Right from the get go, when you see the camera focus from behind on a half-clad Vikram standing on a cliff, testing the waters below and jumping, you know that you’re in for a visual spectacle. What follows is a movie of epic proportions, which is to say that it captures the essence of an epic and adds its spin on it. Raavanan with Vikram at its helm works on a certain level but most definitely fails on another.
Santosh Sivan (and Manikandan in the initial stages) successfully take your breath away with some drop dead stunning visuals and some of the most brilliant macro and close up shots. The locales are such that you’d be awed that such places actually exist in India. The lighting is brilliant. If nothing else, the film is worth a watch for the sheer opulence and natural grandeur that it exhibits.
A.R.Rahman’s music is slightly different to what we have come to expect. You cant call it inspired but it’s not all bad. A lot of the background score has tribal elements with the racy scenes having a tribal chant set to an exceedingly fast beat. Quite awesome! The songs are blended brilliantly into the movie. The tribal rendition of ‘Kaatu Sirukki’ together with its screenplay is simply mind blowing. The choreography and music of ‘Kodu potta’ warrants a special mention.The phrase ‘leaving the best for last’ was never truer. Rahman’s song in the end (not included in the album) is so brilliant that you can’t help but feel lifted and moved by the rendition.
The casting, as ever, is impeccable. Vikram, as Veera, is simply awesome. He elevates his performance to another plane. As a proud brother, as a wounded soldier, as a brother in angst, as a man scorned willing for revenge, as a deranged lunatic caught in his own mind. Each is exemplary. There are even shades of Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker performance in Veera’s conflicted mind and Vikram’s portrayal of this is par excellence.
I must say that I was most surprised by Aishwarya Rai’s tamil. It was very good. The trace of an accent was there of course but hats off to her. Her portrayal of the damsel in distress and the helpless yet putting-on-a-brave face maiden is very good. Her dance in ‘Kalvare’ is superb. There was one scene that she dances in a shirt, in the rain. I swear, it was exactly the same as the ‘kannai katti’ song in Iruvar. She hasn’t aged a day!
Karthik and Prabhu play their roles to perfection. Both maybe past their prime as mainstream heroes but they can still act, and how. The one scene where they appear together will definitely throw Mani Ratnam fans to the heydays of Agni Nakshatram. Priyamani comes for about 15 minutes of the film but yet again shows her brilliant acting skills. It can be said that she has matched her Paruthiveeran performance or maybe even surpassed it in her cameo in Raavanan.
Raavanan is an epic retold. In true epic style, it is not rushed but glides on in its own pace. Like an epic that goes through lulls and periods of extreme action, Raavanan waxes and wanes. The movie is the shortest Mani Ratnam has ever made. Yet, it is conflicting in a way. The first half appears to drag on but when the interval comes, it comes too soon. The second half picks up the pace and the climax has been shot brilliantly.
For the hardcore Mani Ratnam fan, Raavanan will not match up to the levels of Mouna Raagam, nayagan or Iruvar; possibly nothing ever will. Raavanan is not earth-shattering but is good, but lacking that telling ‘Mani Ratnam touch.’
Mani Ratnam has not set out to make a ract thriller. He has not set out to make an all-action entertainer. What he has set out to do is to retell an epic in his own distinct style. Most of us know the Ramayana and its characters as black or white. Mani Ratnam succeeds in greying this line.