If you haven’t seen Ravan (or Ravanan) already, I’d suggest you not bother. If you’re the only person in this country who doesn’t know the story, pick up an Amar Chitra Katha rendition of Ramayana. It has the basic plot, the facts as most of us have heard them and the visuals are nice enough. It’ll be cheaper on the pocket too.
I would have given the movie a definite skip if it had been called Rama or Ramayan. I mean, I was weaned on the Ramanand Sagar classic and the aforementioned Amar Chitra Katha culture. I even saw the various renditions on television, movies and pop culture, edifying the perfect man, his perfect wife and the exact opposite embodiment of evil with all the paraphernalia of Hanuman, Vibhishan, Lakshman and Surpanaka.
If by some chance, I found I’d forgotten a tiny point, I could retrieve my copy of the original or I could turn around and ask just about anybody and expect the right answer. Why then, would anyone in their right minds, want to spend time and money to hear the same story in a theatre?
I was intrigued by the title Ravanan. While I’ve seen the old story in the old setting and in new settings, I haven’t heard it from the other point of view, the darker side. I’m sorry to say, it was a sad trick to lure the audiences into the theatres. As a vision, the idea of telling the Ramayan from Ravan’s point of view is interesting but it didn’t carry through in execution.
A movie that set out with such lofty ideas didn’t even explore the complexity of some of the other characters. Hanuman, for instance, is depicted by a washed-up actor portraying a jungle officer given to silly dancing and pesky monkey-like behaviour. Vibhishan is no more than a nondescript younger brother who has exactly one dialogue and gets shot dead soon after. Lakshman is a lackey cop who is unconscious/dead for most of his screen time. Each of these depictions comes across as a parody in poor taste.
The idea of a tribal leader on the wrong side of the law is intriguing and the tough forest terrain would well explain his personality and behaviour. But it wouldn’t explain spending an entire hour showing what looked like rejected National Geographic clips. I kid you not, I was surprised when the interval came and my watch showed only an hour had gone by. And the Vicco Vajradanti ads in the interval were far more entertaining than what I had been subjected to, before that.
The second half picks up (though not before a forced back-to-back two songs) but by then the damage has been done. Too much, too late. There just isn’t enough time to think about the character conflicts, the depth of each of their emotions. Mostly by then, you just want the movie to get over and be done with it.
I’ve never liked Aishwarya Rai as an actress and with this movie, I add the rest of the cast to this list too. Vikram does an Ajay Devgan with grunts and a perpetual scowl to depict menace. I’m sorry to say that Mani Ratnam and A.R.Rahman fall in my ratings too. This is just lazy creativity – poor storytelling and rehashed tunes.
The bigger question is why are we so stuck on the two great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata? Granted, they were great stories (and that’s why they’re called epics). But have centuries worth of storytellers not been able to come up with new fare? Have we become pathological remixers?
Last week’s fiasco Rajneeti was a foul remix of Mahabharata and The Godfather. It grated on my nerves for how the characters seemed to be forced into the roles of their Mahabharata counterparts to the point of ridiculous serendipity (Ajay Devgan being the driver’s boy a.k.a charioteer’s son, Ranbir Kapoor as the sharpshooting Casanova a.k.a. Arjun). Ravanan didn’t even get that far. With the caricature of Hanuman in the first few minutes of the movie, they had already lost me.
My tweets on this have been getting a few replies to the effect of human emotions being finite and there being only so many stories to express them. I disagree. The art of storytelling is universal and timeless. It is an art because it moves, it flows, it engages and it grows. It’s what made Omkara wonderful even as it was a retelling of Othello. Vishal Bharadwaj managed to find his Iago in a rustic local goon called Langda Tyaagi. His version, in an English script could have been called Iago and not Othello. That’s what a different story is all about, even though it’s the same plot.
With a movie, there are several components that can drive the story forward – an original script, great casting and acting and good screenplay. Ravanan, I regret to say, enjoys none of these.