A fascinating 30-minute behind-the-scenes look. I’d definitely recommend waiting to watch it until after you’ve seen the film, not before.
Like all those kids down in steamy Orlando right now queuing up and clamoring for another go on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, I also want to see Raavan several more times. So far, I’ve only seen the Hindi version once earlier this week. Tonight I get my wish and will see the Tamil Raavanan.
If you haven’t read it already anywhere else, Mani Ratnam shot the two films simultaneously, with Vikram swapping police inspector Dev’s form-fitting white tee for Beera’s black kurta, and Prithviraj (sans mush I believe!) playing Ragini’s husband in the Tamil version. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is Ragini in both.
By only releasing one film every couple of years, the team at Madras Talkies ensure de facto oversized curiosity and expectation when they do finally turn over their latest creation to the viewing public, and they sure had me going, though I will confess that the too-short trailer gave me pause and had me wondering how I would react to this sylvan effort.
When you add to that how difficult it is to buy or rent Mani Sir’s earliest works, the resulting catalog of available films leaves many of us feeling like Ragini in that hut in the village, trying to lean under a bamboo pipe and capture the few drops of rainwater that might fall.
But Raavan has finally released, and there was more than enough there for me to wish go back to a second and third time and see what I may have missed initially. Almost all of the film is shot on location in forests, jungles, waterfalls and rivers, and as you watch it, try every so often to step back and imagine the placement of the cameras for a particular scene, plus the attendant crew around the actors, and it’s quite daunting to envision how challenging it was to make the shots that Santosh Sivan and V. Manikandan did.
And there are so many lush and exquisite scenes. As Beera and his hostage move from one place to another, we too sail over rocks, under leaves, and through the waterfalls. For many of us, going to the darkened theater to see a movie is not some intellectual exercise, it is a desire to sit perfectly still, eyes wide open and flee, going somewhere very different and, hopefully, experiencing something beautiful or revealing or moving on the trip.
Ragini is taken captive and on the run by the outlaw Beera (Abhishek Bachchan), and they are pursued by her husband Dev (Mr. Kandaswamy himself, Vikram Kennedy) and a team of cops. The ethereal Mrs. Rai Bachchan is dragged down rivers, over rocks and into caves by Beera and his men, but she never misses an opportunity to try to escape.
The light-eyed beauty – to whom many attribute an unflagging glacial quality – must be given credit here for what she was willing to do for her role, as the film soon evolves into a cinematic pan-India Iron Man triathlon. For any actor or technician ever aspiring to work with Mani Ratnam, it’s clear that in addition to whatever excellence at your métier you bring to the team, you must also be a good swimmer who is not afraid of heights or arduous treks through any an all sorts of muck.
Beera’s initial plan to quickly polish off Dev’s lovely bride falls apart as soon as he sees the tough stuff of which Ragini’s made and in the few minutes that A.R. Rahman’s Behene de swirls gently around us, we can see that this Raavan is falling hard for her while also trying to understand why he is reacting this way.
During the flashback to her life with Dev, in between shots of Ragini as a dance teacher and loving wife, Mani Ratnam gives us those little glimpses into a comfortable and contemporary Indian middle class home that have become one of his signatures. Maggi sauce and Nescafe jar aside, in the shots from Dev and Ragini’s kitchen I started having flashbacks to Kannathil Muthamittal and the very lovely home life of Indira and Thiruchelvan.
Never one to stoop to sleaze, in the shots of Rangini and Dev spooning and talking to each other’s images in a floor-to-ceiling mirror opposite their bed (in fact there are several walls of mirrors in the bedroom), Mani Sir maintains a certain air of reserve in the scene which tempers the actors’ sensuality.
For any coolness Aishwarya carries with her, Abhishek’s Beera has the earthy warmth to counter it. Even though he’s referred to as a brute, there’s a magnetic quality about him, underneath all the mud and sweat and glowering. Maybe it’s because of this, I didn’t find him as threatening as Mr. Bachchan’s first role with Mani Ratnam, as the hot-headed Lallan who would as easily slap around his pregnant wife as the men he is paid to intimidate.
Added as merry sidekick and guide is the (literally) flighty Sanjeevani Kumar, played by the counterintuitive choice (some might think) of one Mr. Govinda Ahuja, for whom I confess I have long carried a torch. He has a smaller but charming role as the tipsy, chatty guard at the forest entrance who is subsumed into Dev’s search party and he delights.
Vikram is mostly all silence and steely reserve, rock solid determined in his righteousness. His film hero background surges to the fore in the now famous battle between Beera and Dev when they indeed burn their bridges behind themselves. If I ever yearned for a director’s commentary track on a film, this for sure is one, as I would love to hear the crew talk about how they did that scene, and a host of others.
Nikhil Dwivedi and Ravi Kishen round out the cast and they are all as fine as one would expect in a Mani Ratnam film. Priyamani is lovely in her brief appearance as the headstrong younger sister to Beera.
The two rumors that circulated endlessly in the months and weeks before the film’s release were that Beera’s people are Naxals and the story is that of the Ram-Sita-Ravan from the Ramayan. During interviews prior to this opening day, the director and his cast were all equally circumspect and evasive when asked about these two points.
As in Dil Se, Mani Ratnam has chosen not to specifically name the place where the insurgency is taking place. And as for, the Ramayan question, well, Sanjeevani does seem to be able to flit effortlessly in a rather simian-like manner from ground to tree and onward, so you draw your own conclusions.
