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]
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 Shaheedsmriti.org ]