Police officer Dev Prasad (Prithviraj) falls in love with spunky classical dancer Ragini Subramaniam (Aishwarya Rai). They get married and he is transferred to his new posting in the town of Vikramasingapuram in Southern India. But Vikramasingapuram is ruled by Veeraiya (Vikram), a tribal who fights for the have-nots of the area. Dev hits out at Veeraiya and in one stroke rips open Veeraiya’s world. In retaliation, Veeraiya starts a fight that sees the three of them – Dev, Ragini and himself caught in the dense jungle…
OK, first things first. I was not keen about getting into a comparison between Raavan and Raavanan even though I’ve watched both but somewhere it is inevitable.
I saw the Hindi version first. Raavan is embarrassingly and shockingly inept and one of Mani Ratnam’s worst films. The screenplay is weak and shoddy, an awful and superficial interpretation of an episode of the Ramayan with badly sketched characters, the film is totally unrooted (where the hell is the film meant to be set??? Abhishek shifts to Bhojpuri when he wants to, Hindi otherwise, his house appearing to be in Rajasthan – good grief!), lousy song picturisations (what’s happened to Mani Sir???), camerawork by Santosh Sivan that looks too attention-grabbing good and doing its own thing totally overriding script and directorial requirements. Add to this an unimaginative sound design with a totally overblown background musical score, scenes that go on and on and on, jerky editing, tacky wiring work, not so good performances (Abhishek hammy as hell – his one-dimensional facet is bad enough, thank god we didn’t have to see 10 of them, Ash screechy and unable to lift the film with her cleavage, Vikram, Govinda, Priyamani wasted), some embarrassingly cringe-worthy dialogue with everything largely dependent on verbose explanations rather than any visual treatment (why couldn’t we see Abhishek’s multi-dimensional personality without being told about it and then, even after being told about it, we still don’t see it!), a total lack of chemistry between Vikram and Aishwarya (lack of any good moments fail to make you sympathize with their situation) etc etc – you get the picture. In terms of narrative flow, nothing happens in the first half, the cat and mouse game between Abhishek and Vikram is non-existent and as a colleague mentioned to me – Ash plunges in the first half, the film in the second, the bridge sequence notwithstanding! The most unconvincing aspect of the script was Aishwarya’s change of heart towards Abhishek.
Since the screenplay is basically the same and the making also almost exactly similar, practically all of my issues with the Hindi version above persist with the Tamil version also, especially those with the narrative flow and the technicalities. What shocked me was the lack of attention to detail (if Aishwarya is a married Tamil woman, where is her thread – she’s dressed just like the Hindi version), and sadly, not a single credible moment in the various relationships. I never thought I’d ever say this but Raavanan (and Raavan) is a Mani Ratnam film devoid of any memorable moments whatsoever. The locales used are the same and passed off as North India in the Hindi version and South India in the Tamil version. It is sad to see a filmmaker one has admired and who raised the bar of the quality of mainstream Indian cinema in the 1980s and 1990s lose the plot so completely.
If the Tamil version is a notch above the Hindi version, it is only because the performances of the Tamil actors. Vikram, Karthik and Prabhu are easily superior to their Hindi counterparts.Vikram has great screen presence and hats off to him for playing two different characters in the two films but let’s face it – he’s wasted as the cop in the Hindi version and while he does have his moments in the Tamil version, he too like Abhishek cannot avoid entering ham territory in a lot of places in Raavanan. Still, his presence does help him pass muster. With the Tamil actors around her being better in this version, Aishwarya comes off worse here. Prithviraj fails to make an impact with a total lack of chemistry between him and Ash and what’s more, he looks much too young for her.
Also, the dialogue and lyrics in this version are more coherent as somewhere the director is far more comfortable with the language. Otherwise, both versions of Mani Ratnam’s interpretation of the great Indian epic are big disappointments to say the least.
Tamil, Action, Drama, Color