Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mani Ratnam and his Raavanan (2010)

When Mani Ratnam makes a new movie and you don't like it, there are various layers of practical constraints in voicing out your honest concerns on the movie. Mani, being the favourite film-maker of this generation's audience (including me), in the limits of tamil cinema, you will be literally swarmed with his aficionados ridiculing you and your taste for cinema. Well, "No artiste stands above the artistry itself" and hence "Raavanan" is a bad piece of cinema, exhibiting (only) the technical expertise towards cinematography and art direction, while showcasing some stunning & exotic locales. You easily find them all in the movie, Santosh Sivan - the ace cinematographer from FTII - Pune, A.R.Rahman - the master musician and Samir Chanda - the art director but Mani Ratnam - the filmmaker and his stamp is an abysmal miss in his latest offering. And, yeah - Vikram can act and Aishwarya Rai Bachhan is stunning.

That tamil cinema churns out loads of trash through out the year and the scenario being truly devoid of inspiring film-makers, the onus naturally falls on the seasoned campaigners like Mani Ratnam or Bala in tossing up quality entertainment to an audience which literally craves in look towards good cinema. The expectations hit sky-high and alas, sometimes the film fails to strike a chord in the audience. For almost three decades now, Mani Ratnam, though not exactly a commercially viable filmmaker (his last big box-office success was "Alaipaayuthe" and before that it is "Roja"), has always delivered some quality stock that invariably offered enough fodder for the ruminations of a urban cinema audience and the film intelligentsia.

Into Raavanan now. The characterisation of Veeraiya should be one of the famous character assassinations seen in the recent times, that concerns me - more than all other possible insights that "Raavanan" offers.

Veeraiya (Vikram) sings in the songs,

"En Porappa Nee Kanda
En Paathai Nee Kadantha
En Yutham Nee Senja
Nee Raamandaen Raavanandaen" and

"Kodu Poata.. Konnu Podu..
Vaeli Poata.. Hey Vetti Podu..
Nethuvaraikum Unga Sattam Innaikirunthu Enga Sattam"

Sending across clear cues of the issues of Malaivaashis/Aadivaashis/tribal people, the lyrics are in turn suggestive of the Naxalite insurgency. That, Veeraiya is an outlaw and anti-state (as his men set fire the policemen alive) is only concretising this undertone. But, like all his previous attempts (with political contexts), Mani just touches and goes this political issue, jeopardising the mammoth potential the topic offers and exposing his superficial understanding of the Naxal politics. Mani has never exhibited any kind of satirical take on any issue he picks up and his political orientations are always well with in the lines of a Moral Science/Civics textbook. His movies, thus tone a presumptuous image and hence become outlandishly pretentious.

Who the people are, what their problems are, How they have been kept under a blanket of institutionalised backwardness for generations, what do they struggle for, what is the source of their hatred towards the state/police - Never touch these things and Suhasini anyways effortlessly condenses them all in one/two short monologue exchanges. Nothing but poor conception and poor execution. Over simplification of the actual issue to shy away the controversies works a bane for the movie. Centuries-long life of the tribes in the mountains, the mountains and the associated mineral wealth becoming a part of the Indian nation as India became a republic (refer "Kodu potta" song), Mineral ore mining, shackles of capitalism - Every damn thing is skimmed over and the closest idea that ever gets discussed in the movie is when Veeraiya calls himself "Odukkappattavan" differentiating himself with the privileged "Mettukkudi". I sincerely recommend some Arundhati Roy writings to Mr and Mrs. Mani Ratnam. 

And, attributing Veeraiah's antagonism towards Dev (Police officer played by Prithiviraj) "only" to the rape/death of his sister, should be the worst possible scheme that not only liquidates Veera's character but also alienates us all from the actual issue (the socio-political issues of the tribes).
"பல தலைமுறைகளாக ஒடுக்கப்பட்டமை, உரிமைகள் மறுக்கப்பட்டமை, மலைவாழ் மக்களுக்கான வாழ்வியல் ஆதாரங்களை அரசு கையகப்படுத்தியமை, சமூகத்தில் பிற்படுத்தப்படமை முதலிய சமூகக்கூறுகளை விடுத்து - தங்கையின் மீதான வன்புணர்ச்சி மற்றும் அவளுடைய மரணம் மட்டுமே வீரய்யனின் கோபம் மற்றும் போராட்டத்திற்கான காரணங்களாக காட்சிப்படுத்தப்பட்டிருக்கின்றது. ஒரு இனத்தின் போராட்டமாக, ஒரு வர்க்கத்தின் போராட்டமாக முன்னிறுத்தப்படவேண்டிய சமூக அவலம், தனிமனிதக்காழ்ப்புணர்ச்சியின் வெளிப்பாடாக சித்தரிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கின்றது, சிதறடிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கின்றது"
This only reminds us of the character of the terrorist (Liaquat) played by Pankaj Kapoor in "Roja". Liaquat, with all the builds of his character, finally renounces everything he can - his theological beliefs, jihadi basis and the ideology of his group - to figuratively surrender himself to the Indian Nationalism (to Rishi played by Arvindsaamy). All these inconsistencies and incoherences stem up because of Mani's attempts to oversimplify his narrative seam, presenting dishonest portrayals.

