“Manirat(h)nam”- a name that befits a man adept in weaving visual metaphorical splendour’s - looms large over this modern day interpretation of Ramayana. Ravanan, however is an anomaly to the Maniratnam meets movies with protagonist’s having references drawn from real life (e.g Nayagan, Kannathil Muthamittal, Iruvar) or epic (e.g Thalapathy), that we are used to from him. The drama (events) of the original epic is fetched and fit more or less unaltered into this three hour visual fanfare, but the bottom line that the he draws with his narrative is idiosyncratic, contrary to how we perceive the Ramayana.
Not a mind bending plot by any means, Raavanan is the story of a cop Dev (Ram) who is after the ‘supposedly’ detestable thug, Veeraya(Ravanan) who abducts his adorable wife Raghini(Sita). Set in a tribal dwelling region, the director draws obvious references to the pervasive Tribal-State conflict happening hitherto in the Indian political milieu - a socio-political feature that we have been witnessing in his movies since the days of Nayagan and Roja. Raavanan, a metaphor for the modern day Maoist (supposedly “evil”), revolts against the establishment (supposedly “good”) for the persecution of his tribe- forms the subtext of the movie, which is also where the director deviates from his chosen parallel. What constitutes and defines “good” or “bad” is dealt abstractly with the lead characters Raavanan and Dev, leaving it to the viewer to interpret it in the contemporary context, as he/she sees it.
Any cinematographer’s lens will be deliriously excited to capture the celestially beautiful, hitherto unseen locations in Raavanan. Now imagine, the lens of Santosh Sivan fit to the armory- the result is explosive. The visuals of Raavanan are reminiscent of Santosh sivan’s previous works: “Theeviravathi” and “Before the rains”- critically acclaimed for their visual opulence. However, the cinematography, at several junctures, loots the scenes totally, leaving a little option for the radicalized eye to penetrate beyond the locations into the characters.
Suhasini Maniratnam’s dialogues of self-worth and dignity prove sharp and powerful at several places, especially when Raghini asserts her courage and might over the all evil and powerful Veeraya and when Raavanan emphasies how powerful and better he is than the so called “god” during his conversation with Raghini, in front of the gargantuan statue lying on the silent stream. Raavanan is not bereft of the amusing sub plot characterizations and minor encounters that we usually associate with Maniratnam. The chemistry between Veeraya and her sister, played by Priyamani, provides for the fun and pace of the latter half of the movie. If the movie has lost on one front badly, it’s the lack of depth in the portrayal of the character “Dev”. Raavanan has plenty for the connoisseurs in the form of metaphors spoken through the lens, like in Alaipayuthey for e.g. when the marriage between Karthik and Shakti is set in darkness in the temple-as opposed to brighter tints that we associate with the mood of a marriage, extrapolating the idea of a marriage occurring without parental consent (“Thirutu kalyanam”- as popularly known). In Raavanan, when the supposedly “evil” Raavanan is introduced- as a silhouette of a man with sunlight blazing around him, it presents an irony to what we perceive as “Bad”. The irony extends to the introduction of “Dev” in a dark and gloomy atmosphere. The non-linear narrative helps the subtext, by bringing the idea of how we react first without considering the cause that triggered it.
So what does “Raavanan” mean to the audience as the end credits roll by? A devout Maniratnam fan is a tad disappointed behind his mask of awe; a Ramayana buff can smirk in pride for her/his obvious plot discoveries; for the rest, cognitive dissonance sinks in.