Om Raut made Adipurush, an adaptation of Ramayana with Prabhas. Photo provided
Sanjay Dutt in the 1983 hit film Khalnayak
New Delhi – Most famous villain in Indian history gets a makeover
“You disrespected my sister, I disrespected your wife. But unlike you, I did not cut her nose. Yet it was my Lanka that was burned, my brother and my sons killed. It was I who must have suffered. Again, the world applauds you. Why is that? asks Pratik Gandhi, the actor playing Ravan in the Ramleela in the new film, Bhavai.
The actor playing Ram responds calmly: I am more powerful than you.
This exchange in Bhavai is just one of the recreations of the Demon King in popular culture.
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After a literary reinterpretation in the hands of Amish and Anand Neelakantan, it is now Om Raut who directs Adipurus, which presents a particular segment of the epic of Valmiki Ramayana, where Lankesh is pure evil.
“Lankesh is the greatest villain in Indian history, but also a most intelligent demon,” says Raut, and “that’s how I’m going to show it to him”.
What explains the sudden interest in Ravan at this age, despite belonging to a world that is believed to be over 7,000 years old? Anand Neelakantan says that Ravan represents the man of today.
“He is the embodiment of materialism and it is no wonder we are fascinated by him in the information age. He is everything a modern man is. Arrogant, knowledgeable, loving luxury, having the power to rule or destroy the world and covet more. “
“Everyone is Ravan at this time,” said a woman in Bhavai.
Raut considers himself an accomplished storyteller with the ability to gossip with his audience about history and mythology.
It tells the story of Ravan at that time in the Ramayana, when it’s at its most evil, and even now, no matter how skewed the moral compass is, the world still celebrates the victory of good over evil.
But there are times in Ramayana, when Ravan is vulnerable too.
It was this emotion that Akhilendra Mishra captured when he starred in the 2008 version of the Ramayana on NDTV Imagine.
Directed by Anand, the son of Ramanand Sagar, presents a monologue by Ravan where he waits for Lord Ram to come and deliver him.
“After doing this scene, I got a call from Subhash Sagar who wanted to know how I made the demon cry,” Mishra said satisfied.
However, he was apprehensive when he accepted the role because Arvind Trivedi’s portrayal of Ravan in Doordarshan Ramayana, which was directed by Ramanand Sagar and which captured the popular imagination. He felt that everything else would pale in comparison.
Corn Ramayana is an epic that every Indian has grown up with and understands on some level.
His interpretations do not always work but we can hear his echoes through various works, whether that of Subhash Ghai Khalnayak (1993), where Madhuri Dixit’s Ganga actually goes to Ravana (Ballu, played by Sanjay Dutt) to reclaim Ram’s honor, or Ram Maheshwari Neelkamal (1968), where Sita and Ram are divided by her strange fascination with a man from her past life.
These are the elements with which Mani Ratnam plays in his Ravana / Raavanan (2010) in which Sita / Ragini develops empathy for her captor Ravana / Beera as she waits for her husband, Ram / Dev, “Why didn’t he come and take me himself”, asks- she to the character of Sanjeevani / Hanuman.
In the end, when Dev kills Beera, she steps in between them, only to be knocked down by Beera.
Ravana is not shown in this representation with 10 heads, but his multiple personalities are evoked by the villagers Dev interviews – each one adds a quality to him, whether it’s his musical prowess or his income.
In Adipurus, this portrayal is likely to be more literal with Raut displaying the 10 heads on Saif Ali Khan, who had just finished the speaking portion of the film.
“He’s such a monster,” Saif says, “and I loved the idea of playing such iconic scenes that I had read in comics and books.”
Which Ravan will the world prefer?
The one in Bhavai who is a demon of great power but also of great knowledge?
Or the devil himself without redeeming quality? Or like Ravan’s 10 metaphorical heads, is there room for all of them?
(The author is a seasoned journalist and author, most recently of The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India)