Sunday, June 20

Raavanan and Raavan - Double Review

Movie - Raavanan (Tamil)
Director - Mani Ratnam
Producer - Mani Ratnam, Sharda Trilok
Cast - Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Prithviraj, Prabhu, Karthik, Priyamani, Ranjitha, Vaiyyapuri, Munna and others

Movie - Raavan (Hindi)
Director - Mani Ratnam
Producer - Mani Ratnam, Sharda Trilok
Cast - Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram, Govinda, Ravi Kissen, Priyamani and others

Music, Background Score - AR Rahman
Cinematography - Santosh Sivan ISC, V Manikandan ISC
Editing - Sreekar Prasad
Art Direction - Sameer Chanda
Action - Sham Kaushal, Peter Hein
Story, Screenplay - Mani Ratnam
Dialogues - Vijay Krishna Acharya (Hindi), Suhasini Mani Ratnam (Tamil)
Lyrics - Gulzar (Hindi), Vairamuthu (Tamil)
Release Date - 18th June 2010

A Mani Ratnam film is not just a film, its an event. People wait with bated breath every time this maverick filmmaker comes out with a movie. Raavan/Raavanan has been his most ambitious and technically challenging project so far. After 2 years of production, the movies have finally hit theatres now in their respective Hindi, Tamil and Telugu (dubbed) versions. And as always, there is the inimitable AR Rahman as a strong support for Mani Saar. But the movie becomes all the more special because of the reunion of the best director-cinematographer combination mainstream Indian Cinema has seen, Mani Ratnam and Santosh Sivan. The duo who gave us mesmerizing visuals in Thalapathy, Roja, Dil Se and Iruvar have returned to give us the most stunning visuals we have seen in a long long time. 

Since I know Mani Ratnam makes his movies better in Tamil and his Tamil movies definitely will have an edge over his Hindi ones, I decided to watch the Tamil version first and the Hindi version right after that. The other obvious reason was of course, Vikram who dons the title role in the Tamil version and is a much better and experienced actor than his Hindi counterpart Abhishek Bachchan. Let me make it very clear, Raavanan is not in the league of Mani Ratnam's best works like Iruvar, Kannathail Muthamittal, or even his masala outings like Thalapathy or Agni Natchathiram. But that doesnt make it a bad movie. It is still a great movie and an amazing watch. Slightly better than his last outing Guru

Even though the makers havent really confessed it, Raavanan/Raavan is almost a literal modern-day adaptation of the epic Ramayana, with some twists in the climax. The movie begins where Ragini (Aishwarya Rai) is kidnapped by Veera/Beera (Vikram/Abhishek) and is transported through the rough terrains of the jungles to his abode. Dev Pratap (Prithviraj/Vikram) is Ragini's husband and more than that, he's an encounter specialist who's on a serious mission to finish Veera/Beera. He is aided by a forest guard Gnaanapragasam/Sanjeevani (Karthik/Govinda) to make his way through the forest on his quest for Ragini. What happens later forms the crux of Raavanan/Raavan. There are so many obvious references to the epic including Hanuman's visit to Lanka, the Agni Pariksha, the Shoorpanakha episode and so many others which will you will realize during the course of the movie. 

Mani Ratnam, who's usually a master of screenplays, has not really impressed with his screenplay this time around. He follows a rather simple narrative with an important flashback coming really late in the screenplay. But his use of scenes and shots to show the inside thoughts of the characters were really good. For example, every time Veera's character is confused due to his ten-headed mind, we see ten rapid cut shots where he does drastically different reactions and emotions and finally comes to sense in the 11th shot. I think that was a  fantastic touch. But the punch he packs in his usual screenplays is missing here. It meanders slowly till it reaches the climax and picks up momentum only then. The climax was done very effectively and was the major saving grace in the screenplay. Dialogues by Suhasini in Tamil and Vijay Krishna Acharya (director of Tashan) in Hindi were really bad and were nowhere near the standards of the razor sharp dialogues we usually get to hear from Mani Ratnam films. And usually a Mani Ratnam film will have lots of memorable scenes, but this one has 100s of memorable shots, but very few memorable scenes like the one where Karthik meets Vikram and Prabhu (Govinda, Abhishek and Ravi Kissen) or the entire climax sequence. Other than that, there are not many scenes that you can take home. 

Coming to the performances, it is Vikram all the way (In Raavanan)!! That man nails it as Veera. He is just fantastic as the rugged ruffian who has ten minds rolled into one. The eccentricity, the vulnerability, the psychotic nature, the humaneness, the demon nature, everything is safe in Vikram's hands and he does all this together surprising you in each and every scene. He looks every bit like a tribal leader and has the right body language throughout the movie. His performance in the climax alone has scope to get him a National Award. He can be forgiven for the shame that was Kandasamy because he has come up with Veera now. Its insane everytime he goes 'Bak bak bak bak' or 'Dan Dan Dandanakka' in tune with Rahman's awesome beats. 

