“We can’t stop getting killed”


By T S Sudhir

“We can’t stop getting killed”. “We can’t stop getting killed”. “We can’t stop getting killed”.

These words uttered by a young, dynamic Chhattisgarh cadre IPS officer to me, over the phone last night, keeps reverberating in my ears. This officer cut his teeth in the jungles of Dantewada, before being posted out after an ambush by the Maoists that killed several CRPF jawans.

But lest you get me wrong, this is not a coward laying down arms. It is the honest truth in Chhattisgarh today. The writ of Raman Singh runs only in Raipur. Most of his domain exists only on paper, the Maoists call the shots, quite literally.

Which is why with every Maoist attack on security personnel, the shock value of the bloodshed is no longer felt in North Block, the way it was in April when 75 CRPF jawans were killed by Maoists in Dantewada. `Red massacre’ screamed newspaper headlines then. The BJP produced lyrical criticism (`the red corridor has become the blood corridor’). Pressure was mounted on the home ministry that it had to show action on ground. That it will match a bullet with a bullet. Two months and two ambushes (killing 31 and 27) later, P Chidambaram is yet to bite the bullet.

The standard response has been to send in reinforcements. Almost as if feeding the monster. For heavens sake, they are not meant to do bandobast duty in the jungles.

CRPF jawan, unfamiliar with terrain, culture and language, untrained to fight a better trained, motivated and intelligent Maoist army, are being consumed in the dark underbelly of India in south Chhattisgarh. Reduced to statistics, footnotes in India’s war against Red terror. 5 dead is a small number, 27 is big, 76 is a massacre.

As I cross the Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh at Konta, several fortresses greet us. These are police stations, a symbol of fear and anxiety. They have to guard not the people, but themselves from Maoist attacks because the outlaws will attack them to loot their weapons. These are not sights new to me. I have seen northern Telangana and Nallamalla region go through similar labour pain in the 90s, when sentries would point a gun at you if your movements around the police stations were found suspicious.

Slogans of `Naxalwadi murdabad’ put up on boards outside police stations are ironically the only visible police response to Maoism in these parts. Which is why the CRPF is meant to give the men in khaki the edge over the Maoists. But in the warzone called Chhattisgarh, it is proving to be an IPKF kind of costly misadventure.

A senior CRPF officer lets me into everythng that is wrong with his organisation and the way it is being used in Chhattisgarh. “Everytime it is the same mistake of not following standard operating procedures. They don’t realise the Maoists have their eyes just about everywhere. They are noticing them. Their intelligence and courier network is better than ours. Can you imagine one of our parties had their lunch and dinner at the same place. When you are on an area domination mission, it is common sense that if you are taking the plains, you have to first secure and dominate the hilltops. In two of the recent cases, they failed to do so and were fired at by Maoists who had strategic positions on hilltops.”

Security experts also point fingers at the CRPF ethos. “This paramilitary force is built on the police model and its mid-level leadership more often than not, displays a daroga mentality. By deploying the CRPF in any kind of disturbed situation, the political establishment also has blunted its prowess. An average CRPF jawan still moves around with a stick.”

Compare this with how the district police forces in north Telangana behaved at the height of the naxal movement in Andhra Pradesh. They in fact, behaved more like paramilitary, almost morphed into a military entity.

At the CRPF base camp in Sukma, a jawan points out the emblem of the force to me. It displays the motto of the force : `Service and loyalty’. Crude as it may sound, the Maoists seem to be testing each one of them on this count.

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Rajini & Aamir Khan in Bhutan !

By Uma Sudhir

“You remember Aamir Khan’s real name in `3 Idiots‘? Wangdu. You can call me by that name.”

That was the young reporter of `Business Bhutan’ offering me an easy way out of struggling to pronounce Phuntsho Wangdi. Aamir Khan was Phunsukh Wangdu in `3 Idiots‘. Once again Bollywood had come to the rescue.

An otherwise overhyped industry, but it must get credit where it is due. Its hugely unacknowledged service in creating a virtual cultural continuum between people, sometimes so diverse and different, for whom this becomes a common chord. That always comes as a pleasant surprise when you are talking to a person from another country, an alien language and unfamiliar sociocultural set-up and suddenly when you discover a common passion or at least common ground in familiarity with or love for Bollywood and then it gets easier to go forward from there.

To my surprise though, there was more than just Bollywood that connected me and Wangdi. He not only spoke Hindustani Hindi, as do most others in Bhutan, he spoke Tamil as well. As I found out, he was a huge fan of Rajinikanth and Vijay and had a personal collection of more than 200 Tamil films at home. His friends in Bhutan love the films, he told me.

