Monday, June 21, 2010

This Ramayana is not so Modern

As a true Mani Ratnam fan, I eagerly awaited Raavan’s release. I chose to see the Hindi version first for the sake of Gulzar’s lyrics. Having heard the songs of Raavan (Hindi version) and Raavanan (Tamil version) for nearly a month or more, I felt Raavan sounded better, the lyrics fitted the music snugly without aberrations.

Theatre: Fame Shankar Nag Chitra Mandira, MG Road, Bangalore
Date and Time: June 20, 2010, 10.15 am
Ticket Price: Rs 80/per head

I am sure most readers would have either seen the movie or read multiple reviews from different websites by now. I have nothing new in my first paragraph in terms of content, just like the insipid first half of the movie – insipid in terms of script content. It is only the second half where the epic we so well know figures.

Dev Sharma (Ram/Vikram) is a top cop posted in Laal Mathi forest region, living happily with his dancer wife, Raaghini (Sita/Aishwarya Rai) till one day when Beera, the local outlaw, (Raavan/Abhishek Bachchan) abducts her. Hemant (Lakshman/Nikhil), another cop shares the tragic news of Raaghini’s abduction with Dev who sets out to settle scores with Beera, taking assistance from Sanjeevani (Hanuman/Govinda). Beera is all set to avenge the death of his dear sister played by Priya Mani fitting the role of Shoorpanaga but meekly submits to the beautiful, fearless lass – Raaghini during the course of 14 days hostage. Though he initially intends to kill Raaghini in 14 hours to teach Dev a tough lesson, his unbridled affection for her weakens him every time, costing him the life of his brother, Hariya, may be Mangal (played by Ravi Kishan, we are not sure what happens to him at the end, so we safely assume he’s dead), even worse, his own life at the end of the movie. Upon rescue, Raaghini is recommended a polygraph test by her husband to come out untainted, an Agni pariksha that sends her fuming.

Now where is Mani’s story in this, there is only Ramayana etched all over it. With such a threadbare script, when we feel Mani is all set to lose out, he roughly compensates by stunning visuals, superb editing, impeccable choice of locations, great music and background score, fantastically brave stunts. I guess no director will have an urge as strong as Mani to tap the beauty of Athirapalli falls, Malshej Ghats, Hogennakal and Orchha from such daring proximity. Without an original script, the film stands decent for a one time viewing majorly because Santosh Sivan, Sreekar Prasad, Peter Heins, AR Rahman and Gulzar, of course Mani Ratnam who brought them all together and extracted the best out of them.

If there is any bit of modernity/difference to the Ramayan we know, it is that Beera does not have evil lust and is superbly in control. He is a shade better than the Raavan we know. Dev is many shades darker than the Ram we know, in that he tells Raaghini things which Beera never said, misconstrues statements, kills Hariya when he is unarmed and out to negotiate peace, kills Beera ruthlessly, forgetting that only he saved him the day before. Raaghini is little more tilted in favor of Beera, must say bit more practical than our Sita, that upon suggestion of a polygraph test by her husband, she has the nerve to stop a chugging train in the middle of the ghats, take a bus and get back to Beera to question him on what he said about her, express her fondness in her eyes for him as he falls deep into the Ghats below. I would have lauded the climax if Raaghini too fell into the deep ghats along with Beera, then this Ramayan would have definitely been modern.

Mani is a tough taskmaster and he alone has the potential to make Abhishek Bachchan act and emote. I think if Abhi ever owed anybody, other than his father, for his presence in Bollywood, it’s definitely got to be Mani. Aishwarya has done her part well, though she messes in the end with her artificial loud laughter upon reunion with Dev. Habits die hard, is what we realize at that moment. Though Aishwarya dances well, thanks to Shobana’s training, God alone knows from where and how she gained a quintal kilogram.

Vikram scores well and definitely dons the role of a tough and not so good cop flawlessly. Mangal and Hariya, brothers of Beera (don’t ask me which of them is Kumbakarna/Vibhishana, there is no explicit correlation we can make) do their parts well. Govinda is my favorite in the movie. I was wondering how Mani ever imagined a role for him in his movie given the amusing performances he has provided teaming up with David Dhawan. Must say, Govinda is really good. Priya Mani stands tall and beautiful, very striking in the short role she performs. However, guess she has got branded for getting gang raped in movies, thanks to her stint in Tamil movie Paruthiveeran.