Much has been said and discussed in relation to the performances of the lead actors. That Vikram does all possible hard work (Be it Pithamagan / Kandasaamy) to present a character in a memorable fashion is well known. Astounding performance - his beasty looks and "dandandanaaanadan" cohere well. Aishwarya Rai, with all her bollywood assignments should have, by now, forgot "acting" ... she shouts her dialogues aloud and tries to pose a "Bharathiyaar's pethi", whenever and wherever she is supposed to be bold and brave. Her assignment is quite simple in a way, that she wields only two emotions in the whole of the movie - plain face (pensiveness and the love for Veera, sometimes) and the angry face (Bharathiyaar's lineage portions). A third variant could possibly be, plain face + glycerine. Prithviraj is an adoringly smart and cunning policeman. Prabhu and Karthik (carries all possible symbolisms for being the "Hanuman", except the tail) are talented and director-friendly character actors.

Dialogues - Suhasini has put herself in the context and penned down the dialogues. Her "Brahmin" lingo coupled with post-fixes like "la" is not providing a feel for authentic nativity of the tribals. Though Ragini (Aishwarya) is a suave, educated and brave lady - she will certainly not question - "Enna kolla unakku enna urimai irukku?" (what rights you own in killing me ?), when she is freaking kidnapped and gagged. Dissonance all the way and more research on the dialect would have sharpened the dialogues. 

Locations - Mani, sure has unearthed some of the fascinating locales and has picturised them all in an awesome fashion. But, still the inconsistency looms large actually - the actual living place of the tribals, the place where Vennila (Priyamani) is getting married, the marriage ceremony and the kind of culture portrayed in the wedding - the coherence is lost. 

The first five minutes of the movie will form a part of the lecture on "How not to edit a movie ?" - I don't know what kind of "non-linearity in narration", Mani wishes to achieve here.

Veeraiah getting ready for a dive - somebody creating a blockade for the police van - policemen beat somebody in the police station - Veeraiah pokes a stone into the falls, with his leg - a village festival - Veeraiyah's dive - policemen following a chic - sabotage of a police van - Veeraiah with the "parai" (percussion instrument) - Ragini on a boat

Yeah, we are not comfortable with fights and mass-opening songs for the hero - but still, what the above sequence intends to achieve is to simultaneously let us all know that Veeraiah and his men are anti-social, anti-state, cunning, powerful etc. And, the sequence with all its discontinuities in editing and poor placement of the montages, is quite amateurish. The movie is actually devoid of that "seamless" flow and technical finesse, trademark of Mani's films.

Rahman's score for the songs doesn't quite coalesce with the kind of culture (that of the tribals) depicted on-screen. That magical sync between the picturisation of a song and the musical score, is somehow missing. Santosh Sivan and Manikandan transcend you into a whole new site and it drizzles pleasant in the cinema hall.

On a final note, the film definitely keeps you engaged (during the first viewing, atleast) with all its technical grandeur and hence an aesthetical superiority is assured but it doesn't seem to work beyond this layer. The film, like some of his earlier political cinema, certainly lacks them all - an academician's depth in the study of an issue, a documentary maker's "detailing" in the presentation of a problem and a humanitarian's understanding of the issue. It just hangs as a vestigial piece of graphical images, mocking a sect of the society, still active on the fight for their survival.


  1. ok lugo - u said that u are ready at the receiving end - you better be! :)

    i guess i should write another blog as a response to ur blog .. :P

    lotsa questions to u ... but u know me - lazy to d core - i really wish u were here somewer nearby so that i could drop by and have a chat with u and save all d typing ... typing essays sucks man - i really appreciate and laud ur writing skills and more than that - ur patience in writing..

    neways lemme giv a try ..

