Director Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan, the Tamil language counterpart to Raavan, is a misty, murky take on the classic story of the kidnapping Ram’s wife Sita by the ten-headed demon Raavan. In this modern re-telling, Raavan becomes Veeeru (Chaiyyan Vikram) the ‘king’ of a small patch of jungle and all the villagers within it and for his ten heads, he has ten moods. Ram becomes police inspector Dev (Prithviraj), who has been sent to the forest district to take out Veeru and Dev’s wife Raagini (Aishwarya Rai) is the Sita who is kidnapped.
Raavanan opens with the kidnapping of Raagini and follows her through her captivity, with flashbacks to previous events as she finds out the circumstances that led Veeru to her. While Raagini finds her beliefs about right and wrong being tested, her husband the police inspector is tracking her down, ready for revenge. A showdown is inevitable but in Raavanan, despite the simple story, nothing happens the way you would expect.
The battle between Raavan and Ram is usually seen as one between good and evil but Mani Ratnam flips things around so that the battle between Veeru and Dev is more complex than that and the characters come to symbolize a fight between two ways of life–the natural world (Veeru) and the man-made world (Dev). Veeru and his followers are dressed in home-spun cloth and are, more often than not, covered in mud and water. Dev and his policemen, in contrast, are in uniform, shirttails tucked in and facial hair neatly trimmed. Veeru is dark-skinned and Dev is fair. Veeru acts justly while Dev acts lawfully. And caught in between the two men is Raagini.
Vikram and Aishwarya, who were both doing double duty in Raavan and Raavanan, give excellent performances. Not only does Vikram command the screen every second he is in the frame but the chemistry between him and Aishwarya rivals even the steamy scenes between Aishwarya and Hrithik in Dhoom 2 and Jodhaa Akbar. Vikram runs wild with the ten faces of Raavan and Aishwarya matches him with a calmness of spirit and a steely will. She is not afraid of him and he finds that irresistible. Prithviraj has a thankless task as the secondary male lead but he does a nice job as Dev, giving Vikram a foil and showing that a handsome face cannot disguise a lack of inner beauty.
The performances were supported by beautiful cinematography from Santosh Sivan and Manikavan who captured the watery feel of Mani Ratnam’s dreamscape with a light touch, never letting the mist and mud bog down the frame. And the score by A.R. Rahman only added to the otherwordly feel of the film, especially Veeru’s bombastic theme tune. The songs were paced well and the picturizations were a good mix of lip-synced and non-lip-synced.
Overall, Raavanan is a gripping and emotional film, the Mani Ratnam of Dil Se instead of the cerebral Mani Ratnam of Guru. Packed full of sexual tension and violence, it’s a film as lusty as Raavanan himself.