Abhishek Bachchan as Beera in Raavan was miles behind Vikram. First of all, he did not suit the role of a tribal hero. And I found his body language and expressions very awkward throughout the movie. Especially after watching a spectacular Vikram first. He was over-doing it and hamming to the hilt in most of the scenes and couldnt give an effective portrayal of the man with ten heads and ten minds. He gave his career best performance in Mani Ratnam's Guru, but this one will never be featured among his best. He was trying hard to do it, but wasnt convincing enough. Maybe if I watched it independently without seeing Vikram, I would have liked it better. Abhishek keeps doing 'Chak chak chak chak' and some random ramblings without any effect. 

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan looked like a dream in both versions. She was better when she was dragged through the jungles with minimal make-up rather than in her parts where she dances around with her husband. She has precious little to do other than shreiking and shouting at the top of her voice. Even her character's transformation is not etched out very well. But one should definitely applaud the troubles she has gone through for this movie. She has suffered so much and all of that looks great screen, except the part where she jumps off the Athirappilli cliff. I feel she should have had better scope to perform so that all the efforts she put in by acting in those rough terrains would have been justified. Her Tamil dialogue delivery (as in only the lip part) was not very good. Veteran actress Rohini dubbed the dialogues really well. Ash was slightly better off in Hindi. 

Prithviraj got a dream opportunity to work with the best director in India at such an early stage in his career and he has made good use of it. The young Malayalam actor looks great and exudes confidence in his performance as the modern day Rama, Dev Pratap Sharma. His Tamil has improved tremendously with hardly any shades of Malayalam in it. He does well in the action sequences and puts his trademark smirk (which is otherwise very annoying) to good use in one crucial scene in the second half. But he looks very uncomfortable romancing Aishwarya Rai, maybe because they dont look that good together as a couple. 

Vikram in his Hindi debut, sadly remains a model for aviator glasses. He has the same role as Prithviraj, but somehow did not manage to make his role stand out in the Hindi version. I couldnt get his Veera out of my system even when I was watching him play Dev. (That was a major issue I had coz of which I wouldnt have liked him as much in this one). His portrayal of Veera is so haunting that, this Dev character is nothing in front of that. His romantic portions with Ash are slightly better than that of Prithviraj. And of course, he does action well. But I found it difficult to digest Vikram getting beaten up (as a fan). I was more comfortable seeing the other version (for obvious reasons :P). Jokes apart, Vikram wasnt that impressive as Dev, especially considering the fact that it was his first footstep towards Hindi Cinema. His Hindi had a heavy south accent and that was also one of the problems. 

Karthik plays the modern day Hanuman well, with witty one-liners and reactions, and makes a good comeback. But Govinda plays it in a completely different way which is actually much better than Karthik's style. Govinda relies more on his naturally funny expressions and body language through which he amuses us in almost all his scenes. But yea, his weight doesnt allow him to jump around like Hanuman as much as Karthik does. Prabhu is electrifying as Veera's elder brother and gives a rock-solid support to Vikram's character. Watching him on screen is pure pleasure. Ravi Kissen also played the same part in Hindi very well. Priyamani was very good in her cameo. She was slightly better in the Hindi version. In Tamil, since we have already seen her going through a very similar situation in Paruthiveeran, it looks repetitive. Munna was good as Raavanan's younger brother in Tamil. And his Hindi counterpart was not that good. Nikhil Dwivedi was quite okay in the role of Dev's assistant which is a parallel to the Laxman character. John Vijay, who played the same role in Tamil was better off and was much more menacing.  Controversial heroine Ranjitha got the most number of claps and whistles, perhaps even more than Vikram in the Tamil version. (Thanks to Swami Nithyananda!!). Vaiyyapuri as a eunuch in Tamil was good but the guy who did it in Hindi wasnt able to create any impact. Then there were hundreds of other actors and junior artistes who enhanced the movie's massive proportions. 

