Starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan. In Hindi with English subtitles. Rated 14A.
Raavan is an opulent spectacle for the senses. The director, Mani Ratnam, has combined the narrative structure of the epic Ramayana with the stunning aesthetics of India’s forest regions, A.R. Rahman’s ever-present musical score, and an imposing style of cinematography that constantly draws attention to itself. The end result may not entirely work, but it is still an experience to behold.
Watch the trailer for Raavan.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is Ragini (read Sita), who is kidnapped by Beera (read Ravana, the demon king), played here by Abhishek Bachchan. His aim is to strike against her husband, the local police chief (read authority figure/deity), played by Vikram. Things, however, do not go as planned. Beera finds himself unable to kill her and instead retreats further into the forest to evade capture. Meanwhile, the police are in pursuit with the aid of a Hanuman-like character reimagined as a forest ranger (played by Govinda).
Beera is portrayed as inexplicably crazed, while Ragini is merely the damsel in distress whose beauty is filmed as if it too were the landscape. The film improves in the second half when we learn the cause of Beera’s anger toward the police and the narrative substance of the film begins to take precedence over the style.
Raavan was filmed simultaneously for a Hindi- and Tamil-language release, and the film retains many of the visual codes that are associated with films from the South—India’s other film industry. For example, nearly all the men have moustaches and carry their masculinity as if they just walked off a ’70s blaxploitation film set.
Perhaps because the film is embedded in the South, it more comfortably challenges the dominant ideology of the state as benevolent authority. It inverts the common nationalist tropes and instead asks the question, “Who is the demon, and who is the deity?”