I had heard of Superstar’s fans in Japan but Bhutan was new. Wangdi had graduated from a college in Tambaram, on the outskirts of Chennai and his love for the land of Rajini and Vijay, had only grown several times more with the fond memories he has of nalla Madras.

Wangdi says he has family, not related by blood or marriage, `back home’ in Chennai. That is the `akka’ (elder sister) who had reluctantly rented out a room to him, succumbing to his persistence, when he got sick of the hostel food. The same lady soon adopted him as a brother, sent him regular supply of sambar and rasam, always with piping hot rice and even nursed him to health when he fell ill. Now he calls her at least once a week and it was obvious it was a treasured relationship that transcended nationality, language, culture.

What I discovered is that for most people in Bhutan, the connection with India is almost umblical. After all, everything from needles to clothes to rice comes from India. And they identify so much with India and its people that for them it seems a mere extension of their own land and people. An affection from across the border, most of India and Indians are probably, unfortunately, largely, oblivious to.

The world at Saina’s feet. Well, almost

(Photo courtesy : P Anil Kumar)

By T S Sudhir

For a week starting tomorrow, Saina Nehwal can imagine herself to be Kaka, Messi, Maradona or whoever her favourite football star is. Her coach Pullela Gopichand’s diktat to her is to play football and give her badminton racquets some rest. While his idea is to energise his ward after three gruelling back-to-back tournaments, all of which she won, it also symbolically conveys the message. That the top honours of world badminton are at Saina’s feet. Within striking distance, quite literally.

Flying Jakarta-Singapore-Chennai-Hyderabad to bring back home her clutch of three gold medals, Saina is the new Hyderabadi hurricane, who threatens to blow away Chinese domination of the sport. Three victories in three weeks have pushed her ranking up three places to world number 3. But ranking is just a state of mind and it rests lightly on her shoulders.

“It is important for me to work hard and win the tournaments rather than focussing on rankings because if you play well, you go up and if you don’t, you go down. So for me, it is important that I win tournaments, devote time to training. I am sure that if I can reach number 3 spot, I can also become world number 1.”

That sense of detachment perhaps comes from the origin of her name. Her dad Dr Harvir Singh tells me `Saina’ came from `Sai-naam’. Though her nickname is the more sporty `Steffi’. That’s because when as a six-year-old, she used to accompany her parents, both quality badminton players, to the courts, her hairstyle reminded people of Steffi Graf. As an emotional Dr Harvir Singh said today, “She may be world number 3 today but to me she is still my bachcha, my Steffi. I still call her by this name.”

To Saina goes the credit of putting the name of her village, Nehwal in Haryana, on the world map. No wonder, her hattrick was followed by congratulatory phone calls from the chief ministers of both Andhra Pradesh and Haryana.

Incidentally, when the family moved in 1998 from Haryana to Hyderabad, 8-year-old Saina first enrolled for judo and karate. It was a year later that badminton coach and Dronacharya award winner S M Arif spotted her talent and predicted that in three years, Saina will play the Nationals. Saina did not disappoint Arif Sir ; she had 16 singles and doubles titles to boast of, before she was 12.

Saina’s success has spawned a badminton revolution in India. Proof of that can be found in Gopichand’s academy in Hyderabad, home to 110 players, among them Gopi’s 7-year-old daughter Gayatri and 5-year-old son Sai Vishnu. Gopi’s wife and former India player P V V Lakshmi says the infrastructure, coaching standards and exposure have made a huge difference to the success of players like Saina.

“During my days, we used to play three tournaments in a year. These players play some 12 to 15. Unlike the rickety machines in our time, now the facilities available for physiotherapy are world-class. It makes all the difference,” says Lakshmi.

For the moment, Saina is making all the difference. Like Vishwanathan Anand, Sachin Tendulkar and Sania Mirza before her in their sport, Saina has created a sensational buzz around badminton. And unlike some youngsters, who find it difficult to handle the fame and the glory, frittering away all the goodwill and good advice, Saina has so far displayed an even keel.

“Her USP is her `never give up’ attitude,” says Gopi. “She was like this when she was ranked 100 and now when she is 3. We had planned that she should be in the top 10 by end of 2009. She was number 6 by August last year. Similarly, we thought she should aim to be in the top 5 by end of 2010. She has beaten that deadline again by six months.”

