This post of mine is just a rambling observation, in reaction to the criticism of Mani Ratnam’s movie Raavan, and not a movie review. While the movie was one of New York Time’s critic’s picks, it suffered at the hands of reviewers in India and elsewhere.
Mani Ratnam is an auteur in the truest sense and the job title of a film director does not suit his assumed designation. He employs actors, visuals, song sequences, screenplay, and music as strokes in his canvas, unlike many other directors of his time, he has never been limited by the grammar of the medium. Raavan is not a visual spectacle but a layered metaphor, with an intangible scaffolding. The pity is that the critics failed to recognize that the filmmaker intentionally manipulated and probably unsyllabicated the screenplay, extracted a particular kind of performance from the Junior Bachchan and the rest of the cast, and used these raw figments as strokes to paint a metaphor that is eclectic, complex and yet beautiful. He exploited with guile and stealth, the raw materials of cinema. Acting, visual effects, acoustics, music, song sequences, human facial eloquence or the lack of it, were exploited to befittingly portray his “Raavan”, a cinematic experience, which is unique and aesthetically seminal in its own right.
I would like to mention in this paragraph my take on the western cinematic press & media’s sarcastic derogation of song sequences in Indian movies. The song sequences are an evolved element of the wholesome cinematic experience, intrinsic to the Indian subcontinent. If they do blend with the sensual temper and hue of a movie, I fail to comprehend, why our seasoned cinema critics and the so-called connoisseurs’ of “true” cinema in Europe and elsewhere are uncomfortable with the physical interruptions in the screenplay, they cause. Mani Ratnam layers songs onto his screenplay, in such a way that they act as abstract flourishes, and accentuate the cinematic experience. Occasionally Mani Ratnam has used song sequences, as aesthetic artifacts, as purposeful emotional and audiovisual interludes that complement the aesthetic experience, just like the directors of the French new wave cinema manipulated traditional editing techniques by inventing processes such as jump cuts. I would especially like to cite the song sequence “ninnai kori” in Agni Natchathiram, as an example of an aesthetic artifact in a cinematic experience.
If you are yet not convinced with my observations on Mani ratnam’s films, kindly do watch “Iruvar” by the same artist and “The thin red line” by Terrence Mallick. The similarity between these works of art is that both of these plots unfold in situations that are emotionally, geographically, and politically convoluted. Both these films aesthetically portray historical incidents that possess weighty sentimental and cultural ramifications. Only cinema with all its aesthetic tentacles can aid an artist such as Mani ratnam or Terence Mallick to harness the beauty in such a situation. In these films Mani and Mallick creatively employ cinematic tools to effectively unleash the beauty and complexity of the dramatic premise. It is quite unfortunate that critics would prefer to view cinema as a means of articulate storytelling, which in my opinion is a venture at foreshortening the artistic and emotional experience it provides. Mani ratnam’s films are artistic statements that need the utmost reverence, as he has been able to achieve quite a lot, aesthetically speaking, within the ambit of mainstream Indian Cinema.