The face of evil

With Mani Ratnam's Raavan (Hindi) and Raavanan (Tamil) hitting the cinemas this week, Abdulla Mahmood and Gautaman Bhaskaran go behind-the-scenes.

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Raavan

cast Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram

director Mani Ratnam

rating TBA

Mani Ratnam returns to Bollywood with Raavan. After striking gold with Guru, the maverick South Indian filmmaker is back, teaming up with his blue-eyed boy, Abhishek, and Abhishek's lovely wife, Aishwarya Rai.

Raavan is a tale about an outlaw who abducts a police officer's wife. Beera Munda (Abhishek) is the voice of the oppressed in the Lal Matti forest in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. His unlawful activities are obstructed by officer Dev Pratap Sharma (Vikram). So, Beera kidnaps Dev's wife Ragini (Aishwarya). Now, Dev, along with forest guard Sanjeevani Kumar (Govinda), will try to locate Ragini. The story is based on the Indian epic Ramayana and the lead characters of Raavan replicate mythological figures Ram (Vikram), Sita (Aishwarya), Raavana (Abhishek) and Hanuman (Govinda).

The last time Ratnam teamed Abhishek and Aishwarya in Guru, where they played husband and wife, the audience responded positively. But in Raavan, Abhishek torments Aishwarya's character, which may not go down well with audiences. "It was great working with Abhishek in Guru, with a director who launched me in Iruvar [Tamil]. So Raavan isa step ahead. I may not be paired with Abhishek but we share the maximum time on screen, despite Vikram playing my husband,"says Aishwarya.

Vikram, the Tamil star, makes his Bollywood debut in this movie. While he plays the good guy in the Hindi version, he takes on the role of the baddy for the Tamil version. But for an actor who has met similar challenges in the past (he played a character suffering from multiple personality disorder in the Tamil movie Anniyan), this exercise would've been easy.

It's interesting that Govinda, who had refused to play supporting roles in Subhash Ghai's Taal and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, accepted Mani Ratnam's offer.

Initially, Ratnam was said to be apprehensive about casting Govinda because the actor is known not to be punctual, but that perception changed after he worked with the actor. In fact, he's believed to have been bowled over by Govinda's performance.

AR Rahman, who has composed the music for Ratnam's films since Roja, has once again delivered rousing tracks.

Raavanan

Cast Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Prithviraj
Director Mani Ratnam
Rating TBA

In the Tamil version, Raavanan, policeman Dev (played by Malayalam actor Prithviraj) falls in love with Ragini (Aishwarya), a beautiful classical dancer. He takes his wife to his new post at Lal Matti, where the law is made, unmade and executed with ruthless finesse by Veeraiya (Vikram),a raw, tribal man.

In a town where the power has moved from the haves to the have-nots, Dev realises that he must destroy Veeraiya to restore peace. In his determined bid to rip open Veeraiya's world, Dev wounds the man. Injured and enraged, Veeraiya lures Dev and Ragini into the deep jungle where the final battle is played out. Ultimately, the war symbolises good versus evil, and a point comes when the line between the two blurs.

Raavanan's principal photography began in October 2008 but filming was delayed in 2009 when Ratnam fell ill. However, the last schedule began in August 2009, and with renowned cinematographer Santosh Sivan capturing the finest of nuances, the shooting moved around Ooty, Kolkata and the forests of Kerala and Maharashtra.

Set to music by AR Rahman (now being termed the ‘Mozartof Madras' after his Academy Award) with Gulzar's lyrics, Raavanan is expected to do very well at the box office. After all, it is a movie from Mani Ratnam, the man who gave us unforgettable films like Mouna Ragam, Nayagan and Alaipayuthey.

Mani Ratnam: A True gem

During the 1980s and the 1990s there were very few Indian filmmakers who dared to stray too far from clichéd potboilers. Ratnam's films, however, managed to strike a fine balance between realism and commercial considerations.

He began his career with Kannada film Pallavi Anu Pallavi (1983), starring Anil Kapoor, followed by Tamil films Pagal Nilavu and Idaya Kovil (1985). But it was not until Mouna Ragam (1986) that he received the national award recognition. He became a force to be reckoned with, with hard-hitting Tamil flicks Nayagan (1987), Agni Natchatiram(1988), Thalapthi (1991), Geethanjali (1988) and Anjali (1990). Most of his films were remade in Hindi, but none had the impact of the originals.

He made it in Bollywood with the dubbed Roja (1992). Roja also saw the beginning of a creative collaboration between AR Rahman and Ratnam. This was followed by the successful Bombay (1995). After the debacle of his political film Iruvar (1997), Ratnam's first Hindi flick Dil Se (1998) starring Shah Rukh Khan also failed. He returned to Tamil cinema with Alaipayuthey (2000) and Kannathil Muthamittal (2002) but resurfaced in Bollywood with Yuva (2004) and Guru (2006). Ratnam has always tackled topical issues. Roja, Bombay, Dil Se and Yuva delt with controversial conflicts while Nayagan and Guru were semi-autobiographical. Raavan also tackles an unconventional plot. "I've always been fascinated with Raavan. I wanted to make a film from Raavan's perspective to figure out if our understanding will change towards such an evil man," says Ratnam.

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