Posted by: kcgadiyar | June 21, 2010

Re-imagining the epics: My opinion on “Raajneeti” and “Raavan”

As i was ready to go into screen 2 of the multiplex to watch “Raavan” on Sunday, i found that the screen next to it was playing “Raajneeti”. This was when i realized that in something of a weird coincidence, bollywood released two movies based on the original epics “Mahabharat” and “Ramayan” within 3 weeks of each other.

So who did better? Well, “Raajneeti” has the better road to the climax while the actual last 15-20 minutes is a letdown from what preceded it where as “Raavan” is basically a drag to sit through until the last 15 minutes when you actually feel that you are watching a Mani Ratnam movie. From the category of “words i never thought i would say” – Prakash Jha has done better than Mani Ratnam.

This got me thinking, why did this happen? If you had to bet on which director would have done better interpreting similar source material, i am pretty sure most people would have backed Ratnam. I decided to see where each movie delivers and falters as a way of comparison:

1. Faithful to the source:

When you walk into a theatre knowing that a movie is based on a book which everyone knows very well, you are already pre-disposed to a way of thinking. This is the main place where “Raajneeti” scores over ‘Raavan”. The morality of the characters is never in question – Duryodhan is evil, Karna is a good man on the wrong side, Arjun is good. These roles don’t change and there are no exceptions allowed. Jha gives us exactly what we expect. Mani Ratnam, on the other hand, wants us to sympathize with Raavan, and having grown up listening to stories of how evil the rakshasa king was, this never quite sits well with the audience. In fact, post movie discussions were all centered around “How can Raavan be a good guy? We never see him do anything bad” and “Why is the character of Ram such a merciless cop?”. This, i felt, was were the movie faltered. We are told that Raavan has committed plenty of atrocities, but the adage of “Show, don’t tell” exists for a reason. If we were able to demonize the main character a bit more, most people would probably not have had a problem.

Yes, Raavan is more believable than Raajneeti is, when more people are killed during a CM election campaign than have been killed in all election campaigns in India combined, believability goes out the door. But, like i said before, Raajneeti does not tamper with the source, everyone is the same characters we knew and grew up with, thus making us connect with it more.

If “Raavan” was named something else, if the parallels were not made so explicit in the movie (Govinda introducing himself as a “Vaanar”), if the pre-release publicity did not stress on the Ramayan re-interpretation aspect, then maybe the audiences would not have gone in expecting a Ramayan remake on screen, and thus have been more open to the story on screen than comparing it subconsciously to the epic.

2. Direction:

Every movie from any director has expectations built accordingly. A yash-raj movie will be expected to have high production values, an RGV movie will have “in-your-face” camera angles and so on. Such is the case with a Mani Ratnam movie – in “Raavan”, all the subtleties that Ratnam is known for have disappeared. You are reminded that it is a Mani Ratnam movie you are watching in 2 different sequences, one when Raagini and Beera are fighting and Beera refuses to touch Raagini, and the climax when Raagini comes back to Beera before realization strikes. These two sequences apart, the movie could easily have had a different name as director and you would not have noticed.

A Prakash Jha movie, on the other hand, is known to be over the top. And, needless to say, that is exactly what you get.

3. Actual length vs Perceived Length

We all know this one, this is when someone comes out of the theatre and says “It was 3 hours long but it felt like it went by too quickly”, (or in the case of “Whats your rashee” – “It was 4 hours long, but i feel like i am still watching it and it will never end”).

The movie “Raajneeti” is very very tight till the end. The last 15-20 minutes let the movie down badly. Since the first 2 and a half hours feel like 15-20 minutes and the last scenes feel 2 and a half hours long, the perceived length is equal to the movie length.

“Raavan” is pretty boring in the first half, you feel like you have lost half your life watching the first half. The second half tightens things up, but when you are ready for the movie to end as all knots have been tied up nicely, the movie forces an extra 15 minutes on you. Granted, those 15 minutes are probably the best in the movie, but having mentally been prepared for an end, you are left exasperated.

4. Music/Background music:

This should have been a no-contest, it is A.R.Rahman scoring the music for “Raavan” after all. But strangely, Raavan is an A.R.R score which actually worsens with each listen. I liked the music the first time i heard it, but it kept getting progressively worse with every subsequent listen. The spacing of songs doesn’t help either, in the second half 3 songs “Thok de killi” “Ranjha Ranjha” and “Kata Kata” come within 15 minutes of the movie, and the first 2 serve absolutely no purpose in the narrative and could have been removed. This is by far Rahman’s worst score in years, since the songs are hindered and not helped by the picturisation.The background score, on the other hand, is perfect.

“Raajneeti” had no songs being lip-synced by the artists and instead were only in the background. I feel “Raavan” could have benefited from such an approach.

5. Acting

“Raajneeti” has a truckload of stars in it. Note that i used the word “stars”, because actor is not the right word to describe half of them. But, the acting load is well carried by Ranbir Kapoor, who is a revelation in this movie, he plays Arjun by way of Michael Corleone by way of Shahrukh Khan’s anti-hero roles. Nana Patekar does well, and Ajay Devgan is good. Manoj Bajpai overacts like hell, and the others are passable at best. Katrina Kaif’s much talked about role is disappointing, she looks the part and talks the part, but act the part… nah.

“Raavan” has brilliant performances by Ravi Kissen, Priyamani and Govinda. The problem lies in the fact that neither of these 3 characters are the focus of the movie. That would be Abhishek Bachchan who looks like he is having epileptic fits when he wants to look threatening, Aishwarya Rai who looks good, but carries the exact same expression on her face throughout the film, and Vikram who doesn’t do much else apart from wear designer shades and run behind Abhishek Bachchan.

6. Best reference to the source material:

Raavan – The aforementioned “Raavan never touches Sita”, this was truly one of the better scenes in the movie.

Raajneeti – The subtle reference to Bhishm Pitamaha. I did not get this reference till later at home when i was thinking about the movie’s characters.

7. Most explicit reference to the source material, which felt forced:

Raavan –  There are many to note, but 2 instances which felt forced were “Govinda being captured and interrogated by Beera’s men” and Lakshman catching the “Surpanakha” character by her nose.

Raajneeti – Five words – “Tum mere jyestha putra ho”, seriously???

So there you have it, my comparision of the two movies. Why was Raajneeti successful and Raavan may not be – Well, the reasons may be many, but according to me, Raajneeti gave us exactly what we were expecting from it where as Raavan challenged our beliefs. And we as people are more comfortable in the familiar than in the unconventional.

Until next time,

K.C.G

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