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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Liberation for Ravan and Indian cinema

Bollywood's 2-year awaited Ravan is a director's film. Mani Ratnam, the techno savvy director, attempts to stand by the dejected and downfallen against the bureaucratic and powerful. The two and a quarter hour visual treat is capturing, much to the credit of cameramen Santhosh Sivan and Manikantan. They turn the breathtaking, lush green locales into portraits of beauty that fill your eye with every frame.

The first half is incredibly fast and it takes no time at all for you to feel for the heroine, played beautifully by Aishwarya Rai Bachan, when she is abducted by the village villain, Abhishek Bachan. The second half of the film has its moments as a psychological thriller and a suspense drama. Director Mani's social criticism here extends to self-discoveries and powerful feminine determinations. The rustic and rough villain is baffled by the damsel-not-in-distress' love for her husband and her fearlessness of death. "Take her home before the beast in me arises," he tells her husband, the police officer who comes to rescue her. It is a change for the uncivilized, uneducated and seemingly ruthless man.

The experience has left her changed too. Moved by her police officer husband's suspicion over her 14 day exile, she becomes daringly assertive. She understands the why and how of the making of a villain. In a touching scene she goes to the forest deity to pray for diligence because after listening to her abductor's side of the story she is afraid she will have a change of heart.

Mani Ratnam succeeds in making the audience feel one with the so called villain. For every act of villainy there is a cause. Also, it is amazing to see a female character exhibit such boldness over the male's supremacy, which is practically an unwritten law in Bollywood. Worth noting, one of Mani's own assistants is a woman.

So do we have a classic rewritten in Ravan? Unfortunately not. Mani's technician overpowers the screen writer and everything in the film is glorified, even a small fall is a great crash accompanied by the mammoth drum beats of AR Rahman. The film begins and ends with a descent, the first one an impossible plunge into a mighty river and the last into the proverbial abyss of problem solving.

Mani Ratnam, whose earlier works dealt with the enigmas of Sri Lankan rivals, suicide bombers, and underworld kings does put another feather in his director's cap. The downtrodden the film sympathizes with could very well be matched up to Maoist rebels.

Kuwait's cinema has two versions of the film, the Tamil version (the director's mother tongue) and the Hindi version. Both versions were coproduced by the director.

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