Which should be incentive enough for Saina to sit back and spend some quality time with her family, especially her sister Chandranshu, who also plays volleyball. She has three big tournaments coming up in 2010. The world championship in August in Paris, followed by the Delhi Commonwealth Games and the Asiad.

The only weakness in Saina’s SWOT analysis is academics with Saina yet to finish her +2 exam. But papa is not complaining.

“Saina must be the only student who though has not finished her +2, goes to her school as the chief guest instead !!”

You can also find T S Sudhir’s blogs at http://www.thesouthreports.com


To Gopi Bhaiya, with thanks !

(Photograph courtesy : P Anil Kumar)

By T S Sudhir

I met Pullela Gopichand first in July 1998 for an interview at the Lal Bahadur stadium in Hyderabad, very close to where he used to live those days. When we reached the ground, we found preparations underway at the stadium for a film nite, later that evening. One insolent organiser gestured to us not to set up our camera anywhere on the ground.

“Who is he?” he asked rudely, pointing to Gopichand.

“He is India’s national badminton champion,” I replied.

“Okay. But you cannot do the interview here. We are organising a Raveena Tandon nite here.”

I stood my ground and completed the interview at the stadium, firm in my belief that Gopi has more right to the stadium than a Bollywood actress.

But then this is India, that follows no sport other than cricket. Little surprise then that after an All-England title, an Arjuna Award, a Rajiv Khel Ratna award and a Padma Shri, Gopi met another gentleman in 2008, who too asked “Aap Kaun?”

This gentleman’s visiting card read : M S Gill, Union minister for Sports, Govt of India. Gill asked Gopi to introduce himself when he and his pupil, Saina Nehwal went to meet the minister in Delhi, after Saina had reached the quarter-finals at the Beijing Olympics.

That’s the problem when you have a sports minister who spends more time training his gun at the likes of Suresh Kalmadi, V K Malhotra and V K Verma. Incidentally, Gopi is the only sportsperson to win all three top sporting honours : the Arjuna Award in 1999, the Rajiv Khel Ratna Award in 2001 and the Dronacharya Award in 2009.

Having known Gopi for twelve years now, I divide his playing career into the pre-All-England triumph and post that heady victory. His life was a struggle before All-England happened in 2001. His knee injury almost crippled his dreams of playing badminton. Practising in the stuffy indoor stadium in Hyderabad took its toll on the best of players.

Gopi’s constant refrain as a player used to be how the Badminton Association of India needs to recognise his need for a permanent travelling coach. I remember him cribbing about the quality of advice mediocre coaches would hand out to him.

What do they tell you before an important match, I asked him once. Gopi’s answer stumped me. “They would tell me, don’t hit the shuttle into the net, keep varying my shots, not to get tired.”

I remember Gopi and his mom calling me that evening in 1998, after my story on him was aired. Just to say thank you. Not that they had to.

His All-England victory made him a star. But he was different from the rest and believed it was important for a champion to be a good role model as well. He refused lucrative offers to endorse aerated drinks, saying “people have stopped drinking healthy drinks like fruit juices and people in the villages have actually begun to believe that soft drinks are good for health. Aerated drinks are not only bad for health, they are also bad for local industry. Thanks to aerated drinks, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find nimbu sherbet and coconut water.”

Sharp on court, sharp off it as well, Gopi wasted no time between calling it a day as a player and switching over to coaching. Gopi focussed on building his academy in Hyderabad that is now recognised as a centre for excellence by the World Badminton Federation. It is here that he lets his racquet do the talking. And his best brand is called Saina Nehwal, India.

The two share a special bond. Saina will not do anything that Gopi Bhaiya has said no to. That’s the kind of respect he commands. The Dronacharya Award and Arjuna Award that Gopi and Saina won together last year was a case of perfect timing. It was a way to tell the world that they indeed are the best teacher-pupil combine in the world of badminton.

Gopi is pleased with the way Saina conquered Chennai, Singapore and Jakarta. “She should not repeat any of the mistakes she made in the last three tournaments. And she should continue to be fit and mentally focussed on the game,” he says.

After her hattrick, Saina has three big tournaments lined up for 2010. The World championship, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. For her admirers expecting her to wear the number one crown, Gopi has a word of caution.

“To be number one, Saina needs to play in many more tournaments. We are not targetting the top spot. The idea is to play in big tournaments and do really well in them and preferably win them.”

Saina is the first smash hit on Gopi’s court. His academy is home to atleast half a dozen more players who are already making a name on the world stage. Time, I think, to demonstrate that Chinese goods alone cannot reign supreme in the world badminton market. It is time to proudly wear the `Made in India’ brand.

