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The new Mani Ratnam Movie Raavanan (Tamil version) or Raavan (Hindi version) has brought the major epic 'Ramayana' again as a hot debate topic.This epic as told by Valmiki is the story of the 'perfect man' Rama and his accomplishments. But shouldn't it be called 'Raaavanayanam' as this epic is as much the story of Raavana as is it of Rama based on the perspective, how we look at it? Perhaps if there was another 'Valmiki' and if he had made Raavana as the central character, the whole aspect of this struggle between good and evil and moral and immoral would be viewed completely differently.

Ravana's characterization is open to interpretations.The name Ravana is from 'ra' meaning the sun and 'vana' signifying generation. He is the great grandson of Lord Brahma. A metaphorical interpretation of Ravana's 10 heads is that the heads are a symbolic way to show the world about his knowledge of the six Shastras as well as four Vedas, ten Holy Scriptures in all.

Even though Ravana is portrayed as the villain in Ramayana, this view is open to question due to lack of any overt instances, and is so questioned by a considerable number of believers. It can be argued, for example, that Ravana’s abduction of Sita was not driven by lust for her, but instead it was done to punish Ram for attacking his sister Shurpanakha. What Lakshmana did to her ie cutting of her nose for proposing to him after Rama rejected her was a reaction out of proportion to what Shurpanakha did. It may be that Lakshmana did this for fear of Sita's safety. The extreme nature of the act upon his unarmed sister enraged Ravana (as a brother) and he abducted Sita to avenge the insult- if Ravana would not avenge his own sister - then no one would look up to him as a protector of his subjects/ dependents. Nevertheless Ravana never ever touched Sita while she was being held as his hostage. He visited her regularly and asked her consent to marry him. Every time Sita declined, but there is not a single instance when Ravana misbehaved with Sita. He plays the role of a gentleman to the core, (though this could have been due to a curse from Kubera's son that he would lose all his 10 heads if he forced himself on any woman).

Ravana also authored Ravana Sanhita, a powerful book on the Hindu astrology. Ravana possessed a thorough knowledge of Ayurveda and political science. He is said to have possessed the nectar of immortality, which was stored under his navel, thanks to a celestial boon by Brahma. Pleased with his resilience and devotion, Shiva gave to him the divine sword 'Chandrahasa'. Ravana was a lifelong devotee of Lord Shiva and is said to have composed the hymn known as Shiva Tandava Stotra.

Mani Ratnam's movie, Raavan (Hindi) and Raavanan(Tamil), clearly inspired by this epic was a movie I had been waiting for some time since I heard of it a couple of years ago.

I went to watch the Tamil version first and had to go all the way to Birmingham to watch it. But the trip was worth it as the movie was simply wonderful. It was stimulating and entertaining...a great treat- the photography, music, script, location, direction and above all the performances of Vikram (as Raavanan), Prithviraj(as Rama) and Aishwariya (as sita).

Vikram was amazing and I felt he brought out the various expressions and emotions of the tribal leader Veera to all its glory.He acted as though he had 'ten heads' with varying facial expressions. Prithviraj as Dev (the police officer) and Aishwarya (as his wife) also had a chemistry together and did well. Aishwarya's transformational change of feelings towards both men were enacted superbly. This would probably stand out as one of her best performances possibly after her debut movie 'Iruvar'.

I then watched the Hindi version (in Leicester) and I must say that it was disappointing! Though the back ground artists were all the same, the central character Beera (Raavana) by Abhishek Bachchan was at the best average, especially if we compare it with the performance of Vikram in the Tamil version. I will not be surprised, if in the future Raavanan (Tamil) would be considered a huge hit among Mani Ratnam's movies and Raavan(Hindi) as an average film.

I was also impressed by the interviews given by the artists at the London Premiere of the movie. These interviews in the 'you tube' are also a good hit! Prithviraj was quite eloquent and articulate in his comments. Vikram and Suhasini(who wrote the script) were also quite impressive. But both Mr and Mrs Junior Bachchans were depressing in their words especially if you see that the crowds were cheering almost just for them. They could have been a bit more prepared to face the interviews at such a landmark venue.

After reading Ramayana, two questions, every firm believer of Lord Rama would love to avoid are
1.How could the divine person hide behind the trees and murder Bali/ Vali (brother of Sugreeva) behind his back?
2.Why did he suspect Sita and later ditched her?

In this film these two aspects are brought up in a sublime manner. Dev, the inspector is hiding in crowd of women and shoots Veera from behind when he is actively taking part in his sisters marriage ceremony. Also later to accomplish his mission of destroying Veera, Dev starts questioning his wife about her chastity and asks why she could not take a lie-detector test!

I have never found any convincing answers for these actions of Lord Rama. It might be that he wanted to give an impression that even the 'perfect human being' can never be perfect and will have some negative connotations left to ones own interpretation.

Tail piece: I hope in the future some one will make a movie on Mahabharata with Karna (my favourite person in the epic) as the central character.

This post first appeared on Aham Brahmasmi, please read the originial post: here

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