But all said and done, the movie belongs to its cinematographers Santosh Sivan and V Manikandan. Each and every frame looks spectacular and they have implemented so many new camera movements, angles and shots in all the exquisite locations ranging from Athirappilli in Kerala, Malsej Ghats, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Ootty, Hogenekkal, Rajasthan and many more places. My mouth went wide open plenty of times seeing the kind of shots these two cameramen have captured for the movie. While most of the work looks like it was done by Santosh Sivan, you cant really point out who did what. The action sequence in the climax on top of a bridge has to be seen to be believed. It is perhaps one of the most risky and brilliantly shot action sequences I've seen so far in Indian Cinema. The sight of an unconscious Ash hanging stuck on the dry branches of a tree below the Athirappilli waterfalls will stay with you long after you leave the halls. Mani Ratnam repeats almost all his favourite locations, but makes sure that he presents them like never before each time. The shots are all equally brilliant in both versions. But Tamil looked more colourful than Hindi, maybe coz of the different theaters I watched them in. 

Double Oscar and Grammy winner AR Rahman has given a deadly score, which is nothing new given his track record. But as usual his Tamil songs are far better than the Hindi ones, even though Gulzar has excelled with his poetry in the Hindi songs. But Vairamuthu's Tamil lyrics goes in perfect sync with Rahman's music making the Tamil songs more appealing. 'Veera Veera' is the best of the lot, but was sadly used only during the titles. 'Usure Poguthey' or 'Behne De' is the other best track which has been picturized magically, of which Tamil is better naturally. 'Ranjha Ranjha' and 'Kaattu Sirukki' are oddly placed during Priyamani's scenes where as the trailers showed it as a song which explored the dynamics of the relationship between Raavan and Ragini. Sadly, those visuals and the song is absent from the movie. If it was present, there would certainly have been more depth to these two characters. Instead Rahman opts to use a wild jungli version of those songs as background score in the narrative, which comes quite as a shocker. 'Kodu Potta' is grand and wild, but Abhishek struggles to dance wildly in 'Thok De Killi'. 'Kedakkari' and 'Kata Kata' are equally good. Where as the song choreographed by Shobana, 'Khili Re' and 'Kalvare' establishes the relationship between Dev and Ragini through a sensuous melody. But the best track comes right at the end, when the movie closes - 'Jaa Re Udd Jaa' or 'Naan Varuven' sung by Rahman, which is not featured in the audio album. The background score is brilliant in parts, just okay in some other parts, but definitely not the kind we expect from a Rahman-Ratnam combination. It sounds hurried and compromised at many parts. But since its Rahman, you get pleasantly surprised every now and then. And I think the Background score would sound better once you see the movie again. 

Sameer Chanda's production design is fantastic. He has been able to create an imaginary world inside the various different jungles the film has been shot at through his amazing sets and art direction. The broken Vishnu statue in between the river was awesome, even though it reminded me of the Vishnu statue he did for Dasavathaaram. Sreekar Prasad's editing was inconsistent. There are many places where he has shown his brilliance, but since the screenplay is so uneven, he could have opted for a much more linear style of editing, which could have reduced half the confusion for the viewers. Sham Kaushal and Peter Hein have done a tremendous job with the action sequences. Be it the ones inside the jungle or the climactic face off between our modern day Ram and Raavan on a hanging bridge. That scene was certainly the best and most enjoyable part of the film and has been done on real locations with very little CG and DI to enhance the effect. Another interesting aspect about the film was that very little Computer Graphics was done in the film. And most of the unbelievable visuals you see are actually shot and not created through CG. Sabyasachi brings out the flavour of the place and the people through his costumes in both versions. 

On the whole, Raavanan is fairly engaging, in spite of not having a screenplay, because of Vikram's performance mainly. Raavan failed to engage me because I couldnt connect with protagonist played by Abhishek or root for him. In spite of a poor screenplay and even poorer dialogues, Raavanan scores high on all other aspects. And has to be watched just to see the unbelievable work that has gone into it. The cinematography, art and action has made the movie into a visual treat. And with Vikram's performance to top it up, Raavanan becomes a fairly good movie, even though it is nowhere near being the epic that it was hyped to be. Watch it without much expectations and you may end up liking it. 

But this film does not have the Mani Ratnam touch in it. Its just a big film made by a very experienced director on a huge budget with no real attention to the screenplay. And Mani Sir, Technical wizardry has become so common these days and you dont need to prove that you are a marvel at that. We need you to get back to being the fantastic storyteller of movies like Kannathil Muthamittal or Mouna Raagam or Iruvar or any of your previous films, for that matter. Or if you are trying to be more commercial, give us stuff like Agni Natchathiram any day, and we'll buy it. Guru was a weak film compared to your earlier films, but still had its Mani Ratnam moments which is missing in Raavanan/Raavan for most of the time. So this one is definitely a disappointment for Mani Ratnam fans.