You can also find T S Sudhir’s blogs at http://www.thesouthreports.com


Being happy, in Bhutan

By Uma Sudhir

Purely by accident rather than design, I caught up with the film `The Pursuit of Happiness’ on a flight from Hyderabad to Delhi, on my way to Bhutan. No single definition perhaps can fully explain that ultimate feeling that we universally strive for and yet, it is a small sparsely populated country, sandwiched between the two most populated nations in the world, that must get the credit for officially making Gross National Happiness (GNH), rather than GDP, the most important goal, worthy of an entire nation’s pursuit.

Once on Druk Air, the official Bhutanese airline, I woke up early morning on the flight after a short nap, to the sight of ice-capped Himalayas, as streaks of sunlight opened up the cloudy curtains. The ecstasy of catching my closest-ever glimpse of the Everest certainly was a happy beginning. Flying between mountains, we landed at Paro. The airport looked pretty picture-perfect and as someone joked, wouldn’t be surprised if we took ill after suddenly being exposed to such fresh, clean air considering the gas chambers we breathe in back home.

After taking in a few sights and sounds of this virgin country, unspolit by the spoils of `development’, later that evening, when Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley shared his country’s much-talked about dream and vision, of controlling change and development rather than being controlled by it, somehow the images that conjured up in my mind were of Planet Calypso from James Cameroon’s Avatar. Set as though in another time and space, seeking to be a serene island of `Happiness’, in a mad world galloping towards self-destructive `development’.

The Prime Minister explained that GNH is not a guarantee of happiness by the government, unlike, say the Fundamental Rights promised by the Indian Constitution. Rather the government takes the responsibility to create the right environment for people to seek happiness. So only those projects and policy would be allowed that would support equitable and sustainable socioeconomic development, environment conservation, preservation of culture and promotion of good governance. The idea being that material enrichment cannot make you spiritually impoverished, it must address emotional, ecological and social needs as well.

Wow, is that really plausible, I wondered. Curiosity drove me to ask questions. Pat came some statistics, quoting a 5-year-old survey that claimed that an overwhelming 97 per cent of Bhutanese are happy, of which 45 per cent are very happy, 52 per cent happy and the remaining three percent “not very happy”.

And it is not just GNH where they score but GDP as well. Riding on hydroelectric surplus, Bhutan’s per capita GDP at US $ 1414 is more than India’s US $ 1070.

The propaganda against consumerism and greed being bad words combined with a spiritually inclined population rooted in tradition that has been kept insulated from the outside world for long has of course helped. But for how long will it withstand the onslaught of the temptations of the world outside now being beamed into their homes through 40 satellite channels that come in from across the Indian border. There is the lure of the new world and the so-called `fruits’ of development from the `real’ world, like the flashy cars on the roads of Thimphu indicate.

There is of course, concern about the growing trend of urban migration, breakdown of the traditional family, unemployment, crime, drugs and suicides. A young Bhutanese reporter concedes that liquor addiction is a big cause for concern. He tells me about his mother who went to a rehab centre to cure her addiction. But it didn’t work and she died an addict, he adds, matter-of-fact. But there is no being judgmental there. There is a cultural tradition of consuming intoxicating brew, he explains.

“Three days a week is party-time for youngsters in Bhutan. Women get free entry at discotheque-cum-bar every Wednesday.” Certainly explains the national gross happiness index, joked an Indian friend !

To someone like me, used to hearing voices of disappointment with elected governments and leaders, it was touching to hear the faith of the Bhutanese people in the monarchy and their king. The new media entities, newspapers and TV, are they allowed to criticise the king, I ask?

But where is the need or reason to criticise him, they counter. After all, the benevolent Jigme Singye Wangchuk, conceived the concept of gross national happiness that they are very proud of, and went virtually door-to-door campaigning for a shift to an elected democracy from a monarchy, explaining to the people why it was required. Such a king could do no wrong. “No ruler has worked so hard to displace himself ” was the consensus.

I don’t know if they are deluding themselves, creating an illusion of happiness. If it is all too much preaching, too many words that may end up meaning nothing. But to me it is a road less taken that could show the world an alternate way to be and for that it is worth closely watching this country that, considering its size and population of a mere seven lakh people, seems more like a pretty toy kingdom.


