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#44. Raavan - Review

Raavan film posterI have a confession to make; I fell in love while I was in South Korea. Over my weeklong adventure I was introduced to countless new experiences. I tried foreign delicacies I couldn’t even pronounce. I imbibed in alcohol and tried to communicate with the locals. The women were beautiful and they were everywhere, constantly attracting my gaze wherever I went. But it wasn’t the food, or the wine, or even the women that stole my heart in South Korea.  It was Raavan. It was the beauty of Bollywood that tamed this beast!Beera Munda (Abhishek Bachchan) in Raavan

I never thought in a million years I would like a Bollywood film. From what I could tell, they all looked and sounded the same. Ridiculous plots drenched with melodrama and overacting, hidden behind interruptive dance numbers that I assumed only served as a distraction. The jump cuts, the hyperactive close-ups and pans, what else could I expect from Indian Cinema?

My expectations be damned! What I was given was two hours in a world I had never seen. Raavan is more fairytale than film, and I was enthralled from word go. The story is timeless, filled with princesses and genies, magic and whimsy. Accept instead of a prince we have a police officer, and instead of an evil reaver we are offered an uncharacteristically multifaceted villain. This “villain” is the enthralling Beera Munda (Abhishek Bachchan), a modern Indian Robin Hood who is capable of both dastardly deeds and sincere good. After a local police officer kills Munda’s sister, the bandit kidnaps the officer’s wife Ragini (Aishwarya Rai) and makes his escape in the jungle. Within the tangled vines of the lush jungle, a new love grows. Could the beautiful Ragini fall in love with her brute captor? Would Munda sacrifice his cause for an attempt at having a normal life?

Raavan was unlike anything I have ever experienced. There is something so pure in the way Mani Ratnam directed this film, and I really do believe it could have only come out of Bollywood. The complete lack of cynicism is refreshing, and although every stylistic choice in the film is ridiculous the movie never makes fun or laughs at its characters. The bright colors surrounding the actors worked in congress with their opulent smiles. Aishwarya Rai, who plays the distressed damsel in the film, may be the prettiest woman I have ever seen.

Raavan film Beera Munda (Abhishek Bachchan) and Ragini (Aishwarya Rai)I would be lying if I said I understood everything that was going on in Raavan. There definitely seems to be something lost in translation as far as metaphors and themes go, but it does not matter. I enjoyed this film and I cannot wait to experience more of what Indian cinema has to offer. The only film I have seen since is the Bollywood classic Deewar (1975) As in Raavan; Deewar pits two men against each other. The men are on opposite sides of the law, but both love the same woman and are willing to die for her. While Deewar deals with the love a son has for his mother, it never asks questions regarding the Oedipus complex that may for all I know be a major theme any many Indian films. Raavan on the other hand is more traditional with its plotting. Two men fall in love with one woman, which man will the woman choose? Its pure melodramatic ecstasy, and I for one couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen.

The hyperactive zooms and close-ups were there, but not nearly as distracting or campy as they were in Deewar. Raavan does also occasionally break into song and dance, a Bollywood tradition. I was nervous these musical interludes would only halt the pacing of the film, but to my surprise it seems they do also serve a purpose. Every time Beera or Ragini would erupt into song, it was right after a scene of extreme sexual tension. I think the Bollywood dance routines are in fact metaphors. They don’t just represent sex either, but any form of heightened emotion. In Deewar, younger brother Ravi Verma (Shashi Kapoor) is unconsciously thrust into song several times throughout the picture. Once when he is with his fiancé, rolling around together in the grass, there is a cut and all of a sudden both characters are skipping and singing along, as if it was normal. These whimsical recesses are as silly as they are entertaining. What should serve to only distract the audience and kill the pacing actually increases not only my enjoyment of the film, but my emotional connection with the characters.

Sadly, I am back in America now. I turn on the television every night, with my wife by my side and all I can do is sigh. I can flip through the channels for hours, and yet my Bollywood fetish cannot be fulfilled. I lay awake at night staring out my window and gaze upon the luminous moon and wonder, are Ragini and Beera Munda lying next to each other in some exotic Indian jungle, looking at the same moon? I tell myself they are, and I fall asleep.

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