Raavan and Raavanan, like many other Mani Ratnam films, will be forever entrenched in the history of Indian cinema. It marks new heights for all those involved and raises the bar of expectations from Indian cinema by audiences worldwide. The bilingual saga has finally reached verdict day. The good, bad and the ugly has all been said and written about both versions. However, the prevailing opinion amongst critics and audiences, who have witnessed both Raavan and its Tamil counterpart, is that the latter triumphs over the former and impresses far more. At first, it’s rather mind boggling to contemplate how a bilingual film, shot simultaneously, be differentiated to such an extent as to demand two very different reviews from both audiences and critics alike. However, as you continue to read this piece the ‘how’ will become very much apparent.
Dev vs Dev
Comparing the two portrayals of Dev Pratap Sharma is rather difficult because the two portrayals have been absolutely customized by the individual actors, namely Vikram in the Hindi version and Prithviraj in the Tamil version. To some extent you can explain the difference as intentional because the team openly spoke about the need to maintain some contrasts between Raavan and Raavanan as the audiences of each are rather unique. However, this explanation has its limits and the other possible explanation is that Vikram’s portrayal of Dev had a bit too much of ‘Beera’ in it than intended.
The aim of Mani Ratnam’s storyline is to portray that there is no black and white in this world. People often fall into the grey area, and Dev and Beera are perfect examples of such grey-shaded people. So yes, there was an extent of Beera that was to be reflected in Dev, however not to the extent we saw in the Hindi version. The simple explanation to this is that Vikram has also essayed the role of Veera (Beera in Hindi) in the Tamil version, and as the movie was shot simultaneously it’s rather plausible that he let in a bit too much of Veera into Dev.
Comparison of just one dynamic scene in both films proves this suspicion true, and that would be the scene post Sakarai/Hariya’s death where Beera/Veera heads to the police camps and starts causing havoc in his classic style. Dev emerges from his tent shocked, furious and ready to fight, weapon in hand. He sees Beera/Veera and sees the intent in his eyes to avenge the death of his brother. In that moment, Dev’s emotions, in the Tamil version by Prithviraj, is a mixture of anger, frustration and most evident of them all is, pain. He’s desperate to bring this to an end as he once again witnesses the magnitude of this raging war between Veera and him, except this time at very close quarters. Up until now he’d merely heard about Veera’s ruthlessness but for the first time he faces it. Hence there’s also an element of horror in his eyes. However, in the Hindi version Vikram’s emotions are nothing of this sort. It’s pure brutal anger. It’s pure hunger to win. No such pain that you witness in the Tamil counterpart of this one scene. It reminds you more of the enraged Beera who’s standing on the other side of the battlefield. This emotion confuses the audiences to an extent, however only when comparing the two portrayals is one able to truly grasp the true essence of Dev’s emotions in this situation.
In this way there remains a marginal difference between Dev in Raavan and Dev in Raavanan. Perhaps shooting simultaneously was efficient but upon seeing the final product it definitely was not effective. A character such as Veera is not easy to slip in and out of and this becomes so very apparent when one sees Vikram as Dev. It may be argued that Veera was clearly the more demanding portrayal and overpowers and manipulates the perception of Dev that Vikram had. Despite the confusion, Vikram’s portrayal is rather convincing hence you do question why Dev is reacting in ways that are even too farfetched for a grey-shaded character. This will be an obvious difference that those who witness both versions will point out.
Beera vs Veera
The biggest difference between the two versions, and perhaps the only difference that matters to the larger part of the audience, is the casting of Abhishek as the leading character of Beera in Hindi and Vikram as Veera in Tamil. Both actors couldn’t have come from more opposite directions yet they’re seen tackling the same role and comparisons are inevitable.
Upon seeing both version, the comparison seems rather pointless as Vikram shines as Veera in a way that Abhishek doesn’t even come close to doing. He ignites the insane fire inside Veera with superb energy and perfection. Several, if not countless, scenes prove this sentiment well and truly. The most obvious of them being the initial scene on top of the cliff in which Ragini is brought to be killed by Beera. This scene marks the audiences’ real introduction with Veera where he has a full-fledged conversation with Ragini and one truly uncovers the madman that is Veera.
