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.