The story of Raavanan is nothing new. Maybe that’s the reason most of the first day/second day reviews talked mostly about the absence of a storyline or how there weren’t high points that one usually associates with a Mani Rathnam movie. What Mani is trying here is to paint a different picture with respect to characterizations and do a “what if” analysis on some of the characters actions and priorities.
The screenplay right from the first frame makes it clear that it is not going to waste time establishing the characters or the plot as is. Mani Rathnam knows that a large part of his audience would be familiar with the Ramayan, makes the correct assumptions and shows only the relevant events involving Dev’s(Prithiviraj) journey in searching for his wife Ragini(Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). I can see where the knee jerk(not all, but most of them) disappointments sprung from. Most of us probably went in expecting a completely different take right from the start and when it turned all predictable, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. But personally, the interpretation in the end, and how it is built up gradually through some key scenes, had enough payoff to consider this to be a good film.
This is not a movie where Mani Rathnam has chosen to play to his familiar strengths. We have come to associate Mani’s movies with relevant, real life issues and characters’ actions and interactions around that issue as seen through Mani’s eyes. More often than not, the issue at hand is the prop. But Raavanan is not a movie using an issue as a prop. The visuals are used as the prop with which the minds of the characters are let out in the open without any of them literally speaking out. Santosh Sivan/V.Manikandan’s cinematography is breathtaking to say the least. Raavanan is surely the best shot Mani Rathnam movie considering even his standards. There are a few instances where it is used as a gimmick and quite rightly so. There is a shot of Ragini falling through dead branches, unconscious all the while, that is so brilliant that you don’t mind the shot appearing multiple times. You have one spot the difference answer between RGV and Mani Ratnam right there. But then, here comes more. The visual telling of a story is handled with some deft touches.
One of the key scenes in the first half is where Veera(Vikram) is standing on a coracle with little children having fun spinning it around. He’s just realized that he’s smitten with Ragini but doesn’t know what to do about it and how to react to it. When Ragini comes to him and asks him to throw away the gun(that’s what she asks right? Slight memory loss here) as last resort, his head is spinning, literally and figuratively, caught in this conundrum. Ragini is standing at the edge of the bank trying very hard to maintain a poker face while Raavanan’s mind drifts away.
Suhasini is the weakest link in the team. The dialogs completely fail in some of the most important sequences. In particular, the whole pontification on God/Rakshas /Dev by Veera in front of the statue. You can’t help but imagine what the late Sujatha would have written for such a scene. Not that they fall flat throughout the film though. It works in the scene where Veera broods over Ragini’s staunch refusal to be frightened and how that has affected Veera, the Raavanan. The scene simultaneously plays out as character sketches on the multifaceted Raavanan and the simple minded carefree Kumbakarna (Singarasan played by Prabhu). Vikram’s bak bak are mildly annoying and I am not sure if it was a Vikram fan club pleasing thing to do. But I believe Abhishek Bachchan’s Veera too uses them so that may not be the case.
There are more visual touches towards the end. When Ragini sees Dev’s conniving side for herself, you see the train moving on the hills passing in and out of tunnels. As the realization dawns on Ragini, you see daylight and then all black. More daylight and all black. Simply getting it across that in this version, there is no black or white. There is only gray. The upholder of dharma might not have made a great family man after all. Just like how in the real world, it’s impossible to please everyone. Priorities matter the most.
The climax fight scene is nothing less than stunning and enough has been written about it already. With all the judgment on black or white, Ragini is left stranded. It could have been a conscious open/ambiguous end. But some people like to call it a loose end. It’s up to the individual, I believe. Interpretation is the word when it comes to this movie. Start to finish.