Okay, so I watched Raavanan last night. Finally.
When I look back on it today, what stays in mind are disconnected flashes of memory, each more picturesque than the last, but no common thread running through them. If you ask me what happens when I might fob you off with an RTFE (E for Epic, you know the rest).
Now I sit and wonder how this film would’ve turned out, had Mani Ratnam told it like a normal story. My guess is, it would’ve been a good movie. We would’ve enjoyed it as a skillful spin on the epic. Oh, and it would’ve made a lot more money, I’m sure. But for that, I don’t think it would’ve had a shot at being a great movie.
Instead, the man took a story everybody knew and concentrated simply on the moments he wanted to give his own treatment to. He assumed that we would fill in the gaps and concentrate simply on the individual moments. To his credit, some of those moments are absolutely fantastic. The one where Ragini jumps off the cliff, or the one where the indru poi naalai vaa exchange is given a new spin, or the conversation on the train towards the end.
The performances are as brilliant as they need to be for these moments to work: Vikram is in sublime form — the man almost always swings for the fences, and this time he connects. Prithviraj taps into that reservoir of menace he displayed so wonderfully in Kanaa Kandein. Prabhu and Karthik (reuniting in a Mani venture after many years) are aptly cast. Ash is… well, where she is mostly intolerable in someone else’s movie, here she is watchable if not eminently so.
The trouble is with this strategy, however, is that it doesn’t work by itself, only as a riff on the story everyone kn0ws. Even if you’re okay with that, the writing is too inconsistent to ignore. The much commented-upon bak-bak-bak is a complete disaster. Some of the dialogues don’t have the sophistication they need (Sujata, you are missed). While watching the movie, these little irritants detract from what could’ve been a wonderful experience.
Perhaps the way to look at Raavanan is as a sort of dreamscape. As dreams go, it’s amazingly vivid. As films go, it falls short of greatness.