So on the whole, watch Raavanan for VIKRAM, the man, the performer!! And for the unbelievable cinematography by Santosh Sivan and Manikandan. Not for Mani Ratnam or AR Rahman or Aishwarya Rai. Prithviraj surprises with a really confident performance. And if you're seeing Raavanan, you can give Raavan a miss because it is a much weaker version of the same film with disappointing performances from Abhishek and Vikram with Govinda as the only positive.

Rating - 
Raavanan - 3.5/5
Raavan - 2.5/5

Watch the making of the movie, which is actually more amusing than the entire movie itself in the following links.

Friday, June 4


Movie - Raajneeti (Hindi)
Director - Prakash Jha
Producer - Prakash Jha, Ronnie Screwvala
Cast - Naseeruddin Shah, Nana Patekar, Ajay Devgn, Manoj Bajpayee, Arjun Rampal, Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Sarah Thompson, Shruthi Seth, Darshan Jariwala, Daya Shankar Pandey, Nikhila Tirkha etc. 
Music - Wayne Sharpe, Pritam, Adesh Shrivastav, Shantanu Moitra
Cinematography - Sachin Krishn
Editor - Santosh Mandal
Story, Dialogues - Prakash Jha
Screenplay - Anjum Rajabali, Prakash Jha
Background Score - Wayne Sharpe
Art - Jayant Deshmukh
Release Date - 4th June 2010.

Very rarely do movies leave you overwhelmed!! And when they do, you cant feel happier than that. The last time a Hindi movie did that to me was Taare Zameen Par (3 Idiots was fantastic, but it didnt quite reach there). After that, many great movies have come and gone. But none of them created such an amazing impact on me. Raajneeti may not be a flawless film, but for me, its one of the best Hindi movies I've seen. Being a HUGE fan of the Mahabharat and any kind of stories even mildly related to it, I was eagerly awaiting Prakash Jha's interpretation of the epic. Maverick filmmaker Mani Ratnam had already filmed his interpretation of the Mahabharat through his Tamil blockbuster Thalapathy, which is still fresh in my mind. So I was curious to know how differently Prakash Jha would re-tell the epic story, set in today's political situations. And while watching the movie, I realized that Raajneeti is a heady mix of not just one, but two of the greatest stories ever told - The Mahabharat and The Godfather. 

Raajneeti is the story of two families, and their quest for power. Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) is appointed the new heir of the state's biggest political party by his uncle, who was the previous leader of the party. His cousin Virendra Pratap (Manoj Bajpayee), who was eying this position, automatically turns into an enemy. In the political games that follow, Viren joins hands with a young Dalit leader Suraj (Ajay Devgn) and Prithvi's younger brother Samar (Ranbir Kapoor), who is totally not interested in politics, gets dragged into the midst of events. Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar) is like a mentor and father figure to Prithvi and Samar and plays the mediator between the two families. The movie tells the tale of the fate of these two families change forever after a tragic event. 

The movie begins with an explosive scene involving one of the country's best actors Naseeruddin Shah. And from then on, the 3 hour long movie does not bore you even for a second. (Even the ill-placed item song is mildly engaging because of Katrina Kaif's presence). The atmosphere, characters and the milieu is established through a narration. Thus, the director does not waste any time in establishing the characters, and gets to start off immediately with the actual plot. From then on, the director succeeds in keeping his audience at the edge of their seats till the movie is over. Not with thrilling action sequences or gimmicks, but with a power-packed screenplay written by him and writer Anjum Rajabali. We know each character of the movie like the back of your hand since we've been hearing about them from time immemorial. And after a few minutes into the movie, one can identify which character is whom and what is his significance in the Mahabharat. I'm not depriving you the fun in identifying who is whom. But yea, somewhere in between, we also see the characters and sequences of Sonny and Michael Corleone seeping into our own Bhim and Arjun, which is done pretty seamlessly by the writer. 

