You can read the premise from the promos. Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) is introduced through a song reminding you of the one in Omkara (both penned by Gulzar). Like Omkara, Raavan too is set in the rustic badlands of the North.
Beera is a grassroots leader with his own army (hinting at Maoism), and his word is as good as the law. With half the local people fearing him, and the other half revering him, it’s only understood when SP Dev’s wife, Ragini (Aishwarya Rai), wonders whether he is “Robin Hood or Raavan”.
We’re yet to figure that out as well.
This is a film unafraid of jumping into the plot immediately. The story starts from the word go. Super Cop Dev (South star Chiyaan Vikram) is on a mission to finish Beera, whose team recently killed several cops.
Out to settle a score, Beera kidnaps Ragini. She shows no fear, throwing her kidnappers off track. Beera, meanwhile, refuses to kill her. “She shows no fear of dying, how can we kill her,” he reasons. Meanwhile, Dev is on the hunt, snaking through the thick jungles with his force.
While tracking and chasing Beera, Dev befriends a local guard (Govinda, utterly underutilised) who makes for a very disappointing Hanuman in this Ramayan adaptation.
While we know where our characters stand, the fun begins when the lines start blurring. The film takes a subversive note when it comes to making the black-and-white characters a little more interesting.
And then the film manages to confuse the viewer about whose side they’re on; and that’s the film’s foremost triumph.
In humanising Raavan and demonising the perceived good guy, the film lets us hang in delicious ambiguity for the most part. ‘The War’, when it finally happens, is short-lived but quite spectacular, with one scuffle choreographed on an insubstantial bridge.
There is too much repetition in establishing characterisation. We are shown Ragini’s gumption in her various attempts at escape. We are shown Beera’s unusual tenderness time and again. And his group’s general respect towards women, even if they are their captive, is often established.
Another thing worth considering is that nothing much really happens through the film. The plotline is really simple, and that's stretched through the film’s running length.
Santosh Sivan’s photography brings alive the raw beauty of the jungle, the mountains, and the ruthless waters. But it also runs the danger of being exhibitionist, where even a character’s jump from a mountain and getting entangled in branches, is captured with soft lyricism.
The shot compositions are masterful, and Sivan’s work remains one of the core highlights of the film. Sound design is crackling. For a layered film, the dialogue (Vijay Krishna Acharya) is paradoxically simple, yet effective.
The background score is great fun. Songs by AR Rahman are fabulous, though not his most mind-blowing work.
Abhishek Bachchan plays Beera/Raavan with an innocence he brings in effortlessly. Despite an excess of the growls and the ‘I am a crazy genius’ act, Abhishek manages to humanise his character effectively.
Aishwarya Rai is just delightful - she’s marvellous as the dance teacher oozing grace, the firebrand captive, and the woman caught in a perplexing situation.
Chiyaan Vikram plays the modern-day Ram interestingly, with an arrogant swagger and hardheartedness. His is undoubtedly the most interesting character through the film, full of unexpected layers.
Producer-director Mani Ratnam maintains his trademark focus on emotions, while adding a flamboyant flair. Everything from the costume, to the hair, to the location, to the cinematography: there’s drama in every frame.
Enjoy this very different take on the story everyone knows. After all, if not offering a special perspective, what use is an adaptation? Don’t miss it.
Rating: 3.5 stars