In Vikram’s portrayal you truly sit up and notice the man speaking on the screen, whilst with Abhishek’s portrayal you immediately pick up several things that he’s doing wrong. The most obvious of them being the terrible attempt at a ‘gawaar’ or ‘illiterate’ accent. It’s almost laughable! He tried hard to grasp the rawness of Beera but fails miserably. As for Vikram, well there is no Vikram in this scene or in the entire duration of Raavanan. There’s only Veera. You forget that this is an iconic actor who has already created history with countless other avatars. Whilst with Abhishek’s version you’re very much aware of the fact that this is Abhishek Bachchan acting as Beera. Therein lies the reason why Vikram triumphs with this character, he makes it his own.
In addition to failing to grasp the required accent, Abhishek does not come close to portraying the true madness of Beera in the way Vikram does. The scenes where Beera/Veera’s thoughts are ten at a time and he goes off on a little madman tangent, makes it rather obvious that as hard as Abhishek tries to bring onscreen this level of insanity required of Beera, he doesn’t come close to fulfilling the task.
It also becomes rather apparent when reading reviews of the Hindi version that critics have pointed out the main flaw in the movie as being Abhishek’s performance and reviewers who’ve seen what the character was ‘actually’ meant to be portrayed as have found the Hindi counterpart twice as more disappointing to what they initially thought it was.
Ragini & Beera vs Ragini & Veera
Raavan/Raavnan relies heavily on the chemistry between Beera/Veera and Ragini which is of course of a very bizarre nature. And once again even in this category the Tamil version takes the lead as the chemistry between Abhishek and Aishwarya was simply off the mark when it comes to these two characters.
Perhaps the fact that their husband and wife status offscreen brought a sense of familiarity between Ragini and Beera undermined the required inferiority that existed between the two. It seems like both actors were holding back something the entire time, Abhishek more than Aishwarya who did her part more convincingly. If one hasn’t seen the Tamil version they’ll never pick up on this flaw. All those who do watch Raavanan and witness this very emotion between Vikram and Aishwarya will clearly be able to see what the Hindi version lacked.
However, it remains rather unclear as to whether this was a flaw in chemistry or just another flaw on part of Abhishek’s performance because as discussed earlier, the emotions from Ash’s side is perfectly executed. Although in contrast, it’s not unheard of that actors perform far better when in company of a lesser familiar co-star with whom they can let their artistic expression flow rather than influence by hesitation or self consciousness. Perhaps that was the issue behind the lack of chemistry. Whatever the reason, the end result is chemistry that needed to be far better than it was.
Sanjeevani vs Gnanprakasam & Siddharth vs Singarasan
Govinda and Ravi Kishan bring in the plus points in the Hindi version as they triumph over their Tamil counterparts performed by Karthik and Prabhu. Whilst Ravi Kishen’s portrayal is simply incomprehensible to the ordinary cinegoers as its level of perfection, Govinda comes onscreen in a way he’s never been seen before. They both have a tendency to overshadow their costars at times particular Ravi Kishen whom you simply cannot get enough of. Karthik and Prabhu fail to captivate to the same extent. Their Hindi counterparts prove to be a much better comic relief.
That concludes the reasons as to how and why Raavan and Raavanan can be differentiated. To sum up the battle, it’s without a doubt a win for Raavanan beating Raavan by miles! Mainly because the primary character of Beera/Veera’s portrayal is simply not up to the mark in the Hindi version and having witnessed the Tamil version it will seem even more disappointing and flawed. In addition, the slightly confused portrayal of Dev in the Hindi version doesn’t improve the situation either. At the same time, performances of Ravi Kishan and Govinda are not to be missed in the Hindi version. Ultimately, from an overall perspective, the Tamil version definitely prevails however if time permits, one mustn’t miss out on the Hindi version completely as it does have some great offerings too that would be a shame to miss. So be a true cinegoer and try them both out, a double dose of Mani Ratnam can never be a bad thing afterall!