And if the present-day adaptation of Ramayana is helmed by a master storyteller (Mani Ratnam), the moviegoer should, and must, expect the moon. Nothing less would suffice. After all, a Mani Ratnam film is not merely an experience, it's an event!
Mani Ratnam, who has penned the screenplay of Raavan, models his characters on the lines of the Ramayana:
You've come to expect scintillating visuals in the master film-maker's films and Raavan is no exception. But Raavan falters in narrating the story with dexterity. In fact, this one's a game of see-saw, with a dull and lifeless first hour, an absorbing second half and a weak, lacklustre climax.
Final word? Raavan comes with the baggage of humungous expectations, mainly for the one name attached to it: Mani Ratnam. Even though comparisons with the genius filmmaker's earlier accomplishments like Mouna Raagam, Nayagan, Agni Nakshatram, Geethanjali, Anjali, Roja, Bombay and Guru are sacrilegious since all belong to diverse genres, Raavan is nowhere close to those epics.
The benchmarks only get higher and higher every time Mani Ratnam makes a film and Raavan, unfortunately, is a step down. Sorry, several steps down!
Dev (Vikram) falls in love with Ragini (Aishwarya Rai), a spunky classical dancer who is as unconventional as he is. They get married and he takes up his new post in Lal Maati, a small town in northern India.
In the town, the world of law is not the police, but Beera (Abhishek Bachchan), a tribal who has, over the years, shifted the power equation of the place from the ruling to the have-nots of the area.
Dev knows that the key to bringing order to any place is not to vanquish the big fish - in this case, Beera. In one stroke Dev manages to rip open Beera's world and set in motion a chain of events which will claim lives.
Beera, injured but enraged, hits back, starting a battle that draws Dev, Ragini and him into the jungle. The forest becomes the battleground – the battle between good and evil, between Dev and Beera, between Ram and Raavan.
Mani Ratnam's adaptation of the Ramayana begins with the wife getting kidnapped and her husband launching a massive hunt to track her down and nail Beera. The reason why Beera takes this extreme step is revealed much, much later, towards the post-interval portions, which means that Mani Ratnam follows the nonlinear pattern to narrate his story.
Let's talk about the factors that pull this film down. First and foremost, when you've a title like Raavan, the demon king, who couldn't be vanquished by Gods, demons or spirits, you expect Raavan aka Beera to be equally powerful, who could send a chill down your spine, who spells terror and fear.
But in Raavan, Beera comes across as a psycho. The streak of madness in his character makes a mockery of the character itself.
Also, his makeup and the shabby avatars of his family/henchmen do not make them look menacing. In fact, it makes the entire gang look repulsive.
Even the finale leaves a lot to be desired. Ideally, the film should've ended after the fight on the bridge, but the entire track thereafter seems like an add-on, which is forced into the screenplay.
On the plus side, the track, which starts with Nikhil's kidnap to the entire flashback portion, is attention grabbing. The factors that prompt Beera to spell havoc in Dev's life are apt, although Beera's sister's portions aren't easy to comprehend in entirety.
The fight on the bridge - between Abhishek and Vikram - is astounding. One hasn't watched something like this on the Hindi screen yet, I'm sure. In fact, the execution of each and every stunt (Shyam Kaushal, Peter Hein) is exceptional.
Every Mani Ratnam film is embellished with stunning visuals and Raavan boasts of mind-boggling visuals as well. Shooting the film at tough locales isn't easy and Santosh Sivan and V Manikandan's vision creates magic on screen. Every frame is worth admiring and applauding.
AR Rahman's music is excellent and the visual appeal only enhances the impact. I'd like to single out Behne De and Thok De Killi, two tracks that I'd like to hum even after the show concluded. In fact, the latter is very energetic in terms of choreography.
Vijay Krishna Acharya's dialogues hit you like a sharp object at times, which is in sync with the mood of the film.
I've admired Abhishek's work in Mani Ratnam's earlier films Yuva and Guru, but despite putting his best foot forward, for some strange, inexplicable reason, Abhishek doesn't look convincing for the part. Also, his dialogue delivery isn't coherent at times.
Aishwarya is wonderful, looking ethereal and enacting her part with conviction.
Vikram is first-rate, although the role isn't substantial enough.
Govinda fails to create any impact whatsoever.
Amongst the plethora of actors, Nikhil Dwivedi (a revelation - very good]), Ravi Kishan (nice) and Priyamani (perfect) stand out.
On the whole, Raavan is a king-sized disappointment, in terms of content. From the business point of view, a Mani Ratnam film might ensure a healthy opening, but the weak script and the heavy price tag will make Raavan see red.
Rating: One and a half stars