Language: Tamil (with English subtitles in Delhi and Mumbai)
Cast: Vikram, Aishwarya Rai, Prithvi Raj, Prabhu, Karthik A
Direction: Mani Ratnam
Rating: 4 stars
They don’t call him Mani Ratnam for nothing. Raavanan’s story is as familiar as a recurring childhood dream. So Ratnam simply did what he does best: make the characters more nuanced. And that has led to myriad possibilities. Ratnam’s Ram — Dev — has more flaws than the evil Raavan could ever have with all his 10 heads. And Prithviraj as Dev is outstanding — he looks good, acts tough and is ruthless to the point of being heartless. And the combination rocks. So forget the Hindi version of the movie; the story’s soul has been installed properly in the Tamil version.
The subtext of the Maoist-tribal issue is subtly thrown into the plot-boiler. But the Tamil version connects better with the story of forest brigand Veerappan and the special task force that hunted him down.
Raavanan is a 14-day journey in the forest, where Dev is on the trail of Veera who has abducted his wife Raagini to avenge his sister’s death. It turns out to be a journey into the hearts and minds of the three. You find yourself rooting for the bad guy who’s just lost not only his will to kill but also his heart. When he asks his brother “How do you kill someone who has no fear?”, you feel for him.
Vikram as Veera is menacing and masculine, yet vulnerable. Aishwarya makes this one count with her performance — not just with looks. And it is the brilliant chemistry between the two — eat your heart Abhishek — that bring this version alive. At one point he asks her: “Would you have stayed with me if you weren’t married?” Silence is the only answer he gets, but it’s such a tantalisingly loaded silence.
Vairamuthu’s lyrics infuse zest into the narrative itself. Though the background score doesn’t stand out, a couple of songs hit the right spot.
Neither Ratnam nor Rahman is at the top of his game here, but they do with class what they can’t with form. The real star is Santosh Sivan, whose cinematography makes you feel as if you are living a Pablo Neruda poem in the rain forests of Chile. The surreal scenery and masterful sound makes up the rest. Raavanan is not the best-cut Ratnam but it’s definitely not a botch-up, as the Hindi version has seemed to many.