Sunday, February 5, 2012

Different language, same film - or is it?

Read also: Raavan - A Wet Experience (review)

In 2010, Mani Ratnam was the first director to use the Shahrukh-Darr-phenomena* in a filmatization of the holy Ramayana. But why did he make the same film two times?

Raavanan (2010)

Directed by Mani Ratnam | India
Written by Mani Ratnam & Suhasini
Aishwarya Rai, Prithviraj, Vikram


Mani Ratnam is what you may call an offbeat film maker, whose films sometimes happen to gain commercial success. Hearing the word "offbeat" scares a vast amount of people, which is why they are called the main stream, while others feel interested only when they hear this word.
There is one more group of people however, who think that the word offbeat is a label for many good films, but not a guarantee for that.

I belong to the latter group of people, and maybe that is the reason why Mani Ratnam is one of my favorite directors. His intention seems to be not to make offbeat films, but to make good films that are "difficult" and thought-awakening, and on the other hand comparatively easy to understand and get in to. Ratnam's latest two films, Raavan and Raavanan happen to be a fusion of all these factors. While the first one didn't do that well at neither box-office nor critics, the latter had quite some success and has been praised by many writers. If you remember my review of Raavan, you might now that I - unlike many others - very much liked Ratnam's new interpretation of the Ramayana.

People told me that the Tamil-version was much better, because it had Vikram as the main lead, and already then the thought crossed my mind that: why has Ratnam made two versions of this film, instead of just letting one be dubbed? I was about to find out...

Vikram as Veera
The problem, perhaps, is Bollywood itself. The industry is moving away from the old times when there was only a handful of stars, and Yash Raj films are no longer necessarily superhits. But you must admit that certain names still have an influence, as they have in every other big film industry of the world.
Besides, why not cast the off-screen dream couple of Abhi-warya, even though it didn't work out that well in Umrao Jaan – then we have three big names: Abhishek, Aishwarya and well... the mixture of both.

Mani, Mani, Mani... you've got yourself in big trouble with many of your fans. - But I'm not one of them. On the contrary, I think I'll get myself in big trouble with some of the people who think that Raavanan was so much better than Raavan. Because, I almost dare not say it, I liked Raavan better. The most important point of the Raavanan-disciples is that Vikram is best as Veera/ Beera - and it's true, that medal is clearly his.

But I say: Raavan was better. Because of Vikram. You think this is illogical? Let me explain:

(Abhishek + Aishwarya + Vikram) 
= (good actor + superb actor + superb actor)
= Very good film.

(Vikram + Aishwarya + Prithviraj)
= (superb actor + superb actor (dubbed) + bland actor)
= Good film.

As you can see, the problem lays with Prithviraj, who overtakes Vikram's old part as the police inspector in the Tamil version. And that, Mani Ratnam, was a big fault. In Raavan, the police inspector is unsympathetic, but Vikram delivers a wonderful performance.
In Raavanan, you hate the police inspector, and Prithviraj's bad performance doesn't improve the situation at all. Plus, Aishwarya was dubbed, even though she speaks Tamil. That, Mani Ratnam, was your second big fault.

One thing that was... well, not better, but it had the "exotic-bonus", was that the songs were in Tamil, and as with every language I don't speak I was fascinated by it. Also, according to the subtitles, the lyrics were slightly different from the Hindi songs - they felt a bit more poetical, if that's even possible. However, I didn't feel that Aishwarya had more chemistry with Vikram than with Abhishek, but in the Tamil version Veera's feelings for the girl were just much clearer than in the Hindi version. Which I believe was Abhishek's fault.

We could go on analyzing the tiny differences between the films, but personally this is enough for me. Raavan is my personal favorite, but my rating for both films is the same. What I liked most in the Hindi version ("art, magic, great music, entertainment and new-wave-flair"), I found again in the Tamil one, so even though I don't fully understand Ratnam's decision yet, I do not disapprove of it. 

Maybe, just as he has ten faces, and various names –  Beera, Veera, Raavan, Raavanan, Abhishek, Vikram... – there cannot be one single version only, of the film that sheds a different light on the former classic villain, either.

Rating: 7.5

* Shahrukh-Darr-phenomena, the: In a film including the S-D-phenomea, there are two leading characters in a film, a classical hero and a classical villain. Even though the audience is expected to sympathize with the hero, the villain is the one we care about most in the end. Concerning the S-D-phenomena, there are two categories: the ordinary and the modern. In an ordinary S-D-phenomena, the director and producer do not intend to create a villain-hero, while a modern S-D-phenomena is created on purpose. Raavan makes use of a modern S-D-phenomena.

Which version did you like best - Raavan or Raavanan?


  1. I liked Raavan best, for all the reasons you said: Prithviraj is gorgeous but bland, and didn't really add much to the movie, whereas having Vikram in that role in the Hindi version made sure all 3 characters were played well and made the movie come to life. And dubbing Aishwarya detracted from her performance.

    I don't understand why people dislike Abhishek so much in Raavan, though. I thought he was amazing and got completely inside the character. But I'm probably biased, since I just love watching him and don't care what he's doing!

    1. Wonderful :).
      I also like Abhishek in anything, though I admit that some of his films are just about decent, especially at the start of his career. I liked him as Veera too - it's just that Vikram was better, in my opinion.
      To start with, I focussed on Aishwarya's dubbing only, but I quickly forgot and pretended it was her own voice.


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