May 18, 2010

LBD & red jacket pair up in Cannes- Ash & Abhishek promote Raavan

Cannes, May 17: First the breaking news from Cannes: Aishwarya Rai wore a tight little black number with strappy black high heels for a promotional news conference on Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, while her husband Abhishek sported a fitted red leather jacket.

Bollywood’s first couple, it has to be said, look good.

Raavan, backed by the Ambani billions, will certainly combine the power of money and Mani but was Amit Khanna, chairman of Reliance Big Pictures, strictly accurate when he declared that Ratnam was “apparently the best living Indian director”?

For starters, Abhishek, who is generally scrupulously polite to his seniors, picked him up and said Ratnam was not “apparently the best living Indian director” — he was the best living Indian director.

Of course, there was the small matter of another director walking in that very moment into the Indian pavilion on the Croisette, just across the palm-fringed avenue from the Majestic Hotel where the Raavan promotion had got under way with a short trailer from the movie (it’s hard to make any kind of judgment from the trailer).

The former director was 87 years old and his name was Mrinal Sen, a kind of Sachin Tendulkar, most Cannes connoisseurs would concur, to Ratnam’s, say, Mohammed Azharuddin.

Khanna disclosed that Raavan, “the most significant film we have been associated with so far”, could be a “breakout” film for the company. It will be released in 58 countries across the world, while in India, there will be a version in Hindi as well as another in Ratnam’s native Tamil.

Neither Ratnam nor A.R. Rahman made it to Cannes since they were back in India, rushing to finish the music.

But Ratnam’s wife Suhasini, who owns Madras Talkies with her husband and is a co-producer and scriptwriter of the movie, said “every story in India goes back to the two epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana”.

Raavan was not a retelling of the mythological story but Ratnam was using the epic to examine whether there was another side to Raavan. The character of Beera Munda, a contemporary counterpart of Raavan in Ratnam’s film, had “black, white and grey” aspects to his personality, she said.

The epic was written 2,000 years ago but “it does not mean the hunter is always bad”, said Suhasini, adding the hunted could also be “dangerous”.

“It is a wonderful, difficult, intriguing film,” she went on, developing the notion that good could contain evil and evil could have elements of good.

Abhishek, who plays the Raavan character in the Hindi version (the role has gone to actor Vikram in the Tamil one) made the serious point that “on face value, it is possible to misinterpret Mani Ratnam’s vision”.

Would this be a challenge too far to sections of Indian society that may not take too kindly to any attempt to do a PR job on Raavan (who, incidentally, is looked upon as a heroic king in Sri Lanka attempting to protect his island from Ram, the marauder from the north)?

Sophisticated European audiences may be able to cope with the notion that fair is foul and foul is fair but what about the Indian “masses”? Were Ratnam and Reliance taking a risk?

Abhishek, who is succeeding his father as a thoughtful ambassador for India, showed judgment in his response.

“I don’t think it’s a risk,” said Abhishek, who did not duck the question. “I don’t think the audience is going to be surprised because we challenge that notion on a daily basis in every film that we make. I think it’s a filmmaker’s job apart from predominantly entertaining his audience; it is also, if possible, to ask a few questions and try and make a difference.”

In a long answer, Abhishek defended what the Americans would call Ratnam’s “re-envisioning” of Raavan.

“What I meant by ‘it’s very easy to misinterpret what Mani has to say on face value’ is that when he brought the character to me, I said, ‘Great, it’s Raavan, so you connect to the mythological character (with) 10 heads, I am going to get this opportunity to play 10 different characters and have a blast with it, I am going to win lots of awards and this is going to be the role of a lifetime, it’s going to be complex and there are going to be so many layers to it,’” admitted Abhishek.

“When you read it, you actually realise that his perspective on the character is so unique that actually it simplifies everything else,” he went on.

“In Raavan, the character of Beera is the most simple, the most straightforward and the most unambiguous. What I liked was for him as a character, there is right and there is wrong, although as Hasini Ma’am (Suhasini) is saying, there is the question of what is right, what is black, what is grey. For Beera, there is only black and white. You are either right or you are wrong,” Abhishek said.

“That makes him pure at heart and very simple and I liked the fact that somebody who, on face value, is perceived as wrong and as anti-social, once viewed through their perspective, you do come to realise that for them that person is correct and that person might be doing something correct but just because socially it might not be accepted, that does not mean that it has to be wrong. That is what I meant when I said it can be misinterpreted, so I don’t think that Mani is taking any great risk.”

Abhishek concluded: “I think Mani is always bothered about telling a unique and interesting and challenging story. He is not questioning mythology. He is not trying to change public perception. He wants to tell the story of a very complex character and tell everybody that, ‘Look, maybe this character isn’t complex, maybe he’s a very straightforward kind of person.”