You can also find Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir’s blogs at http://www.thesouthreports.com

Battleground Telangana

(Photo courtesy : P Anil Kumar) 

By T S Sudhir

Expect July to be politically volatile in Andhra Pradesh. After a summer recess, political players are getting ready for yet another volley in the battlefield of Telangana. The trophy they will be vying for : Ten assembly seats that nine TRS MLAs and one BJP MLA gave up in a show of love for Telangana. (Elections in Sircilla and Vemulawada are not taking place due to legal issues) Those who won the seats less than a year ago are back as candidates, imploring the electorate to vote for them again. Elections to these 10 seats, spread across five districts, will take place on 27th July.

Last year, the pinks fought alongside the yellows and the reds, against the whites. But the rainbow coalition, ambitiously termed the Mahakutami, reaped a political drought, just like the drought of 2009. Down and out, just when the Telangana Rashtra Samiti looked like a party gone terribly wrong, its chief K Chandrasekhar Rao unleashed the Gandhian weapon of fast-unto-death that ironically precipitated a violent backlash in parts of the region.

The Srikrishna Committee has given the Centre a much-needed timeout. But time is running out. The TRS expects both the electoral mandate and the committee report to be interpreted only one way : `We want Telangana’. KCR has already warned that if the report does not recommend formation of Telangana, the region could head for civil war. The risk is the electoral verdict could be interpreted as a mandate for civil war as well.

I am travelling through Siddipet in Medak district. KCR’s nephew Harish Rao is the TRS strongman here, having won by more than 60000 votes last year. His victory, locals say, is a foregone conclusion. “But he will have to increase the margin of his victory. Only that will effectively prove how strong the Telangana sentiment is,” says Mallesh, a tailor in Siddipet town.

What are the issues in the election, I ask. `TELANGANA’, comes the reply in a chorus. Not surprising that it is only the issue in all the constituencies. Development or the lack of it, is not a matter of debate in this election at least. It does not matter whether the TRS candidates even tried to fulfil some of the promises they made in 2009. In the din of the Telangana sentiment, every other concern has been reduced to a whisper.

Yet, despite this supposedly overwhelming support for the TRS, the Telangana Joint Action Committee, that critics dub as a bodydouble of the TRS, has been requesting, berating, scolding, bulldozing, actually trying to do whatever it takes, to make sure the Congress and the Telugu Desam do not contest the elections. The JAC feels that since the MLAs quit the seats for a honourable cause, they should be allowed to return unopposed. The Congress and the TDP are not playing ball, which means the texture of this byelection will be a lot different from 2009.

Both the Congress and the TDP are seen as Kabhi haan kabhi naa parties in Telangana and hence looked upon with suspicion. Which is why many a senior TDP leader is fighting shy of contesting the elections because they feel explaining their boss’ two eyes theory will be a tad difficult. Especially when everyone knows Naidu would be happy if his Telangana eye is less powerful than his Andhra-Rayalaseema eye !

But then both the TDP and the Congress are veterans in the craft of fighting elections. Will TRS minus TDP (+Left) be good enough to win the poll, given that the TDP is an organisational force to reckon with in many of the Telangana districts. Also this will be a unique election where Chandrababu Naidu, KVP Ramachandra Rao, K Rosaiah and Jaganmohan Reddy are united in their dislike for KCR. And knowing there are no permanent foes in politics, do not rule out friendly contests or even match-fixing in select constituencies. Because Naidu knows his best bet to be CM in 2014 is if KCR as a political force is decimated. The Congress would like KCR to eat humble pie too because it would not want the separatist leader to make it dance to his tunes.

In the midst of all this, Rosaiah has thrown a googly by convening the monsoon session of the Andhra Pradesh assembly from 7th July. His critics argue the CM has done it with his eye firmly on the calender. On 8th is YSR’s birth anniversary, the day Jagan has announced he will travel to Srikakulam on his Odarpu yatra. So ensuring all MLAs, including Jagan’s supporters are in attendance in the House, Rosaiah perhaps reckoned, is a good idea to kill two birds with one stone. Also by singing YSR bhajans in Hyderabad, Rosaiah can reduce the volume of Jagan bhajans in distant Srikakulam.

Several Jagan camp MLAs have requested Rosaiah to postpone the monsoon session and fencesitters in the Congress are not sure if taking Jagan on like this is a sensible idea. Prophets of doom are worried, what if the MLAs create a ruckus on the floor of the House or in the Assembly premises. Especially with TV camera lenses magnifying any act several times over.

