In a day and age where generations are increasingly ignorant about the intricacies of our cultural heritage and more importantly, literary epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana, television did what books couldn’t. When I was growing up, these epics were depicted in TV serials that ran for years and such was the fan following that people would literally drop what they were doing to watch them. We have come a long way from there but the audio visual route still remains the best hope for passing on these stories to our children.
Which is why I looked forward to the fact that skilful filmmakers like Mani Ratnam and Prakash Jha had decided to portray these epics superimposed into today’s scenario. It is a thin line to tread, knowing which elements to keep and which to modernise, how to keep it realistic and let the audience make the parallels without spelling it out for them. And in both these regards, Rajneeti did what Raavan could not.
Rajneeti took the concept of Indian Politics and played it into the mould of Mahabharata. With an ensemble cast of credible actors, Jha managed to give characters individuality and yet shadowed them on the Mahabharata character they represented. Ranbir Kapoor played an excellent Arjuna and Arjun Rampal getting better ever day with his performance with traces of Yudhishthir. But it was Bhishmapitama played by Nana Patekar which really took the cake. Always behind the scenes and yet directing everyone wisely, he did the role justice. As expected, Manoj Bajpaye did a decent job as Duryodhana and Katrina Kaif not only looked stunning but pulled off quite a good performance (and no, its not modelled on Sonia Gandhi). The only person who I believe got shot changed is Ajay Devgan as Karana. The role was perfect for Devgan yet one left feeling he was under-used.
The music and tracks in the film are phenomenal. Each track worth humming, my favourite being “Mora Piya Mose Bolat Naahi”, a soulful ballad. Unfortunately, what the movie achieved in 2 hours, the last half hour destroyed. The climax of the film seemed to stretch forever and ended up making the film seem amateurish. I truly wish they had just chopped off the last reel, I would have left the hall a happier person!
Raavan on the other hand, is an example of how not to do it. Don’t get me wrong. It is a beautiful piece of art. It sweeps over stunning locales, with cinematography such that at times you feel like it may just be National Geographic. But what the director set out to do, he failed to achieve. The story is not even disguised, it is Ramayana with the names changed. Dialogues like “woh dus sar wala raakshas hai” when refering to the villain Bira or “Woh bhagwan hain” when refering to Dev modelled on lord Rama dont leave much to the imagination. I wish I had seen the Tamil version instead where Vikram who plays the hero in the Hindi version plays Raavan instead. He would undoubtedly have done a much better job than the half baked performance by a plump Mr.Bachhan (and not the one with a beard who can act). Aishwarya Rai looks absolutely beautiful in some shots and one wishes that cinema halls also came with a mute button when she starts screaming in her incredibly shrill voice (in the same league as that of Diya Mirza or Riya Sen). To her credit, we do get a reminder of how beautiful and graceful an Indian woman can look during a dance sequence in which she seduces her husband doing classical dance. The man with the smallest role, Govinda who plays Hanuman does absolute justice to his role and perhaps even he may have played a better Raavan.
The movie fails to build a plot, fails to make the audience empathise with Bira. The villagers love him and the police hates him but we are never given to understand why so. What really are the socio economic reasons for this almost naxal leader. Instead, the film seems like a personal feud – your wife for my sister kind of an approach. Very lame. The songs are upbeat and in a certain wedding sequence, don’t miss the locale in the background – it is Orchha, the hidden gem we found in MP when we travelled a couple of months back. All in all, unfortunately very boring and avoidable. See it on mute and marvel at Incredible India.
Ratings: Rajneeti (3 on 5 with .5 deleted for the last half hour)
Raavan(1.5 on 5)