Some time back, in my review of Aawara (1951), I had raised a question as to which extent it is justified to harass a woman under suspicion of being raped and why should a woman be punished for a crime committed by a man and that too by quoting Lord Rama and justifying this injustice to the woman with the example of Lady Sita ? At that time, I did not know that I would be revisiting this question again after seeing Raavan (2010). Yes this question is the most important aspect of this flawed movie and Maniratnam has faltered badly in the climax of Raavan by not providing a suitable and logical answer to this question.
After Prakash Jha let us down through his flawed adaptation of Mahabhaarat in Raajneeti (2010), it was Maniratnam’s turn to do the same injustice to his admirers through the other Indian epic – Raamayan. However, I admire him that he has developed his narrative out of the epic instead of imposing the epic on the narrative as Prakash Jha did. Besides, this movie is nothing short of a visual treat and despite the flawed narrative, it can be watched for the cinematography itself.
Maniratnam has developed his story by revisiting the Sita Haran (abduction of Sita) episode of Raamayan with a Naxalite backdrop (seemingly somewhere in Chhattisgarh). A Robinhood type Naxalite, Beera (Raavan) kidnaps Raagini, the wife (Sita) of a police officer (Lord Rama) who ultimately gets his wife released and kills Beera. However, neither this Raavan is a baddy, nor this Rama is a man of virtues. That’s what Maniratnam has tried to portray.
The movie is damn slow in the first half despite the fact that the basic incident takes place just after the start of it. However, it picks up speed in the second half and the reason behind the kidnapping is told to the audience. The movie reaches its peak with the spine-chilling fight sequence between Lord Rama and Raavan on a hanging wooden bridge. Finally, the Agni-Pareeksha episode also arrives resulting into Sita herself going back to Raavan, only to be followed by Lord Rama and his henchmen (sorry, policemen).Maniratnam has wasted a marvellous plot provided to him by the great sage, Maharshi Vaalmiki. He could have made a path-breaking movie through the contemporary adaptation of the ancient plot which carries the basic question (still very relevant for women in India) of the importance of a woman’s sexual sanctity. Woman is, by her biological structure, vulnerable to sexual attack by a man and sex can be imposed upon her by force, without her will. Even then, she has been being victimized for ages for the rape inflicted upon her though the culprit is the rapist. She is always asked to prove her sexual sanctity before her man (husband) who has been given a right by the tradition to discard her if her sexual sanctity is found to have been violated. That means, the purity of her soul has no meaning, only the physical chastity is important the forced violation of which renders her whole existence meaningless to the menfolk. This (always) burning issue could have been dealt sensibly by Maniratnam but he missed the grand opportunity. He has not made it clear in the end whether Lord Rama actually doubted the violation of chastity of Sita or it was his strategic move to catch (and kill) Raavan. He has also not made it clear whether Sita left her husband in the end or re-started her conjugal life with him as the erstwhile devoted wife.
One thing that Maniratnam has emphatically brought to fore is that policemen are more inhuman and beastly than the Naxalites or likewise social rebels who (policemen) shamelessly kill and torture innocents and rape the women that unfortunately come under their control for the time being. The police stations, instead of becoming the temples of justice and protection, have become the centres of rape and torture. Such kind of inhuman atrocities only aggravate the rebellious activities with more and more suppressed and oppressed ones taking the path of violence. The local Robinhoods are the products of nothing but the social injustice.The movie has a high production value. Two songs composed by A.R. Rehman are quite good, rest are average. Technically speaking, the movie is just superb with amazingly excellent camera angles used.
Performances are quite good except Govinda who should do something considerably about his weight if he does not want to retire from acting. In fact, his character itself is superfluous. This version of Raamayan would have been crisp without Hanuman. Aishwarya Rai has gained weight and no longer even a shadow of her hourglass figure that used to be. She has delivered more shrieks than performance. However her facial beauty is still intact. Today’s birthday boy Abhishek Bachchan has tried his level best within his limitations. Vikram’s character has not been properly developed. The look given to him is also defective. He looks less a Superintendent of Police, more a goon (though he is supposed to be Lord Rama). Among others, Ravi Kishan and Priyamani impress very much.
Maniratnam has given a brilliant look to the movie and the complete background is simply mesmerizing. A great effort indeed. However one thing is greatly missing – the soul. This beautiful movie is just like a beautiful dead body. Alas ! Mani Sir, I wish you had been courageous enough to provide a logical and memorable end to this modern Raamayan. Bold step requires boldness. We expected you to be bold Mani Sir. But . . . .
© Copyrights reserved