Ravaan Review My Take

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

I don’t normally rush to the cinema on day one of a film’s release. Raavan was an exception because I screened it on 18 June, on a cold Friday here in Johannesburg. I was not a student of Indian cinema when Mani Ratnam made his other films, so I couldn’t wait to see the Hindi Ravaan, his latest project. I bundled up and went to Rosebank, past the bookshop at the mall, up the escalator to the multiplex that exhibits Indian cinema.

I had a lot of thinking to do in the dark theatre and I’m still thinking about Ravaan even now. Take the ending for example. I liked it. I also didn’t. It doesn’t make sense does it, and who has ever started a film review with the ending?

What I liked though is what is not shown on the screen. Will the haughty Ragini, well-interpreted by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan stay with Dev Pratap Sharma (Vikram), now that she knows what her darling husband does in the office and how he does it? The ‘office’ in this case is the police.

The director forced me to put on my thinking cap immediately, starting with the outlaw Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) standing on top of the waterfall; the disturbing scene of burning policemen followed seconds later, by the phone call to Dev the police chief that Beera had kidnapped his wife Ragini. The pace of the film is so fast I was starring at the words INTERMISSION before I knew it.

Ratnam also brought symbolism early in the film. What does the crow represent? Has it worked with Ratnam before? Did he use crow language to call action? However, the director lost me after the bridge, a spectacular scene which I don’t believe was actually shot on the bridge. Too dangerous!

I did not expect Beera and Dev to survive the burning bridge. I was therefore rudely awakened to the fact that it is fiction after all. I also could not fathom how Dev conveniently crawled to the point on the mountain where Beera had tied Ragini. My shoulders became depressed but I stayed put, which is good because Ratnam redeemed himself in the train, when Dev asked his wife to take a lie detector test that Beera did not touch her.

Vikram’s stellar performance in the film makes Dev the police chief a hard and ruthless man who is more concerned about capturing Beera than rescue his wife. She even remarks about it after the bridge scene when he looks around for Beera. “I’m here, what more do you want?”

This confirmed my suspicion that Dev is too much into himself. He is handsome. He is the best in what he does, that is why he was sent to Laal Maati to fix problems there. His work determines how he views the world. How else does he justify telling his own wife to take a lie detector test for personal reasons, and not for catching Beera?

Ravaan is a boys’ film, although it is centred around Ragini’s kidnapping. The story is nicely padded with family in the form of Beera’s brother Mangal, played superbly by Ravi Kishan. I could not help but symphathise with Hariya the other brother who sacrifices his life for Beera, to prove that he is just as good as the assertive Mangal.

Ravaan is about Beera, a good guy made bad by society and Dev a bad guy inside a police uniform. Abhishek Bachchan does a good job of interpreting two difficult emotions, the deranged Beera who has a lot of pain in his mind which he calls ‘fire’, and the loving brother and community worker. I was mad at him in the beginning and started understanding him at his sister Jamuniya’s wedding. He is soft, loving and totally manipulated by Jamuniya, the apple of his eye, played by the lovely Priyamani.

Beera is determined to avenge Jamuniya who was raped by DSP Hemant (Nikhil Dwivedi) and other policemen on her wedding day. Her husband Guddu ran away after the police raided the celebrations in search of Beera, who was shot by Dev. Villagers whisk the bleeding Beera away to safety, something he regrets when he hears that Guddu left his sister in the lurch.

Beera hates the police for another reason. He feels that they guard the old age class system based on skin colour. He holds society responsible for treating him less than a man because of his black skin. He sings about his suffering and the caste system in a poignant song.
“They relish bananas and hurl peels at us.”
“Our blood is red like theirs.”
“Peel our skins you will see.”

Beera accuses Dev of belonging to a high caste and also talks about blackness to Ragini his captive. “If you wander in the sun, you’ll have the same colour as us. Black.” Women tease Jamuniya while preparing for the wedding, “You are so black, no dye will work on you.”

The way Ratnam treated the story is dangerous because I do not like kidnapping films, for the good reason that copy cats do it in real life all over the world. People who produce soap operas for South African television continue to be irresponsible and use it as a storyline. Kidnapping is no joke for women because they know what will happen to them.

I say dangerous because I found myself being sympathetic to Beera, even before I knew about Jamuniya’s rape. The police are hunting him like an animal, but he is human because Ragini was supposed to be killed in 14 hours, but he spares her. How do you kill someone who is not afraid of death? He says something to that effect to his brothers Mangal and Hariya. Falling in love with her and calling her Mahua is another story.

Villagers adore Beera for life and death reasons i.e. he lives with them in difficult circumstances and one of them says he got them their land back. Who owns land and who was dispossessed of that land is a thorny issue that continues to result in bloodshed.

Raavan was worth waiting for. The cast interpreted the script to the best of their ability and Mani Ratnam continues to play hide and seek with my mind. I’m going to see it for the fourth time in order to nail his intention. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about him. Any review is personal and this is my take on Ravaan.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.


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