A.R. Rahman’s music this time does not have same huge, expansive emotional flourish of, say, Pachchai Nirame or the title song from Kannathil Muthamittal, but rather the songs seep into your bones, not unlike the fog so prevalent in Beera’s kingdom. After having finally seen the songs in the context of the film, Mujhe Behene De is my favorite, for the foreboding atmosphere of the song’s rhythm and the longing in Gulzar’s lyrics. Plus, lately I just can’t get enough of Karthik’s voice.
See it or skip it?
See it. It’s rare for a filmmaker to tell a story while encompassing so much beauty in so many of its components.
We’ve seen the film yesterday, but we have been asked to hold our comments ’til this evening, so in the meantime, here is NDTV’s coverage of the red carpet premiÃ¨re at the British Film Institute Southbank in London.
In addition to the Raavan team – Mani Ratnam, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram, Nikhil Dwivedi, Ravi Kishan, Shaad Ali and Sabyasachi Mukherjee - you can also spot Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan, ShahRukh Khan, Gauri and their kids, Gurinder Chadha and I think I also saw Liz Hurley and her hubby.
Last night was the big kickoff to A.R. Rahman’s post-Oscar win tour of the U.S. and Europe.
He started at Nassau Coliseum out on Long Island, and tonight he is in Atlantic City.
Here are some pictures from the concert: [Read more...]
Yesterday, the man who consumed bhang in Rajasthan and later curled up in a ball on the sand to sleep it off, the man who provided this enlightening glimpse into the rules and regs of cricket, the man who once declared while eating kebabs in Bombay “No hairnet and latex gloves here“, New Jersey-born chef, world traveler, writer and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, kicked off the launch of his latest book Medium Raw with two meet-and-greets on the same day in – where else? – New York city.
He appeared at the Wall Street Borders at lunchtime for one reading & signing, and then turned up punctually for the 7pm event at the Union Square Barnes and Noble. Don’t know about the Borders scene, but the evening reading was SRO. Every seat of every row was filled (no holding for tardy friends permitted) and beyond that, the standees were corralled behind ropes of various sorts, until the Bourdain-gawkers eventually took over the whole fourth floor of the establishment, spreading out in all directions. I’d say there had to be – easily – several hundred people present.
Mr. Bourdain loped energetically to the podium and with much more of a “gee whiz – aw schucks” attitude toward the multitude assembled to see him than I might have expected. He read for about 10 minutes and then took a nice long time (25 minutes?) to answer questions from the seated and standing masses at the front and back of the room.
With the exception of one frantically shrieked question from the back – “How do you grill a steak?” – Mr. Bourdain responded to all audience questions with a minimum of snark and a maximum of frankness and humor. He didn’t take any bait on the Alan Richman question and instead directed the audience to the chapter in Medium Raw entitled Alan Richman is a Douchebag.
He touched several times on the topic of eating what some folks might consider pets, or unappetizing meals (cue mental pictures of the Namibian warthog anus), with variations on the same theme of “If someone is gracious enough to offer me the hospitality of their home, especially if they are of very limited financial means, and they have gone to the expense and the trouble to prepare me their local protein-based delicacy, in this case, let’s say a stew of puppy dog heads, then I say “˜Bring on the puppies’”. The latter example received more than a few agonized groans.
Bourdain cited lechon as his favorite form of pork, and the shout-out was hailed enthusiastically by a group of what I am guessing were Filipino fans. When pressed to name a local favorite pizza joint, at first he demurred saying “No way”¦..I know there are already several pizza snobs in this room”¦” but then he relented and named Serafina. For Paris-bound audience members, Bourdain raved about a bistro called Le Chateaubriand that serves a 40 Euro prix-fixe meal. He said the last time he was there with buddy and fellow chef Eric Ripert, he was pretty sure Ripert cried at the table, so moved was he by the meal.
And in case you’re wondering what that white design is on Tony’s t-shirt, here’s a close-up of it:
As for desis in the crowd, based on what I observed, I’d say they accounted for maybe 5% or less of the audience, but then again, I don’t think Tony’s India show on No Reservations was that great on the whole, even with the amazing cricket segment. I recall a Bollywood movie casting skit that was rather airless and even some of the Rajasthan material was kinda’ meh, considering how vibrant and interesting both Bourdain and India are.
I’d really love to see Tony and crew set off for somewhere extreme and mountainous like Ladakh or maybe over to Bhutan, especially if they will include footage of the wild and trippy approach to Paro airport.
It was an interesting, fun event and we were glad we stayed, even though we had to stand through the whole thing. I never imagined the crowd would be a large as it was. I overheard one woman comment that her roommate got there at 4pm to get a seat.
One word to the Barnes and Noble event-planning folks“¦.when 1 or 2 of your customers stop on the way out, at a display of the guest author’s various books, to decide which other of his titles they may wish to buy in addition to the one they are already carrying (and, ok, maybe to also snap a few quick photos of the guest speaker), can you please, please, please, tell the pair of snarling martinets who are stationed by the escalators to display at least a modicum of manners when dealing with the buying public, please? We are, after all, most likely to hand over several tens of dollars of our hard-earned cash and it would be ever-so-lovely to be treated like a welcome guest in your establishment, rather than a freeloading pain-in-the-derriÃ¨re who you can’t wait to show to the door.
And, to close, here is an amusing account of someone else’s Bourdanian experience yesterday.