Am sure that by now all readers of Jairam’s Jives would’ve watched Avatar at least once and been awestruck by the amazing psychedelic world that James Cameron presented to us with in the form of Pandora. Truth be told, I was blown away by the first sight of that magical forest in Pandora, especially the first brush that Jake Sully has with the ‘touch-me-not’ flowers which wrap up whenever anybody touches them. Now before you start wondering why I am talking about Avatar and Pandora so much in a review of Raavanan, I am just trying to give you folks a context, a yardstick, a frame of reasoning to measure the cinematographic efforts of Santosh Sivan in Raavanan.
While James Cameron required a whole lot of blue screens, props, and a helluva lot of computer imagery to bring to life his vision of Pandora, Mani Ratnam and Santosh Sivan required an amazing scouting crew (or location crew), some crazy trekking adventures in places such as Tumkur, Hogenekal, Athirampalli, Malayattoor, jungles in Maharashtra to bring to life, Mani Sir’s (as he is fondly known by anybody who works with him) vision of Vikramasingapuram and its surroundings to life. The jungle is where Veera rules, his happiness, sorrow, anger, frustrations, love, hate, all of it is inextricably linked to the jungle. He is lord and master of all he surveys in this jungle, and this is beautifully brought out in the first scene of the movie where he is perched on the top of a 90 odd foot cliff overlooking a flowing river. The camera pans out from over his shoulder down into the gorge below, and the next shot is a long one from below, which gives the audience the sheer magnitude of the cliff he is actually overlooking. Sheer brilliant opening to a wonderful movie.
Veera (Vikram) is a Robin Hood type renegade brigand in the forests running a parallel kingdom of his own. Though he is not shown to be engaged in anything unlawful, the fact that the people of Vikramasingapuram pay more heed to his words and deeds than ‘official’ ones by the Government is something that irks the authorities. The movie opens with how Veera kidnaps Raagini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), the wife of Dev Prakash (Prithviraj), the local Superintendent of Police. This small 2-3 minute sequence in which Veera trashes the boat of Raagini and takes her hostage is reminiscent of some of the best action sequences in any Hollywood blockbuster.
Dev’s incessant search for Raagini through the jungle, Veera’s persistent efforts to keep her away from Dev’s clutches, why Veera kidnaps Raagini, these 3 themes form the crux of Raavanan, the movie. Interspersing all these 3 linked plots is a water-tight screenplay which doesn’t go loose for even one moment (except probably for 2 songs, which serve as breaks for the audience to gather their thoughts). In the middle of all the traipsing around the jungle and multiple failed attempts to escape, Raagini gets to see the real Veera, who she realizes is as human (or probably more human) as she is or for that matter Dev is. Whether Dev manages to catch up with Veera and rescues Raagini makes up for the rest of the story, and if I say anything more I will surely end up spoiling the movie-watching experience for the viewers.
Dev’s brooding intensity and single minded focus in bringing Veera to justice is wonderfully brought out on screen by Prithviraj. I personally haven’t seen him in a movie in which he portrays such intensity throughout the movie, and he was a revelation. Little wonder then that he is considered among the better breed of actors in the Malayalam movie industry. Aishwarya Rai has always been Mani Sir’s muse when it comes to giving her enough space and a meaty character which plays to her strengths. Her portrayal of Raagini, who is pretending to be brave through her ordeal while in reality she is scared to her wits, and terrified at her situation is brilliantly brought out in the scene where she prays out aloud to an abandoned ruin of Goddess Parvathi in the jungle. Vikram as Veera is the life-line of the movie. Almost single handedly he carries 3/4ths of the movie on his shoulder. This is probably his best role yet, running a close second only to Pithamagan, in my opinion.
A few things most people might tend to overlook in this movie is the shimmering chemistry between Veera and Raagini, which gradually develops over the course of the movie and reaches its peak in the last frame of the movie. Another notable directorial touch is the fact that Dev’s character is so obsessed with justice and doing the right thing, that he takes it to any length which is again brought out in the last 5 odd minutes of the movie. While most people might disagree with the means, Dev is somebody who seriously believes that the ends justify the means. This to me, is the most ‘stand-out’ aspect of this particular character.
AR Rahman and Vairamuthu have combined once again to merge wonderful Tamil and music together to give us an eminently listenable album in Raavanan. It would be extremely pretentious of me to comment on the excellence of either of them. Suhasini’s dialogues and AR Rahman’s background score also deserve special mention, and so do the Art Directors of this movie. All in all, I personally believe that Madras Talkies, Big Pictures and Sony Pictures have a winner on their hands. Go watch this movie to enjoy a thorough visual treat.