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Raavan -- Film Review

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LONDON -- Filled with rich colors and lively action, Mani Ratnam's classically themed epic "Raavan" brings together the mythology of Indian culture and the flair and fun of Bollywood with tremendous flourish.

Cinematographers Manikandan and Santosh Sivan with production designer Samir Chanda and editor A. Sreekar Prasad serve Ratnam superbly with images, settings and vitality that take one's breath away.

Success is inevitable throughout India and with expat audiences. Such is the flare of the filmmaking that international audiences also can be expected to respond positively.

The story is drawn from the legend of Ramayana, Raavan, a 10-headed demon-god who kidnaps Sita, the wife of Lord Rama. He must hack off all those heads in order to recover his beloved.

Top Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai plays Ragini, the ravishing wife of a police inspector she calls Dev. He is played by the actor Vikram, who has moved to take over policing a remote part of Northern India filled with jungles, ravines, imposing cliffs and waterfalls. Abhishek Bachchan (Rai's real-life husband) plays Beera Munda, a multifaceted character whom some regard as a criminal but others revere as a benefactor.

When Beera's family is brutally victimized by the police during a wedding, he retaliates by kidnapping Ragini and taking her deep into the mountainous outback. Dev sets out with his men to bring her back.

Shot in two versions in the Hindi and Tamil languages -- the Hindi version will play in most international territories -- the film mixes styles with great invention so that the drama is filled with intensity. There also are dynamic musical sequences enhanced by the irresistible music of A. R. Rahman, Oscar-winning composer of the "Slumdog Millionaire" score.

These musical sequences include a splashing war dance at a jungle temple, a romantic portrait of domestic bliss and a celebration of impending nuptials; the choreography is as bold and striking as the music.

Vikram cuts a strong figure as the police officer, though in his dark glasses, he often resembles a sinister hard man from a film about a South American dictator. Bachchan has fun with a character who is fierce, passionate and dangerous but also comic in his self-doubt over whether to kill his captive or make love to her.

As for Rai, the camera adores her just as it loves the mist on the river, the rainfall in the jungle and the white water surging over rocky cliffs. She, too, is a force of nature. The film makes the most of it.

Opens: Friday, June 18 (U.K.)
Production: Madras Talkies
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, "Chiyaan" Vikram
Director-screenwriter: Mani Ratnam
Producers: Mani Ratnam, Sharada Trilok
Directors of photography: Manikandan, Santosh Sivan
Production designer: Samir Chanda
Music: A. R. Rahman
Costume designer: Sabyasachi Mukherji
Editor: A. Sreekar Prasad
Sales: Reliance Big Pictures
No rating, 130 minutes