Ravaan Review Cinematography

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.

Saint Claire Bourne the African-American filmmaker is remembered for many documentaries, including the making of Spike Lee’s film, Do The Right Thing. He took his cameras to Brooklyn, New York and talked to cast and crew about the making of the film.

I wonder if Mani Ratnam, the director of Ravaan, also documented how he shot Raavan, a project that reminds us what we also like about cinema, pleasing images on the screen. We have forgotten that cinema used to be just the moving picture, hence the term ‘motion picture.’ Dialogue came later, and the new films with talking heads were called ‘talkies.’ Incidentally, Ratnam’s film production company is called Madras Talkies.

I knew that cinematography was going to be interesting in the first minute of the film. There is Abhishek Bachchan on top of the waterfall, deluding himself that his character Beera, is also as powerful as that deadly element, roaring water.

I also forgot my popcorn when Beera’s boat inched closely to Ragini’s (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) boat. There was Beera in a covered boat, larger than life and Ragini in a small open boat that looked like a raft. The opposites are obvious. Ragini’s boatman warns Beera that his boat is going to him them. The next detail is interesting because behind the camera, Santosh Sivan has the front parts of both boats moving towards each other. The scene must have been shot underwater.

Another scene is where Ragini throws herself over the waterfall because she wants to die on her own terms, and not be killed by Beera. She lands on some trees, which break at the impact and she lands in the water. There is a close-up of her lying face down and I still wonder if the cameras were underwater.

Dev Pratap Sharma (Vikram) asks his wife in the train if Beera tried to touch her. Ragini says no but the correct answer should have been ‘almost’, because of the way Santosh Sivan shot one scene. Beera moves his hands around Ragini’s face. He turns her around and stands behind her. His hands are spread out, around her upper body as if to embrace her but he does not touch her. The camera must be down below because the scene fills up the whole screen and is very suggestive.

Wide, endless, is how I describe some of the camera shots. Ragini is in a cave, fantasising about Dev coming to rescue her. She screams his name but she is standing near a lake that seems to go on forever, a lake devoid of green foliage and not a single bird in sight. I interpreted this as the futility of what she was wishing for.

The most demanding task for the camera department must have been having a cast member that is always wet. The waterfall is a character in the film, a dangerous one that could have killed somebody. I take my hat off for the cinematographers in several scenes. There is Beera sliding down the waterfall vines to rescue Ragini. After that, they walk up the wall of the waterfall with the help of vines, which is not easy because it is slippery.

Maybe, that was not shot on location. I’m trying to think of the logistics. Where was Ratnam and the camera crew? How were the cameras protected, with some plastic or special filters? There is also a beautiful scene with Beera on the rocks and the waterfall mist behind him, a striking comparison of man and nature.

Wide, endless is the wedding procession on its way to the ruins, where the wedding is going to take place. Wide, endless are the hills protecting the river, where the forest keeper Sanjevaani, played by Govinda has the audacity to declare the meeting open and tell Beera that he has come to fetch Ragini.

Mother nature brings some comfort to wounded souls in the form of rain. Mani Ratnam must have done a detailed scout location before he decided on that jungle. It is raining softly when Beera moves Ragini to another location because her husband is getting too close for comfort. They are wearing interesting rain coats, made from local grass. Is it sisal?

It is raining when Ragini talks to a fallen idol in the river. It is raining when the police storm the village and everyone runs away leaving a child crying. It is raining during the ambush of the police camp by Beera's men pretending to be passing through with cows.

Mother nature in story telling is not enough on its own. The director should have the ability to mix and match humans and nature. Mani Ratnam did it very well throughout the film especially. What come to mind is the scene where Ragini is thinking about her predicament and behind her are green hills partly hidden by a colony of clouds.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.


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