Monday, June 21, 2010

Raavan, in times of (Chidamba)Ramayan

Govinda as Sanjeevani Kumar

All the shortcomings notwithstanding, I want to salute Mani Ratnam, Sharada Trilok and Shaad Ali (producers of the film, according to Wikipedia) for what they have almost done. To make a film on the Indian Government's Operation Green Hunt on the tribal population of this country, and release it at a time when the operation is at its worst.

The film has Vikram playing Dev Pratap Sharma, a dutiful police officer. He represents the state (just the way PC and the mythological Ram do) and is a symbol of all the supposedly moral values (which appear extremely immoral to many of us). Mani Ratnam is careful enough not to project him as an evil person per se, even as he does not mind attributing some villainy to his brother Lakshmana Pratap Sharma. All the nonsense that Dev does is part of his duty. That includes playing a drama of questioning his wife's chastity as a ploy to trace the path to Beera's den and to eliminate the "evil".

Aishwarya plays the Bahurani of Sharma family, a role that is not very different from that of the Bahurani of the Bachchan family. No wonder she naturally comes about as the stupid white woman. All that she has to do extra is some song and dance sequences, and we know she is not good at that. Let us forgive her.

Mani's current favourite Abhishek (I think his best performance till date was in Yuva) plays the title role -- of Beera Munda, a young tribal leader. The name holds heavy resemblance to Birsa Munda, a tribal leader who lived more than hundred years back in time. He was also young (he died at the age of 25, in the year 1900) and was a local hero. [Birsa Munda (1875-1900) was a tribal leader and a folk hero, belonging to the Munda tribe who was behind the Millenarian movement that rose in the tribal belt of modern day Bihar, and Jharkhand during the British Raj, in the late 19th century making him an important figure in the history of the Indian independence movement, says Wikipedia. Mahashweta Devi has written a novel on that story, called Aranyer Adhikar]

Birsa Munda

Beera is being presented to us as a strong, rugged beast of a man. That is how the character is described on the the film's website. The description continues: Anti-establishment, non-conformist, voice of the underdog, and fiercely protective of his people; He's the beacon of hope for the oppressed lot and the pride and shame of Laal Maati. Nicknamed after the mythological daemon Raavan, he is a saint and the sinner.

Oh lord, please forgive Mani Ratnam. This is what he and his urban middle class fan following can think of at best of a tribal hero. He has to be "a beast of a man", he has to be a shame of Laal Maati (I don't think the resemblance to Lalgarh is a coincidence), and he has to be a sinner. As an obedient actor, Abhishek constantly tries to put up a cruel face. Thankfully, neither the actor nor the director seems very much worried about making him look like a tribal. The 'beast of a man' reminds us more of a "cruel Jamindar's Goonda" stereotype.

One my friend said, had Birsa Munda been a cult like Che Guevera or Bhagat Singh (it is not difficult to figure out why he is not), Mani wouldn't have dared to do this.

The most interesting character in the film is that of the Salwa Judum. He is called Sanjeevani Kumar the forest guard, played by Govinda. He knows Beera is good and that he is a God to the people there, but he helps Ram in finding his Sita and in eliminating Beera.

Why does he do that? It is not just those thirty silver coins. That is the only way he can survive in this system, as he is very much part of the system. He is Hanuman. He is you and me. He is Mani Ratnam. She is Sharada Trilok. He is Shaad Ali Sahgal.

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[I checked the web for reviews, and liked this one by Cath Clarke in The Guardian that calls the film plain sexist: "..May be it's the forest air, or a touch of Stockholm syndrome, but she takes a liking to her captor; heaven knows why since Bachchan hams it up like Toshiro Mifune at his most snarlingly crazy-eyed. Meanwhile, her husband (Vikram) gives chase, bearing down with the full weight of the law. Which is hardly surprising since flashbacks show what a cracking wife she is, fetching him his dinner while singing sweet songs and dancing alluringly.."]