  2. "characterisation of Veeraiya should be one of the famous character assassinations seen in the recent times"

    i dont understand this lugo - u speak as if this is based on a true story - wat do u mean character assasination? .. as if veeraiya is a character we all know - wen it is pure fiction hw can u say this .. u just gotto take the character which the writer has decided .. the writer is no way responsible if u expanded ur thoughts on the character and then complain that theose were not portrayed - actually the writer has won already - by triggering a hude chain of thoughts abt the character .. :)


    i think this comment will be valid in the below scenario:
    u conduct a short film/documentary film making competition and the theme is set on 'problems faced by tribals'. now Mani makes Raavanan and sends it to ur competition. U see the film .. were the hell has he shown probs faced by tribals, were the hell is the indian govt policies towards these supressed ppl touched upon .. wer the hell is mineral mining, wer d hell is capitalism ... u hav forgotten the topic mr.maniratnam ... urs is a piece of junk .. get out of my competition .. ur muvi is rejected ..

    lugo - wat u said above is comletely valid and mani has been one idiot who did not read thru the description of the competition before sitting down to writnig the script ..

    but lugo - sadly the above is not d case ..

    mani wrote a story and screenplay .. now wer in d world will it be seen as a valid point if u come in and start screaming " wer is this -- wer is that"

    did mani tell u anytime that he is planing to make a muvi on tribal ppl's miserable life? i guess no ..

    i guess a review for a muvi shud be written on things present in d script- not for things absent in d script ..

  4. "attributing Veeraiah's antagonism towards Dev (Police officer played by Prithiviraj) "only" to the rape/death of his sister"

    again more lik my prev comment .. don't u think not only muvis, writers and directors are stereotyped but we audience are also ..

    why do we always expect the hero to be a savior? one who fights for ppl around him? for his village? for his country? for his fishermen colony ppl?

    why shouldn't Veeraiya take revenge on someone who were responsible for his sister's death - well i thnk this is more than enuf for a good reason to do so .. im sure anyone of us will do that ..

    and hw many of us actually fight for injustice done to ppl who r not our kith and kin ...

    so what's wrong if Veeraiya is jus another man lik us - with natural emotions ...

  5. but i do agree on few points .. dialogues are more like average and below average at few places .. screenplay could have been betetr ...

    but i dont think these few point are enuf to dismiss raavanan as cap - atleast i dot think so .. my view - completely ..
    and wat u hav written are urs - due respect for them too!

  6. Yet to watch the movie. Will come to a conclusion after that.

    Pls remove this word verification. Troubles:)

  7. Character Assassination - I didn't mean it with respect to a pre-defined character (that we all know). My POV is only towards the "uniformity of the texture" of this particular character. There are ample moments where Veera is projected with an unselfish camaraderie and a "for the people" image. Hence, attribution of his hostility towards Dev "only" to the "personal vendetta" doesn't fit-in-line with what Veera is previously defined about. It messes up the whole thing .. right ?

    To better understand this, lets consider the following scenario.

    Mani plans to direct a biopic on Veluppillai Prabhakaran and obviously, the opening slide "This is not a true story" is going to be there. So, lets assume that only the lyrics of the songs and some dialogues are going to speak of tamil nationalism and Sinhalese atrocities won't be projected in all its details (to shy away the controversies). Finally, if all of Prabhakaran's antipathy towards Sinhalese army or the Sinhalese government is attributed "only" to the rape of his sister by the Sinhalese army (which itself is not hypothetical and this has happened in real large numbers through out the conflict), won't you call it a "character assassination" ?

    It's like pelting heaps of disgrace on one of the distinguished leaders, the world has ever seen.

    Now, don't come arguing that Prabhakaran was a non-fictional being and he had his traits intact but Veera is fictional. Because, in a Mani Ratnam film, none of the characters or incidents refer to somebody or something and all are fictional .. atleast, that's what he claims (Iruvar, for example).

  8. @ Mani

    I do agree that a director should be offered that "creative freedom" in whatever he decides the character to be. But, if Veera is designed "only" with a "blood-for-blood" motive (for his sister), don't ever have the "Kodu potta" song, don't ever have people coming and speaking great of Veera to Dev, don't ever let Veera lament that he is the "Odukkappattavan", don't picturise him anti-state at all. When you do all the above, the kind of picture that people get of Veera is totally different than that of an ordinary guy fighting for the injustice committed to his kith and kin.

