple bone of contention, Ragini, has given an assured performance. She is definitely better than Abhishek but that's not saying much. She shows some amazing moves in the jungle but when it comes to close ups in critical scenes, the theatrics are apparent. Priyamani as Beera's sister shows that potent performance comes more from feeling the character than loud facial gestures.

Mani's premise is exciting but the thrill doesn't percolate down to the screenplay. There is a hint of Naxal issues but he doesn't blend it well enough leaving his characters hanging in a torturous terrain. He is not new to kidnap sagas. Roja with Kashmir militancy as the background was much more compelling.

The Ramayana references look a bit forced and Mani takes too long to come to the point: the reason for the kidnap. Govinda jumps around for effect and Priyamani is deliberately pulled by nose to make the layman know what the director is up to. More importantly, despite plenty of footage and foliage, Ragini's change of opinion (and heart!) about Beera doesn't create the kind of flutter as expected from an auteur's reinterpretation of epical characters. We don't mind the half step if it is indicative of the direction but the master's muse fails to deliver the unsaid.

Editor Sreekar Prasad's non-linear narrative pattern evokes interest but in the absence of the cause and Abhishek's inability to rise above gibberish, you don't feel like exerting yourself in the first half. The crucial scene where Beera acknowledges his tilt towards the fearless Ragini or the one where he speaks about his jealousy for Dev are lost in scenery and semantics. Things do improve in the second half when Surpanakha reference unfolds. The final act when the line between Ram and Raavan blurs beyond recognition, you get glimpses of the Mani we knew but by then you had almost given up on your money!

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