Music and background score mould the movie well. The trek up the Athirapalli falls in closest proximity to gushing water, the plunge into Hogennakal that Abhi takes in the prelude, the climax scenes atop the precarious bridge over Malshej ghats, the stunts in dense jungles where Beera’s men choke the cop vans’ petrol tanks with sugar and steal arms from police ground camps are superb, straightening most audience’s backs. Mani always chooses a contemporary political backdrop to weave the script; here he has chosen Maoist activities, their lawlessness, cops' attempts to curb them, acts of gunning down peaceful, unarmed tribals, raping women in custody etc which we read/hear in media. This movie is a must watch for our Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram, to understand the extent to which tribals are adept with jungles, how skillfully they move around and some flaws in the Indian police system where most times, policemen turn hooligans.

Verdict: Disappointed in that there is no original script, it is a huge letdown but the painful efforts taken by the team in shooting in such harsh conditions needs to be appreciated by a one-time viewing. Spend no more than 100 Rs and refrain from watching in multiplexes if you reside in Bangalore. Liked Mani’s Raavan, it is not as bad as Dil Se, and definitely not a masterpiece like Nayagan/ Kannathil Muthamittal, that’s all I can say.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

If I could turn back time - Hampi Travelogue

Prologue: I wanted to write this travelogue entry in Jan this year to commemorate 500 years of king Krishnadevaraya’s empire. This landmark event was celebrated in grandeur in Karnataka in Jan 2010. I penned down the article below for my office newsletter late March, now found the time to post it on my blog. A general advise - I request all to undertake a trip to Hampi, the seat of Vijayanagar empire, only in winter months (Oct – Dec) to avoid scorching heat of the sun.

When Harihara and Bukka founded the Vijayanagar empire in Deccan plateau, back in 1336, they barely would have imagined this empire flourish as a strong conglomerate of four different dynasties – Sangama, Saluva, Tuluva and Aravidu dynasties, an era that marked the pinnacle in South Indian art, architecture and literature. It was under king Krishnadevaraya of the Tuluvu dynasty (1509-1529) that the empire reached its peak of prominence, many thanks to his administrative acuity, religious tolerance and his endless aegis to arts, architecture and literature.
Hampi, about 350 km from Bangalore, 13 km from Hosepet, now a world heritage site, is the capital of this renowned empire. The place teems with history and if one wishes to turn back time, revisit some magnificent examples of Vijayanagar architecture, nothing can parallel a 3-day visit to Hampi. There are KSRTC bus services to Hospet and Hampi and Hampi express, a daily train from Bangalore to Hosepet. While day 1 can be dedicated to visiting the Sacred centre, day 2 can be dedicated to visiting sites of the Royal centre at Hampi and day 3, for visiting TungaBhadra dam (at Hosepet) and Chitradurga fort en route Bangalore.

Virupaksha temple, the oldest temple in Hampi is the most prominent site and its giant gopuram (tower) overlooks the Hampi Bazaar. With Lord Virupaksha in the form of a linga in the inner sanctum, this temple with two courtyards has some important features - a tri headed Nandi statue, a 100 column mantapa in the first courtyard on left, a central mantapa with a view of the sanctum with intact mural art on its ceiling, a dark chamber behind the sanctum where an inverted shadow of the temple tower can be seen (pinhole camera effect). The Hampi Bazaar stretches from the Virupaksha temple to the monolithic bull statue and is flanked by shops, guesthouses and restaurants.
Adjacent to the Virupaksha temple is the Hemakuta hill with a cluster of temples. As one climbs the hill, one gets a better view of the Virupaksha temple tower. Descending the Hemakuta hill on the other side leads to Sasivekalu Ganesha, a monolithic in situ figure of Ganesha, round like a mustard seed. Nearby, is even bigger Kadalekalu Ganesha.
Figure below: From L to R – 1) Virupaksha temple tower 2) Hemakuta hill with shrines 3) Sasivekalu Ganesha 4) Tungabhadra river, view of Virupaksha temple Walking along the Hampi Bazaar Street, turning left before the monolithic bull takes one along the banks of Tungabhadra River to Kodandarama temple and Yantrodhara Anjaneya temple. Going ahead one hits the Achutharaya temple/Tiruvengalanatha temple, a grand example of Vijayanagar architecture with the wide Courtesan street in front of it and a stepped tank by its side. The courtesan street was then known for profuse trade in gems, pearls and ivory.
Figures below: Vittala temple & From L to R – 1) River side path leading to Achutharaya temple 2) Courtesan Street 3) Stepped tank 4) Inside Achutaraya temple

Getting back along the riverside path, one heads towards the Vittala temple observing the remains of Hampi bridge, Purandaradasa mantapa and Kings’ balance. Marking the apogee in temple architecture is the Vittala temple, our history textbook regular, bearing the Stone Chariot and the musical pillars mantapa. Walking back along the same riverside path brings us back to the Nandi, a point from where one can take a trek up the Matanga hill, the highest peak in Hampi to get a bird’s eye view.

