A Sita but with the Stockholm Syndrome wont go well with an Indian audience who would prefer that she jumps from the frying pan into the well when dishonoured or jilted or joins a school to teach as leaves fall from the trees and seasons change. Not this Sita.
If you are a regular Mani Ratnam watcher and spanned the range from Roja to Raavan, you can see his recurring deep fascination for the “search for the woman on the run” and the “rebel with a cause” theme. And his obsession with the rains and Indian jungles, smoke and fire, waterfalls, trains and journeys and the law (a la Thiruda Thiruda) are interwoven with a modern day interpretation of Ramayan and a Stockholm Syndrome hit Aishwariya who plays a tired and jaded Ragini. The constant soaking in the rain and traipsing a La Ms Indiana Jones adds years to her face with her Taal reminiscent dresses and long tresses.
Strangely, her chemistry with Vikram is more tangible than with Abhishek but it has oft been a case when a husband and wife star together in a movie – a certain self consciousness creeps in. A thought crosses the mind that the girl who played Beera’s sister could have been a better choice as Raagini instead of Ash – the former had some fire in her short but brilliant role.
It is Abhishek as Beera who emotes a very interesting and complex character and subtly captures the psyche of the hidden rebel fighters in modern day India who do not confirm to Dilli and the India shining vision or the slick news channel interests.
This is why Raavan might not become a hit because it has not the mindless fun of Houseful or All the Best or the slickness of say Love Aaj Kal or Karthik Calling Karthik or touchier modern themed flicks shot overseas to take off the bite like Dostana or Salaam Namaste. Yes, no item number either. Just a grassroot level of politics with scores settled on level playing fields like sugar in the petrol tanks stopping a police convoy or villagers who give conflicting descriptions of a criminal as they see him. Juxtaposed with a very spontaneous performance by Govinda in one of the most brilliant roles of his life time as Sanjeevani.
The audience might also find the end unbecoming with the underlying question of whether Vikram was part of the police team who raped Beera’s sister. Maybe answered by Aishwariya asking God to help her stay angry instead of crying. Or trying to grasp the truth of the cop’s lie at the end of the movie. Or why a married woman actually goes back to her captor instead of say, leaping off the train to her death after being humiliated.
The beauty of Raavan lies in the cinematography, in the locations, in Abhishek Bachchan’s watchful eyes and shifting moods and in Govinda’s modern day Hanuman. The story shifts quickly into song and back into life. Thok de Killi is superbly choreographed and the location is mindblowing.
Having seen Mani Rathnam and Priyadarshan’s movies in Tamil and Malayalam and knowing the richness of the script and emotions in the two languages, which are appreciated by audiences down South and then having seen their watered down versions in Hindi, as an erstwhile Mallu from Mumbai who speaks Marathi and has Tamil friends, one can guess what will happen to this movie.. Yuva and Guru could bridge that transition but Ratnam could not do it in Raavan though it is shot in the North.
True Bollywood lovers will want jhatka, slick crime or bold themes shot anywhere but in India. Or two Bipasha numbers which elevated Omakara to icon movie level though the finesse lay elsewhere. Not a story of people who live life raw and real with no city rules able to infiltrate the blurred boundaries or Coke.
And yes, I would watch it again.