A TV channel survey in fact, has already put the Congress and Rosaiah on the mat with results that are hardly flattering. More than 53 per cent said they will not vote for the ruling party if elections were to be held now. 44 per cent of the people polled in the state felt Jagan is the most efficient leader, followed by Naidu with 31 per cent. The CM got only 9 per cent support and he had Chiranjeevi following him at 5 per cent.

In Telangana, significantly, the pattern changes with KCR in first place with 30 per cent and Naidu a close second at 29 per cent. Jagan is third with 25 per cent, Rosaiah at 10 per cent and Chiranjeevi last with 3 per cent.

Will 29 + 25 + 10 + 3 try to add up to beat the 30 on the 27th?

Raavan meets Veerappan

By T S Sudhir & Uma Sudhir

Veerappan would have been proud of `Raavanan‘. The forest brigand, who for years played a cat-and-mouse game with the police forces in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and had a penchant for sending videotapes of himself and his exploits, would have been quite pleased that he was probably as much an inspiration for Mani Ratnam’s Veeraya or Beera’s character as the mythological Ravana.

In Mani Ratnam’s Ramayana-retold, Ravana is not all black and neither is Rama the paragon of all virtue. And it is not just the Stockholm Syndrome (someone abducted develops an emotional attachment for the person who keeps him or her captive) that brings Ragini (Aishwarya) back to Veeraya after he lets her go, after 14 days in captivity.

No doubt, the mythology is intelligently used. So you can feel smart not just second-guessing the character. You are also simultaneoulsy comparing the characters on screen with those you have known and grown up with, to exclaim mentally as you watch the film, oh yeah, this is similar, and here’s the deviation, the twist. So while Mani shows you two hours of film, he has also used the interpretation of your mind and imagination to enlarge the canvas, more than 70mm.

Just like many larger-than-life tales abounded around Veerappan’s persona when he was alive, Mani Ratnam’s Veeraya is also both Yama, the Lord of death, and Robinhood rolled into one. He is shrewd, cunning, smart, ruthless but also passionately vulnerable. Through Veeraya, Mani successfully conveys the trauma of a man who has fallen for another man’s wife. That she is from another world, beyond his reach, even if not physically, sends him on a trip of introspection. And his deep turmoil and regret at not being the Rama of her dreams but the Ravana that he was destined to be. Victim of a love and desire that becomes his undoing. The sequence where Veera asks Ragini if she will stay back, forever with him, knowing fully well that she would never agree, is one of the highlights of the film.

As it unfolds, neither is he the dark character she had imagined him to be in her mind’s eye nor does her husband turn out to be the `maryada purush’ she had presumed him to be. And that’s when Ragini’s dilemma begins, of how she should make her choices. She openly admits it would all be so easy, if it was only black and white.

The leading lady getting unwittingly drawn to the man she would rather hate, reminds you of Shobhana in Mani’s Thalapathi, for whom the magnetism of a Rajinikanth, always on the wrong side of the law, is an irresistible draw. In that film, Mani had been inspired by the epic Mahabharata.

Also it is typically Mani, with superb cinematography by Santosh Sivan and Manikandan, that he uses the elements, rain, cascading waterfalls, fire and wind, the depths and the height of the valleys, the colour of the forest and the earthiness of the mud to convey the mood, the storm in the minds of the characters and the situation. Just like it was in Roja, Bombay, Guru and Kannathil Muthamittal.

Mani Ratnam’s Raavan-meets-Veerappan is a magnum opus that ends with Veeraya’s death, engineered by deceit. What it does not show is the death of Ragini and Dev’s marriage, the hollowness of the relationship exposed when the modern day Ram suggests that Ragini should be ready for a modern-day agnipariksha, in the form of a lie-detector test. Ragini discovers that her IPS officer husband knows only one right, and that is to win, at any cost.

Veeraya, in sharp contrast, loses in the end, yet wins. The pain that Ragini conveys in not being able to reach out to a falling Veeraya perhaps conveys the promise of a meeting in the next birth.

While `Raavanan’ is certainly not Mani’s best film till date, it is not disappointing either. At least we can speak for the Tamil version where Vikram and Aishwarya have been able to do justice to their characters. Most critics  have trashed `Raavan’, after watching the Hindi version.

During the pre-release publicity of the film, the actors focussed on how much Mani made them struggle in Hogenakkal and Chalakudy jungles, the film’s shooting locales. But that’s not the reason why Raavanan is worth your money. It is worth your money just for the manner in which without a single dialogue, before the title credits roll, the stamp of Veeraya’s terror hits the viewers hard.

The next 120 minutes are a discovery of the `terrorist’, whose heart is neither made of gold nor stone.