Day 2 might witness some spill over from sites of the sacred centre. Up hill and down hill from Hampi Bazaar, turning left after crossing the Ganeshas, one reaches the Krishna temple. From here, one has to follow the road to Kamalapur via Chandikeshwara temple and Uddana Veerabhadra temples, en route the gigantic Lakshmi Narasimha statue, Badavalinga temple (monolithic Shiva Linga) and sister rocks to reach the Royal centre.

You get ready for the day's dose of architectural extravaganza of Vijayanagar empire when you see the board citing “Underground Siva Temple”. Taking the small dusty lane on left, you are at the threshold to the Royal centre that comprises the Mohammedan watchtower and mosque, Band tower, Danaik enclosure (mint enclosure), Vira Harihara palace ruins, Noble men quarters and Basement of palaces. As the dusty lane forks off, it leads one to the Zenena enclosure on the left, the Hazara Rama temple and Royal enclosure on the right.

Figure below: From L to R - 1) Lakshmi Narasimha statue 2) Band tower 3) Mohamaddan watch tower 4) Lotus Mahal 5) Elephant stables

The Zenena enclosure – royal women’s quarters comprises of some of the beautiful sites of Hampi – the Lotus Mahal, the royal treasury, the guard’s quarters and Elephant stables, all enclosed within broad, tall, stone wall compound marked with watch towers at the corners. Proceeding towards the Royal enclosure, one hits the Hazara Rama temple on the way, with scenes from Ramayana adorning the temple walls.
The Royal enclosure is as significant as Zenena enclosure for it confines structures like the King’s audience hall, underground chambers, several aqueducts, public bath, the stepped tank/Pushkarini and Mahanavami Dibba.

Figure below: From L to R – 1) Pushkarini in Royal enclosure 2) Mahanavami Dibba 3) Queen’s bath 4) View of Achutaraya temple from Matanga hill top

Leaving the Mahanavami Dibba and riding along the mud pathway away from these two enclosures, one arrives at the Queens’ bath, with projecting balconies built in Indo Sarcenic style. The dusty track merges with the main Hampi- Kamalapur road and one heads back to Hampi bazaar, carrying pictures of the many monuments, their architectural styles. There are patches of paddy fields watered by small canals on the way and there are huge rocks, heaps of boulders by the side of the Tungabhadra river, the landscape of Hampi offers myriad questions, as many in number as the architectural wonders, it offers for the human eye.

On day 3, one can pack the bags early after breakfast, cross the river to take a tour of Anegondi or leave Hampi, head to TungaBhadra dam in Hosepet. Before heading back to Bangalore, a trip to the Chitradurga fort (200 km from Bangalore), with seven concentric tiers of fortification built by the Nayaks, known for its many temples, watch towers, bastions and secret entrances, will definitely add an element of excitement and rack few muscles.
Quick Tips
How to reach: KSRTC buses to Hospet and Hampi/Hampi express from Bangalore city junction to Hosepet
Where to eat: Hampi has many restaurants on the main bazaar street and its offshoots. Lot of hype surrounds a certain Mango Tree restaurant. In catering to foreign tourists, Hampi parallels Goa as the menu in most eateries covers everything from Tortillas, Momos, Pita bread, Falafel, Hash brown potato and Pancakes.
Where to stay: Innumerable guesthouses in Hampi near Virupaksha temple provide a comfortable option, rest houses in Virupappara Gadde (on the other side of TB River) are not preferable as ferry services stop at 6pm. Kamalapur and Hosepet hotels may be luxurious but not good options as commute to Hampi will eat away valuable time.
How to go around: Cycle, though it might get a little tiresome. Motor bikes are available and the best option. Please carry a valid ID proof to procure a cycle/bike. While walking to cover sites on day 1 is possible, walking to cover the Royal centre sites is an impossible option even in winter months. It is highly important to carry maps of Hampi sites to ensure you visit all of them without wastage of time.
For maps and more details, please refer to