“Raavan is definitely worth a watch, even if it’s not the epic it was touted to be.”

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After years of hype about Raavan being ace director Mani Ratnam’s most grand film yet, the verdict is finally out, and it’s definitely a mixed bag. Some love it and some hate it. Noted critic Rajeev Masand calls it “a crushing bore of a film” while Rediff’s Aseem Chhabra says Ratnam “is in top form.” This, ladies and gentlemen, is the beauty of cinema: a single film giving birth to a thousand opinions. So is Raavan yet another let down in a year starving for good cinema, or is it simply not everyone’s piece of cake?

Simply put, Raavan does not in any way undermine the genius of Mani Ratnam – this is clearly his toughest film yet and he could not have come up with a better team to rise to the occasion. This makes it all the more painful to admit that even with the best team, Raavan doesn’t achieve the kind of excellence it could have. The film consists of striking moments of pure brilliance hampered by others that are simply tedious. Above all, the film falls flat in the writing department, with lead characters that are sometimes one-dimensional and unconvincing.

Modeled around the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, Beera [Raavan, Abhishek Bachchan], a rebellious outlaw and protector of “the people” kidnaps Ragini [Sita, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan] as revenge for the mistreatment of his followers, particularly his sister Jamuniya [Surpanakha, Priyamani]. What makes Ragini such a prized possession is that she is the wife of Inspector Dev Pratap Sharma [Ram, Vikram].

The film is essentially a two hour cat and mouse chase with few twists and turns and little to keep you on the edge of your seat. The film’s most intriguing aspect is the way it blurs the lines between good and evil, driving home the message that there is a Ram in every Raavan and a Raavan in every Ram.

One simply wishes that the characters were given more depth to create more of an impact. Beera is reduced to a mere caricature of a villain with a conscience. Dev is completely boring and you really don’t care what happens to his character, which undermines his love story with Ragini and thus the entire plot. The characters become interesting in the last fifteen minutes, but the average viewer has already lost interest by this point. Thankfully, Ragini’s character is slightly better etched and the supporting characters all stand out. Even Vijay Krishna Acharya’s dialogues are good but don’t reach their potential because of the thin plot.

On the flip side, the film’s technical team is so extraordinary that it makes an extremely simply storyline worth watching. Santosh Sivan and V. Manikandan create one of the best shot Indian films in recent times – an absolute treat. Shyam Kaushal deserves applause for the action in the film’s climax which is truly unique. You’ve got to hand it to the entire team for braving such tough locales. Every frame of the film boasts of authenticity.

Several sequences in the film stand out, including the flashback episode of Beera’s sister and one in which Beera tells Ragini of his jealousy. Watch out for Abhishek in the latter sequence – he shows you just why Ratnam chose him for the role. Unfortunately, the climax is a bit of a let-down ‘bang’ that it should.

As usual, A.R. Rahman’s music raises the film to a new level but it’s his background score that is truly remarkable. ‘Behne De’ is the best of the lot, mostly for its striking visuals. My only complaint is that the track ‘Ranjha Ranjha’ wasn’t used effectively.

Out of the three main characters, it’s Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who gets the best character and she proves why she’s far beyond a petty rat race. Sure, her screaming does get irritating, but if you were captured by a crazy villain, you’d do the same. She shines as the fiery Ragini. Much ado has been made about Abhishek’s Raavan act and although he’s good, one wishes he had taken the character and made it his own. He does the job well but fails to make the character truly memorable. Vikram gets ripped off with a poorly written character and not much to do.

Out of the supporting cast, watch out for Govinda who seems made for this role. Ravi Kissen is perfect, as is Priyamani who leaves a strong impression. Nikhil Dwivedi is one to continue to watch out for – all he needs is that one big role.

Personally, I enjoyed Raavan but with a tinge of disappointment in what could have been an extraordinary film. It let down by a plot that just isn’t riveting enough and half-baked characters. However, the film’s performances and technical aspects make it worth watching.

To be honest, I’d much rather watch a brave film like Raavan that falls a bit short than some of the recent garbage that Bollywood has churned out (cough cough, no titles mentioned!). Raavan is definitely worth a watch, even if it’s not the epic it was touted to be.

3 stars

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