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[ Images : Govinda, Abhishek and Aishwarya in Raavan, from the film's official website.
Birsa Munda, tribals and the British forces, from ]


Black Witch said...

i guess i was right in deciding not to waste my money on Raavan. When will these people have the courage to break these stereotype molds and come up with some genuine human stories? that does take creativity, i guess, which is obviously lot more than pouring in money to get a star studded cast and a visual extravaganza and of course,all that oh-so-obvious media hype.

TinselGurus said...

Given the link in you rpost. I agree with the term Ravaan is a "tourist board-approved landscapes". It's a beautiful piece of cinema, but no plot/story. Sad !

Sudeep said...

Black Witch, Thanks for the comment.

Tinselgurus, I did not really understand your comment.

Sandali commented in a personal mail: "it is not aishwarya rai's or any woman's problem that she chooses a life of a "stupid" woman. it is the problem of society, which thrusts such roles on women. aishwarya's decision to marry in the bachchan family is her way of responding to the premium that society puts on 'high status'... in this masculine ethos, in which power lies in the hands of men, marrying rich, famous and powerful men is one of the ways through which women are able to access and gather some semblance of power for themselves...

and it is definitely not a stupid thing to do... rather a very intelligent decision, given the benefits!

i think these lines are highly misogynist!


p.s.- though i do not like aish's acting, i love her dancing skills (she works very hard)."

My response:

I think it is important to have this comment, and I completely agree with that. Aishwarya having to marry a tree or whatever is also part of the stupidity that the society imposes on women.

But I don't consider my lines misogynist, because it only says how well the similarities of circumstances for both the film character and her real life character makes her the perfect choice for that role. (And I guess you'd agree that the 'stupidity' imposed by the society on a white woman is much more than that on a dark woman). I have my sympathies with her.

On her dancing skills, I agree she tries. May be she will come good some day.

Mani Ratnam also has been trying hard to make a political film for years now. I hope he will also make one some day:-)

Sudeep said...

Anu writes: "Sandali, in the age when women depended on all power from men, yes, this was an intelligent move.... but aishwarya, was a rich, powerful, highly successful woman, more than all the Bachanns at the time of her marriage.... despite all that a woman needs marriage to a powerful family... ?

seems like we can never be powerful enough by ourselves ever to make a simple choice of marrying a man who is of the same wavelength, decent etc etc... i personally believe bachan family is parasitizing on her aura of success. and not the other way around, they derive power from her.
more women in the west after reaching a certain power status choose to have male companions many of whom are younger, still struggling to establish themselves.... in the indian context, aishwarya is a complete retrograde model for working women in her choices and utterances. sushmita sen offers a much better model as far as exercising her choices independently, i think... both are largely useless models for the large majority of indian women... but between the two and for the question of independent choice of a successful woman and marriage, sen is real cool.

sudeep you may want to explain the use of stupid white or any women... it doesn't matter to me, i want to retain the choice of being able to call abishek a stupid indian male :) if i felt he needed that expletive in a certain context."

Sudeep said...

Let me add to what Anu said: Even as the society likes to see women as stupid (especially those who they consider 'beautiful'), there are women who have succesfully broken away from that.

In Bollywood itself, Priety Zinta has refused a stupid doll image right from the beginning, and people like Juhi Chawla and Rani Mukherjee have consciously moved to 'smart woman' images. That may not be so much an 'intelligent decision' as far as the society's norms go, but they have all helped in changing the image of the heroine in Bollywood films, though that change is a long drawn process. Even Kareena, another favourite 'dumb doll' of Bollywood, tried a 'Tashan'. The audience rejected it, but I think it is a landmark change in the way we have seen the heroines in mainstream Hindi films.

For someone like Kajol who did not really fit into the beauty norms of Bollywood so much, an "intelligent woman" image came much more easily.

K.M.Venugopalan said...

I will rather read this beautiful post and wonderful comments here,than waste my time watching this stupid film..ha ha ha!

manhaz said...

How did you find this film as a stupid film KM Venugoplan?