When fredrico fellini made La dolce vita in 1960, something changed. Gone was the earnest biting Neo realist filmmaker of I villetoni and la strada. What gave fellini more fame and celebration(…and ultimately meaningless films) than he could possibly imagine, now, was his choice to embrace the very structuralism that he was seeking to criticize.
Ratnam (the director) and Sivan (the cinematographer) are very much the Fellini and Antonioni of Indian cinema. The Raavanan Shift just comes twenty years too late in mani’s career . Raavanan will be toasted as the popular film maniratnam made to reflect upon all those half formed ideas of art that he dreamt about early in his GV films / Madras talkies creative life.Dreams of being a studio moghul, now subsumed in the successful portrait studio mani has constructed with his life’s work.
Its a spectacular pity when they go down to the clinking of champagne flutes and the fragrance of designer perfumes.
Raavanan (the somewhat better doppelgänger of the two, if only because vikram’s ovure is more resonant than aishwarya’s hubbys of the veerappan like anti hero of the masses) is less a film than a classy showreel of talent and gloss made like an epic themed catwalk show run by an erstwhile supermodel.
Reunite like long estranged lovers
Mani and sivan reunite like lovers who have been too long apart after the manikandan first half creates LL Bean catalogues out of Sets created in natural colors and tasteful pastel digs given to the tribals to wear.
Manikandan shoots like he needs to make full disclosure of all the details of the document. every face, costume, emotion, speculation, set piece is projected with equal weight. everyone is treated like shah rukh khan.every artist in the creative team is a star subject in a photoshoot.
Just when you feel overwhelmed by the cinematic equivalent of a champagne brunch buffet at your local indian restaurant, Sivan changes gears. Now the camera is a framing device. empty spaces are as meaningful, pregnant and evocative as the jungle green. The redcam handheld is now a thinking character living with veera and ragini in the created film studio jungle of Vikram and aishwarya . it is suddenly OK to look at the back of rai’s half turned unkempt head, because the confident sivan’s easy narrative seems to know what mani ratnam wants to see.
The difference is liberating.
Guys. Marry one another. We HATED it when you two were apart.
The Rama Leela
And the film is no more about the ramayana than the ram leela is about the ramayana. Its about the spectacle. the costumes the interplay of subtexts between power players. I(mani) need aishwarya rai to make this film. I (vikram) need not to overshadow abhishek, or I’ll blow my hindi career. I(sivan) need to show mani (my pour-soi) why he’s incomplete without me. Im(manikandan) really making this film for shah rukh khan. This film is not about Ar Rahman . This film is not about A R Rahman….Im an Actress godamn it! an ACTRESS! All these spikes of unkempt hair are combed over and oiled down in the hindi version, and the only thing that stands out there is Abhishek’s hamming(He’s a bad boy, but more like a disruptive kid in a restaurant than a veerappan-prabhakaran like outlaw) The Hindi grammar is soporific.
Epic – filmmaking
The film is not about the ramayana. If Mani Mark I (of the GV film studio moghul days) were to make an epic into film, he would make Nayakan…or attempt Dalapathi. This is more a place filler until a real filmmaker comes along to translate India’s stories into cinema.
Epics compete with cinema. people find non visual references from narrated stories. and some of these are authored by bandits turned icons. many of these stories are narrated by the dead , killed in a foolhardy clash against the overwhelming gun power of the boers. Cinema is often a distraction from these real stories. a billion dollar BIG distraction spoken over a loudspeaker .
If The People are distracted by mani’s outline of the archetypal anti-hero in this film, long enough to break their compelling need for larger than life icons to protect them from institutionalized pure vengeful evil, then Mani is truly annie reborn as darth vader , with a mechanical rasp. As he is now, it appears the remarker on epics is on spiritually exhausted life support, unconvinced by his own pronouncements and generalizations, but doing it only so the children can dress pretty for a couple of hours.
Maybe structuralism won before this film was made, unmade and remade again, because the studio systems retains the money. the artist dies,repeatedly, in more ways than one , for his art.
Idealism is a mani spleandoured thing: Mani, Narasimha and ghalib.
What is it about mani that excites so much idealism in one, though? what does the director have that sivan, rajiv menon, selvaraghavan, shyamprasad,venkat prabhu, vishaal bharadwaj, homi adjania Imtiaz ali Kabir Khan or other makers of visionary indian cinema don’t? I Isolated it as an innocent desire to make better films in this found bollywood world of currency notes and selling out to BIG film studios. Mani has always given one the impression that he is a prahalada in the den of (his father) hiranya , who after conquering and humiliating the gods, now , has lost his son to visions of vishnu, whom, when he appears, will be the terrible bloody narasimha , redeeming and restoring value in a world of bad quality run amuck.
and even if , as Ghalib says,(go haath ko jumbish naheeN aaNhoN meiN to dam hai, rehne do abhee saaGHar-o-meena mere aage) ” the eyes droop in weakness, mani’s weak wave , asking that the wine glass not be taken away is poignant pure and epic cinema.
Raavanan (2010, 125 minutes)
peter hain/shyam kaushal