Each actor in the movie makes a thunderous impact, in their well-etched out characters. The novel factor about this movie is that none of the characters in it are completely positive. Each character in the movie has grey shades and makes decisions according to his/her own conveniences. An explosive Naseeruddin Shah, a shrewd Nana Patekar, a cunning Manoj Bajpayee, an intense Ajay Devgn, a hot-headed Arjun Rampal, a scheming Ranbir Kapoor and a helpless Katrina Kaif form the majority of the star-studded cast. Though Naseer Saab is present only in hardly 3-4 scenes, he makes an amazing impact. Nana Patekar gets the best role in the movie, of the 'sutradhaar' and he plays it effortlessly, reminding us how great an actor he is. Manoj Bajpayee gives a spectacular performance after a long long hiatus. The explosive actor who shocked us through Satya and Shool is back in full form here. Ajay Devgn gets a role which is perhaps too short for an actor/star of his stature, but does full justice to his character, giving it the right intensity, which he is famous for. Arjun Rampal surprises us yet again with an amazing performance. The model turned actor who was a terrible actor once, matured into being a fantastic performer through films like Ek Ajnabee, Om Shanti Om and Rock On. And after his National Award winning performance in Rock On, he is back in yet another powerful role and comes out in flying colours. Ranbir Kapoor can be called as the protagonist of the movie. He is the sharp-minded, scheming successor to the all-powerful legacy. His role is not all white. In fact, the screenplay treats him as a villain at several instances. Ranbir handles all this effortlessly with the traits of a very experienced actor and gives yet another terrific performance. Another much hyped performance in the movie was that of Katrina Kaif's. She has taken a lot of effort and that should certainly be acknowledged. But her performance could have been better. Her Hindi surprised me though. She spoke shuddh Hindi very well in the movie and was pretty okay in the much-hyped campaign scene. But yea, it could have been better. Sarah Thompson is okay. Darshan Jariwala, Dayashankar Pandey, Shruthi Seth and Nikhila Tirkha are all decent. 

The only flaw i could find was that Ajay Devgn's character was not developed properly. That character had enormous potential being just, unfortunate, loyal, powerful, vulnerable and dangerous, all at the same time in the epic. This is where Mani Ratnam scored over Prakash Jha, since his movie was about this character and not the entire Mahabharat, and he could explore all the emotions that this character would go through. In this one, Ajay Devgn's Suraj takes a backseat in the second half while Ranbir Kapoor carries the story forward. Also the confrontation scene with his mother could have been worked out in a better way. This one reached nowhere near the impact that the similar scene in Thalapathy had on me. The friendship between him and Manoj Bajpayee also hasnt been brought out very well. But since Jha has taken on the epic as a whole, this is just a minor fault in an otherwise fantastic screenplay. And yea, the item number was totally unnecessary. It looked forced into a film like this. Thank God that it was shortened by the editor and the song showed more footage of Katrina Kaif than the item dancer. 

The screenplay is power-packed and is full of punches. In fact, you get surprised or shocked in scene after scene. And there is not a single moment of dullness in the entire film. The 3 hours are tightly packed with so many things happening at the same time, that it is difficult to grasp things if your attention is diverted from the screen even for 30 seconds. The writers have also managed to include a short Bhagvat Gita moment in the screenplay as well. The dialogues are also equally good and are written in pure, shuddh Hindi, which is something really strange in today's Hindi cinema. Nowadays Hindi movies have more English dialogues than Hindi ones. And a recent big budget movie hardly had 10% Hindi in the entire film. So the pure Hindi dialogues are so nice to hear, and they are completely in context, since the movie is about Politics, and majority of the politicians know how to use their language skills effectively through their speeches. 

There are almost no songs in the movie. The only song that plays for more than a minute is the item song, which also doesnt last more than 2 minutes. The very popular 'Bheegi Si Bhaagi Si' and 'Mora Piya' come in bits and pieces at different points in the narrative. Background score by Wayne Sharpe is excellent and sets the perfect atmosphere for the movie. The Vande Mataram tune which is often repeated is awe-inspiring as always. There is a Gulzar song at the end of the movie composed in the same tune by Wayne Sharpe, which summarizes the entire movie. 

Cinematography by Sachin Krishn is excellent. There are a large number of extreme wide shots and he has managed to make them look absolutely stunning. The team must really be appreciated for handling so many actors together along with humongous crowds including thousands of people. And Sachin has captured them all brilliantly through his camera. Editing by Santosh Mandal is fine and Art Direction by Jayant Deshmukh was very good. 

This movie is unlike any other random Bollywood film. It is rooted in our heartland, in our politics and tells the story we've all been hearing for ages in a new perspective. And since it takes such a serious subject, dont have any pre-conceived notions that this movie will not be entertaining. It is a fantastic entertainer and keeps you hooked from the very first minute till the last minute. (Just that there are no songs, dances, comedy tracks and action scenes). Raajneeti is a high-voltage political drama which is not to be missed at any costs. It is one of the best wholesome Hindi movies in this decade, along with Rang De Basanti, Lagaan, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Omkara and Taare Zameen Par. I saw it on an early morning multiplex show with a very dry audience. I want to see it again in a packed single screen with the right reactions for each scene. :) :) Do yourself a favour, watch Raajneeti as soon as possible!!

P.S. - Now that I've seen Prakash Jha's version of Mahabharat. I'm equally excited about seeing what Mani Ratnam would be doing to the other epic Ramayan through his Raavan/Raavanan, releasing two weeks later. 

Rating - 4.2/5