May 17, 2010

CANNES: Mani Ratnam’s ‘Raavan’ – the first Pan Indian film?

Director Mani Ratnam’s on to a new genre: Pan Indian.

The director, known for making brilliant films in the Tamil (Southern Indian) language, has also directed four Hindi-language Bollywood films. But in his latest action-drama, “Raavan,” Ratnam has bridged the two genres, making it a Pan-Indian film.

“Raavan” features Ratnam’s muse, Aishwarya Rai, and her husband Abhishek Bacchan, and it was shot simultaneously in two languages – Hindi and Tamil. Produced by Ratnam’s Madras Talkies, Reliance and IM Global, the film is set for a worldwide release in 58 countries on June 18.

Ratnam and his longtime music collaborator A.R. Rahman were absent from the press conference at the Majestic hotel Monday. They are in India doing the final cutting of the film. But Ratnam was represented by his wife Suhasini Ratnam, who not only is a writer and co-producer on this film (and some earlier Ratnam films), but is also an accomplished actress and a film critic on television. She was joined by Rai, Bacchan, actor Vikram and Reliance’s Amit Khanna and Prasoon Joshi.

Dubbing the new genre Pan Indian, Suhasini clarified the difference between Hindi (Bollywood) cinema and regional. “It’s like the difference between Hollywood and French cinema,” she said. Commenting on “Raavan,” she said it’s the first time that a filmmaker has attempted to blend the two.

Since Indian culture is so steeped in mythology, it’s only natural that films from this country use this rich source as inspiration. In the scripture Ramayana, Raavan, the 10-headed demon-god, abducts Lord Rama’s wife Sita, and to get his consort back Rama has to hack off all ten heads of the ferocious demon.

In Ratnam’s spiritual/mythical film, the story is set in a time that is both ancient and contemporary. The filmmaker explores not just the good and the evil, the hunter and the hunted, but also the grey area. The film questions that Raavan may not be all that bad, he may have some redeeming qualities.

“Raavan has ten heads and ten conflicting thoughts, so there’s a bit of conflict and Raavan in all of us,” says Suhasini.

Rai, who started her acting career with Ratnam’s “Iruvar,” recalls that she jumped into films with no experience. “But you know you’re protected and guided by Mani,” she said.

The three actors shared their experiences on the physically grueling shoot, from swishing in streams to dangling from trees and cliffs. “You’re drenched from 6 am to 6 pm, trekking, hiking–moment to moment was physically challenging,” says Rai. The majority of the stunts were done by the actors themselves.

The five-minute promo clip we saw revealed some pretty impressive locations in remote rural and rustic parts of India. “We had to lay roads in the jungles and sometimes the sets would be washed away by a raging river,” recalls Bacchan.

Aish and AB (as the star couple is fondly dubbed) have worked in four films together. But still the question is always asked: How is it working as a married couple, especially on this physically taxing film? To which Aish answers, “When I’m on the set delivering a scene, I’m not looking at him as my husband – and he is nasty to me in this film. But after a long day you come back home and you have each other.”