December 3, 2013

Almost-winter musings and notes on an inverted Ramayana: Raavan


Is it already the of beginning of December? Has winter officially begun its invasion upon the world? I awakened today to a world shrouded in blank whiteness, sombre, stark snow-limned trees outside my balcony, bearing no memory of their elaborately green, leafy costumed summer selves or when their leaves caught fire only just a few weeks ago. As I briefly wandered through the street, walking upon the slushy tarmac, I marvelled at how swiftly the arrival of snow excises all reminders of the previous worlds. Did a cluster of pink roses really bloom in this house portico? Where had the trio of squirrels vanished to? And who ate the blue sky up?

Well, I will be pondering all these questions and more, perched upon my couch and surveying the winter balcony vistas; in addition, apart from cooking soups, baking desserts, and writing, I also intend to Netflix my way through the winter and catching up on a backlog of movies and shows. Since getting married almost a year ago, I must admit that thanks to my husband, my viewing choices have become much more varied compared to my pre-marriage self, which contentedly inhabited the comfort zone of romantic comedies, quirky favorites and Bollywood masala. It also meant that I lost track of the number of times I remarked that I had heard of so and so acclaimed movie and fully intended to watch it one of these days...only to reach for a DVD of an old favorite whenever I did get around to watching something. However, nowadays, my husband and I frequently and feverishly debate over what to watch and in the process, I have abandoned my comfort-movie diet to experience great documentaries, such as Jiro Dreams of Sushi, international cinema, a delightful Iranian children's movie, The White Balloon, and classics such as The Pianist and Forrest Gump, which I predictably had never got around to watching. I have enjoyed all of these but not before initially resisting and insisting that we watch a Yash Chopra romance for the umpteenth time!

                                                                 Raavan's theatrical trailer

The other night, though, we somehow rather quickly came to a consensus on Raavan; I remember wishing to see it in the cinema in Oman, where I was living at the time but it did not linger in the theatres for too long. However, an intriguing re-interpretation of one of our greatest literary epics, Ramayana and furthermore, that too one which inverts and questions the traditional good vs evil paradigm and redefines the borderland of gray was what compelled both of us to watch it...

Raavan's poetry visuals: a fallen leaf
This contemporary Ramayana takes place in milky mist-shrouded hills, ravines, rivers, and forests; rain is also an omnipresent character in this film and the manner in which the camera explores and utilises the landscape while marrying it to the atmospheric elements is what I particularly liked about this film. The incredible photography and Mani Ratnam's signature mode of telling stories through his visuals means that as viewers, we too parachute into the landscape and experience the elements, the sheer physicality of the river-battered rocks or winding through the dense forests or swan-diving off the cliffs. While there is an inclination to be a little too photogenic and embrace the cosmetic (the incredible shots of Aishwarya trapped in the embraces of a tree branch, much like an ochre leaf caught in twigs only serve to make capital of Rai's beauty for the sake of it, rather than adding texture or weight to the narrative ), I nevertheless thought the landscape actively participates in the story in a palpable, visceral manner. 


However, as crucial and relevant the landscape is to the film, the moot point is the interpretation or rather, more precisely, the inversion of Ramayana; here, we largely see events unfolding from Raavan's perspective, we become privy to his thoughts as much as those of Dev Pratap, the Rama-figure. Indeed, we do find ourselves sympathising with him, as Rai, who initially resists, fights, and later, begans to develop ambivalent feelings about him - and in turn, Dev, her husband, savior, and whom she describes as god. Who or what exactly is god/villain anyway? In this culture-unspecific landscape, nothing is what it seems: what appears to be dense foliage is in fact men in camoflauge. A gesture of peace from the enemy side becomes blotted in blood. Trust evaporates, leaving behind acidic hillocks of distrust and suspicion. 

Concluding shots...

For me, Ramayana has always been problematic in the sense as in its depiction of Lord Rama and his  relationship with his wife, Sita following their return to Ayodhya and how he doubts/questions her. I always perceived Ravan in entirely monochromatic black, a foil to the hero, rather than as a fully nuanced character in his own right; indeed, the most remarkable aspects that I associated with him were his ten-heads and that he abducts Sita in the mythological precedent to the air-plane, the air-vehicle. While the film does not entirely do justice to its provocative contention of recasting Ravaan and indeed, re-presenting the narrative through his eyes, it made me realise more than ever that there is no singular way of narrating a story and that multiplicity of perspectives allows multiple stories and voices. I left the movie, feeling intrigued enough to learn further about Ravan and locating him beyond the broad strokes of antagonist and adversary...

Has there been a significant movie that encouraged you to radically alter a perspective of a situation or character?

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