The trouble is that the master craftsman, whose films used to work due to its offbeat storyline and unique presentation, has changed his focus to Hindi cinema.
In the process he has lost touch with his roots and ends up making a film which does not have strong Tamil nativity or flavour.
But having said that, Raavanan is good in parts, an off-kilter cinematic experience. It is technically the finest movie made in recent times, superb camerawork of Santosh Sivan and Manikandan, never seen before stunning locales (in India) and crisp editing.
The major plus is the actors Ė Vikram, Aishwarya Rai, Prithviraj, Prabhu and Karthik are very good and keep us engrossed, but the story and screenplay by Mani Ratnam and Suhasini are a big let down.
The story is wafer thin and Mani has based it pretty much on Ramayan, with a cop, and the Robin Hood story set in a forest with some twists and subplots.
Veera (Vikram), a Robin Hood-like guy also known as Raavanan, and his elder brother Singam (Prabhu) live in a tribal village somewhere near Ambasamudram in Tiruneveli. They mete out instant justice and run Kattapanchayat, but are loved, respected and feared by the locals.
Dev (Prithviraj), the Ram character is the Superintendent of Police. He is on the hunt with other cops and a forest guard (Karthik), a new age Hanuman, for Raavanan, who has taken his wife Ragini (Aishwarya Rai,) the modern day Sita, as hostage.
Veera has a personal score to settle with Dev and the cops whom he believe is responsible for his sister Vennilaís (Priyamani) custodial rape and subsequent suicide.
Meanwhile, Ragini, who initially abhors Veera and thinks he is a brutal beast, later discovers that her ĎGod likeí husband is no saint and has dark shades in his character, too.
All this leads to a riveting climax on the cliffs.
The highlight of the film, as mentioned earlier, is the technical wizardry. Maniís choice of lush locales fits in with the realistic sets and props erected by art director Samir Chanda, and captures the ethos and milieu effectively.
Water is the main motif throughout the film - the waterfall, the characters having long conversations as it rains continuously, the song and celebrations in rain.
You can feel and touch the greenery, the moss in the forest as Santosh Sivanís camerawork is pure magic and his use of natural lighting gives the film that raw, colourful, serene look.
The climax fight between Vikram and Prithviraj on the bridge is extraordinary, with picture perfect top angle shots and camera movements.
However, AR Rahmanís music and Maniís song picturisation and placement, for which he is famous, is pretty ordinary. Songs act as a speed breaker and is not needed, but has been thrust in for commercial reasons.
In fact, during post interval, two songs come back-to-back within a span of five minutes. The particular song has been introduced to show Veera's love for his sister, Thangachipasam Mani style!
Vikram as Veera towers above all. He brings a primal mixture of beauty, affection and savagery to the character. You can feel the earnestness of his intentions and the wetness of his tears, especially in the climax. He adds the little touches that make all the difference to his character and you can't take your eyes off him.
Armed with the filmís best-written role, Aishwarya Rai has made a sensational comeback as Ragini, whose fear and hatred for Veera gives way to a sneaking admiration for her captor. She is mesmeric and has come out with an award-winning performance.
Prithviraj is the ideal foil for Vikram, and is good, especially in the final subtle showdown with Aishwarya.
Priyamani does her best in her cameo appearance, while Prabhu and Karthik are hilarious and make a mark.
The film lacks the Mani Ratnam touch in the story and screenplay department, and has a wobbly first half, where the story just does not move. The last 10 minutes are the best part of this 2 hours 7 minutes film. Mani Ratnam is better off doing straight Tamil ventures than making such hybrid variety films that fall between two stools.
Raavanan will never feature among Mani Ratnam 10 best films. Nonetheless, it is not to be missed.
Verdict: Above Average