    Be honest to your script and don't ever try to sensationalise / glamourise the movie by including a socio-political issue and later ridicule the same by taking an altogetherly different stance.

    That was my point Mani.

  9. Lugo.....

    It was a personal movie protraying abt human emotions and the theory of Good and Bad.It is neither a biopic nor a movie like iruvar which had obvious underlining of the character..We chatted for about 40 minutes..the chat excerpt is too hectic paste again!!! Maybe u can poste that as ur next blog and underline a different take on Raavan!!!! Mani probably wanted to break out of this shackles only of his movies being biopics and created a immensely personal movie.The audience cried foul for changing the theme of his movies which is infact what Mani wanted to do!!!! Iam happy u agreed on one point atleast..So the score stands 1-0...Still my views are unchanged!!! :P

  10. Tired da Abhi ... papom ..

    I am not gonna scream that my hare had only three legs ... It's after all with the "viewing-kaleidoscope" that we varied - "Ramayan" and "Naxalism".

    Thanks so much Mani and Abhi for having a say here. Privileged me and I wish we get a lot more movies that actually trigger "some" discussion ... Happy for "Raavanan" that way. :P

  11. @lugo... I feel a good review is something that elaborates the good n bad aspects of "whatever that is depicted in it". The main theme of your Raavanan review seems to be something which is questioning the script writer of whatever not depicted in it. Thats, for me, as a film lover, is a bad review. This movie could have been made as a 4 hours running stuff too and in that case he could have covered all those so-called "missed topics". This is just 140 mins movie and it mainly revolves just around the kidnap issue and how this incident is affecting the lives of 3 persons. thats it. may be he just took the last part of ramayana. well, even in ramayana i doubt whether we had any detailed background info abt Raavan. he just came, he saw sita and took her away.. simple.. similarly veera did here, but there is a reason behind this kidnap, may be to make the cop to feel the suffering of losing one's beloved woman in a brutal way. fine, he kidnapped her n decided to kill her bt she didnt plead or beg. she was courageous with a fire in her eyes and jumped from the cliff as a devoted wife to one man. I bet any man will fall for such kinda woman. so did veera. The movie also portrayed that he is a good-doer for his community and stands in front for any crime done against his people. When his own sister becomes the victim, his hatred reaches the max and when ur leader's in a loss, ur whole community stands behind him to seek revenge coz they are just the loyal tribal ppl. simple thats it.
    I actually like your reviews always but this one kinda sucks man, to be frank. especially, the way its written. even i dont like to do much arguments these days but this review triggered it. Ofcourse, I love good films n good film making.. as always. waiting for your next movie review in the way you used to do in past. I was a fan of your writing skills and I wanna be again :)

  12. Hmmm. How well you write! You have the words to go with your thoughts in 2 languages now and that IS something.

    Yet to see Raavanan. Being in Pune, am not likely to be able to watch it in a cinema hall and am not really interested in Raavan.

    Your delineation of Mani Ratnam's reluctance to ACTUALLY explore an issue reads well. My thoughts exactly.

    One thing though - From your own review, Raavanan seems exactly the kind of movie one can make if one were to read Arundhati Roy's take on this issue - shallow and deriving too much from rhetoric. I take it you've read her writings on this. I have (had to for GDs) and they represent some of the worst writing on this topic and also the worst in her own output.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment. I can see you've had to contend with more than a couple here :).

  13. This is odd though. Was just writing about another endeavour of Roy's !

  14. With Roy and Naxalism, it's more with the context,I believe Y, the "mainstream" Indian journalism. While guys like Rajdeep Sardesai have time only to present the death of 76 CRPF Jawans, the other side of the story is largely untold. while Roy remains the only active freelance journalist ever to write or speak on this in the mainstream media (in considerable details), her understandings were quite satisfactory (for me). I read her 33 page saga on the Outlook, "walking with the comrades" and many other magazine cuttings. That's all ...

    Yet to lay my hands on any academic-writings of her on this topic, which I believe "should" be more deep. I agree with the "rhetoric" part in whatever articles, I have read thus far.

    Somebody can actually come defending MR, saying that, "These were the kinda details possible to be depicted on a "mainstream" film".

    Thanks for the comment Y.

  15. Thanks for the comment and compliment Gauri. :)

  16. I havent been here for a while, like the new look of your blog.

    As far as the review is concerned, this is probably the best I have read so far. Your analysis and deductions are perfect. Mani should probably read this as a part of his homework for the next movie !