Somewhat succeeding as a specimen of pulpy, viscerally lavishing moviemaking, but largely weighed down by overly sentimental subplots, mostly thin characters, and an aural onslaught of a score, Raavan is truly stuck between two styles of over-the-top, populace filmmaking.
Unadulterated, action-packed spectacle, Raavan flies out of the gates with a briskly shuffled, awkwardly juxtaposed montage of images that range from a shirtless Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) mightily leaping off a cliff into water to various shots of policemen being set aflame and feverishly dismembered. After the jumbled opening, the graceful, entrancing Ragini (Aishwarya Rai), wife of a higher-up policeman, is captured by Beera (aka Raavan), who we find out to be a savage, ruthless Robin Hood-type, known for being in “10 places at once.” Accordingly, Ragini’s husband Inspector Dev (Chiyaan Vikram) sets off on an unrelenting chase to reclaim his wife and lasso the elusive thorn-in-his-foot Beera. We soon learn of the long-gestating feud between Beera and the Inspector, whose true colors are exposed in a flashback to Beera’s sister’s wedding in the second half, when the inspector unfairly cornered Beera, and later killed his sister.
In a concerted effort to embrace a more modern, visual aesthetic than the average Bollywood film, director Mani Ratnam employs jump cuts and handheld camera work a la Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire to encapsulate Beera as an unyielding, feisty monster of a guy. There is a dynamic flair to the images in Ratnam’s revenge tale, including a brazen close-up of a cigarette slowly burning through the faces of each one of Beera’s men in a photo, and breathtaking, wildly orchestrated shots of Ragini jumping into a river to escape.
On the other hand, though, Raavan unsurprisingly falls into the trappings of its Bollywood roots, showcasing a few too many ludicrously positioned dance numbers—unnecessary embellishments that could have easily been trimmed if the film had any intention of trying to win over new audiences abroad. The film ultimately rests in a sort of cinematic purgatory, displaying a likeness to its homeland’s instantly recognizable filmic trademarks while striving to provide escapist, heart-thumping entertainment with a more dynamic shot selection—in the end failing in the confluence of the two.