Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mani Ratnam, Raavan And An Epic Retake

Raavan, starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, sees Mani Ratnam return to an epic, this time the Ramayana, for source material.
A teaser poster on the internet for Mani Ratnam's Raavan reads: Ten heads, ten minds, a hundred voices, one man. The lines point at rousing possibilities of Ratnam tapping into complexities of the ten-headed Dravidian king, transported to the decidedly more amoral social spaces of our times.

The adaptation of the epic Ramayana for the modern day, starring Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan and Vikram with music scored by A R Rahman, has been in the making for over two years. With a 40-second teaser out last week that, subsequently, generated YouTube views in tens of thousands, Raavan looks on course for a strong opening at the theatres on June 18. The fortunes of the film at the box office apart, Mani Ratnam watchers will be sold on how the filmmaker gets to engage in another shot at remodelling a reviled antihero. The last time Mani Ratnam turned to an epic was for Dalapathy (1991), an urban, gangland setpiece for the Mahabharatha's tragic warrior, Karna.

Raavan As Dravidian Champion
Raavan, still, is different territory. In Dalapathy, Ratnam's lead player is a wronged man who strays into rival ranks. Raavan, on the other hand, leads with an abhorred antagonist who have over centuries, among other things, defined a distinct racial divide. Literature and theatre have channelled Raavan's side of the story in the South but the king has remained decisively sinister in the collective imagination of the rest of the country. If the still unfounded excitement over the possibilities of Raavan being a Dravidian retelling of the epic is indication enough, the film looks set to run into some hostility outside of southern India, where Raavan has been none more than Lord Ram's malevolent adversary in the revered epic.

Abhishek, Aishwarya Lead Cast
The promotional clips of Raavan indicate the premise of a romance between the captive heroine (Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan) and her rugged, brooding captor (Abhishek Bachchan) with the other man (Vikram), a motif worked around Lord Ram, completing the triangle. Told within the big Bollywood format - run on songs, action and spectacular camerawork - and with the industry's most celebrated couple playing lead, Raavan is not quite tipped to redefine racial perspective.

Counting in Ratnam's arguably simplistic reading of terrorism and communal discord - Roja (1992) and Bombay (1995) are cases in point - the Ramayana here may not work more than a cleverly readied canvas for some engaging character strokes. But Ratnam has been a master in whipping up slick, borderline drama out of flimsy material and when he sources an epic, no less, there's enough reason to look.

Raavan In Tamil
Ratnam is releasing Raavan in his own territory, Tamil, as well with Rai-Bachchan reprising her turn. Vikram, in a probable nod to his histrionic scope, gets to play Raavan himself here, with Prithviraj joining in as the other man. Critics have underlined cases of filmmakers losing steam when they drift off home turf and seen a parallel in Ratnam, whose outings in Bollywood haven't matched his generation-defining work in Tamil.

With an ensemble cast and top-of-the-line technicians on board - ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan returns to the Ratnam fold - and a composer who saves the best for him, the filmmaker will look at a turnaround as Raavan hits screens. For now, though, all on show is 40 seconds of YouTube.


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