Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai
Director: Mani Ratnam
Sitting in your seat watching Mani Ratnam's "Raavan" unfold before you, is like craning your neck out of your car to catch a glimpse of the wreckage in a road accident on the other side. Filled with a perverse sense of curiosity, you can't take your eyes off the damage.
Alas, "Raavan" - despite a relatively modest running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes - is a crushing bore of a film, a disappointment on virtually every count.
In this rather literal adaptation of a slice of Hindu mythology, Ratnam casts Abhishek Bachchan as feared outlaw Beera who kidnaps the local police chief's feisty wife Ragini (played by Aishwarya Rai) in retaliation for a crime against a loved one. The tough cop Dev (played by Tamil star Vikram) sets out to get his wife back, making a journey into the dense forest, even as Beera finds his heart melting for Ragini.
Never one to paint his characters black or white, Ratnam gives both Dev and Beera ambiguous character traits that make it hard to pigeonhole them as entirely good or bad. So Raavan-figure Beera has a conscience that stops him from having his way with Ragini although he desires her, and Ram-inspired Dev is so hell-bent on achieving his goal that he will resort to deceit and betrayal in order to get there.
But what might have truly turned this film into a brave, daring effort is a less 'darpok' handling of Ragini's change-of-heart towards Beera. While she does soften considerably when she understands his provocation for revenge, Ratnam never quite turns it into a Stockholm-syndrome situation that might have made for a far stronger central conflict. As it currently stands, "Raavan" is a predictable revenge drama that stays too safe to ever surprise you.
Despite some eye-watering camerawork and a stunning action piece in the film's climax, the film -- especially its first half -- is a carelessly edited mess of long scenes that make little sense when strung together. Abhishek plays Beera as an eccentric, unpredictable fellow prone to sudden outbursts; he channels Heath Ledger's Joker from "The Dark Knight", but comes nowhere close to replicating a similar sinister charm. Aishwarya, despite being the film's leading lady and the very cause of the film's conflict, has nothing much to do. She's left to scream and shriek and hiss and spit out her dialogue while looking lovely in every frame.
Surprisingly, AR Rahman delivers his most uninspired score in years, which probably explains why Ratnam wasn't inspired enough to shoot his songs as innovatively as he usually does.
The director sticks so faithfully to the "Ramayana" that we get embarrassing scenes like the one in which the suspicious husband asks his wife to take a polygraph test to prove her purity. Other portions, adapted literally, include the humiliation of the Surpanakha character, which is only marginally better handled.
Of the cast, it's Ravi Kissen and Govinda, who play Beera and Dev's right-hand men respectively, who stand out with the film's most engaging performances. Both men, particularly Ravi Kissen, make flesh-and-blood characters out of their parts, investing them with sincerity and dodging stereotypes at every turn. Vikram, meanwhile, oozes screen presence but is shortchanged with cardboard characterization, and pretty much spends the entire film chasing after Beera in slo-mo, sporting trendy Ray Bans.
Burdened with pedestrian dialogue and too conventional a screenplay, "Raavan" is painfully dull and fails to engage at any level. I'm going with one-and-a-half out of five for Mani Ratnam's "Raavan". It's too simplistic a film from a director whose biggest strength used to be his multilayered relationships.
Rating: 1.5 / 5