Mani Ratnam is every South Indian's (extended to all Indians by default) national pride and treasure. His movies have one burning social-political-economic agenda standing out (Bombay was Hindu-Muslim communal riots, Roja was Kashmir terrorism, Dil Se apparently ULFA terrorism, Guru, of course the quintessential rise of the Gujju Ambani, now Raavan with Lal Maati-Kobad Ghandy-Maoist? whatever,really?) BUT he steers clear of offering solutions on a universal scale ( I mean, why should he?), he entertains with sometimes good, at times decent-passable Rehman music and by far, the only-of-its-kind (so far, the rest don't get any mileage if it is not a Mani Ratnam film) breathtaking cinematography skills of Santosh Sivan.
I have watched the Hindi 'version' of Abhi-Ash-Vikram believing there is one.Do not be carried away by the punchline - 10 heads, 10 minds, A hundred voices, One man - it is just a distracting disclaimer. Why does Mani Ratnam make so many versions of the movie with different people? Will somebody ask him? Now, I am yet to watch the Tamil-Telugu version just to get a wholesome picture of what he was trying to show the audience or maybe, I can give that a pass. An aside, the enthusiasm of a movie gets killed when I have to hear from very movie-informed South Indian friends - "Oh, the movie is a copy of a Malyalee film or a Telugu film or a Tamil film. You should watch this in..." and there is a cacophonic blah in their vernacular with an instant dismissal of whatever.
I get it, Indians like variety but at what cost? I understand it as cloning, there is nothing unique about a movie anymore. If it was dubbed and subtitled, I would have still given him the benefit of doubt.But Indian film-makers are good students of inspiration (most times, read as copying). So, is there any original of Raavan? Raavanam? Villain of all names for Telugu audiences, jeez.
There is an unfair comparison (which could have been avoided) between the two Beeras. Mani Ratnam claims he has not had much hand in the Hindi creative production and depended mostly on his assistant. He feels 'better' about the Tamil-Telugu version because the creative reins were in his hands.
The amount of research done, so claimed is not reflected anywhere in the movie. Dropping names before the media like Kobad Ghandy (who is a regular burning issue every 2 months on NDTV's We, the People) is not cool when all you mention and try to show is some Lal Maati ( Red soil, get the Maoist drift) and a police crime. Yes, full and more points for the oh-so-breathtaking choice of locales and camera angles. The first scene where Beera (Abhishek) is seen towering in a dhoti and nothing else brought faint memories of The Dark Knight - the heady giddy feeling in the first scene.
The story is not very difficult to predict. The ending also, with such a giveaway of an epic title. Ragini (Ash) as the dance teacher-wife of Rayban-wearing, mooch-sporting S.P. of Lal Maati Dev( Vikram). The play on the names is quite palpable - Beera tangently Veer (the chivalrous one) and Dev maane Bhagwaan (obviously, gods make 'mistakes' in the name of rules and laws but Gods can never go wrong). Ragini is almost apsara-like claimed so many in that sylvan set-up. Well, she was not that bad but she is not as great as claimed with the baggage of marital fat showing up and I am not saying, fat is bad. She has a good sense of style and choice of clothes otherwise, in real life. The Sabyasachi cleavage hinting outfits are good, but not really focus-worthy.
Govinda's Hanuman reprise was comic relief as much as Ravi Kissen's Mangal act. But Chichi's time is up - he should stop monkeying around anymore.Really, he flies in the movie. He disappears and reappears. Something is made fun of but I am not being able to point a finger where. Tch.
Priyamani who plays Beera's half sister is a spunky livewire. Spunky people always don't get everything in life, sigh! A police gangrape told with a staccato stare, the next moment she is gone, caught in her creaking cot in the well. Police atrocities happen. I have not heard of men being raped by women police, however. The state of the police department in any place in India seems to be deplorable despite the collective faith conscious. The interrogation with the tribals in the forest is an utter joke.
Ajay Gehi (last memorable act was as Sunny's sidekick in Gadar) as the voice of conscience (Vibhishana) gets killed by the system(Dev). Obviously, this is Kaliyuga. Rookie cop played by forgotten hero Nikhil Dwivedi (of My name is Anthony Gonsalves fame) as the stark naked mistake of the police department is not a new tale in the twist. A lot of our young veer-jawan desh ke liye mar mitne wale are of this ilk, the invisible tail in between their visible manhood. His kidnap and mundaan saaf by the Lal Maati Beera bhakts is well, cinematic poetic justice for the suicide in the well.That he became a pschological shock victim is well, not a sympathy trip.What a punishment - buried till the chest in the ground and pilloried.Oh, stripped as well. If that could prevent crimes against women, if only.
The guerilla tactics used in the movie are the lousiest I have ever seen in these days of larger than life make believe. Almost, lost in the cattle class with multani mitti face-packs everywhere, on everyone. There is a tropical feel everywhere - the rains, the slippery mud, the overwhelming waterfalls, hamlets, pots and pans.
Everything is fair in love and war,so they say. Beera is smitten and bewitched by Ragini, comparisons almost epic and tragic, like Helen of Troy. There are moments of dignity in the questioned Robin Hood-Raavan yarn when Ragini's faith breaks down before Lord Vishnu's giant statue and she says she is not that strong and brave, and that she is only putting up a front. This is the same woman who scorned Beera in the beginning and refuses to allow anyone to take her life so easily, she just dashes off the cliff with that pride intact of a human being in control of her fate and actions. The distressing wife overtakes her in the last few reels of the movie after the controversial bridge-burning duel where Beera lets go of everything. She pleads with Beera to know if Dev is alive and ok, how tepid!
The brooding Beera has two annoying refrains - " Chik chik chik chik..." and "Bak Bak Bak Bak.." to display irritation and instill fear. Frankly speaking, he lost whatever little gravity he had, thanks to those two lovely refrains. He becomes the good rogue with a golden heart, who loses his heart and life for the lovely ice maiden of a Sita-prototype.
Treta yuga Sita was banished and she gave up her life to prove her chastity. Our Kaliyuga Sita stops the train, refuses to undergo the fire-test, err, I mean the blood test not because she is scared but she wants to give sense and sensibility a chance. There begins the Beera trail. As mutual acceptance begins to bloom, the wily and brute Dev corners the hunter. With a cry for justice asking posterity who the real Raavan is, Beera dies a heroic death. For Dev, work is worship. His work is to capture Beera, dead or alive. In this war, everything is fair. He forsakes his wife's love too in a tragic taken-for-granted way. This is the same man who is moved to tears when he visits the abandoned hide-out where his wife was held hostage. Vikram is business-like, cold and matter-of-fact. An ordinary husband, and not the god (Dev) that an Indian wife prays and fasts for on sacred Mondays.
The only real menacing fear in the movie came from Mangal. He had the choicest of lines from nailing home the truth - people fight for food, and one should not insult food to real guffawing rhymes like - Kranti ko shanti do. From the days of playing Lord Krishna on our telly to gyrating as the Big Boss of Bhojpuri Films and telly-hosting, this man has come a long way. Simple and intense, he is a quiet show stealer. With that shaving knife and Nikhil Dwivedi tied to a chair, Mangal's ritualistic jungle dance was chilling, almost laced with cannibalistic mania when he contemplates which body organ to cut off first - the nose? or gouge the eyes? slit the throat? or better still, chop off the ears? Of course, the result is symbolic - stripped of dignity, tit for tat with no hair and clothes.
Mani Ratnam makes films.He made this one too.Period.