I couldn't let Govinda Week go by without taking a brief look at his role in Mani Ratnam's film Raavan, which opened today, and which I saw this afternoon.
Brief look, because this is NOT a review of Raavan. Hours after seeing it, I'm still thinking about the film, and I think I'll wait until I can watch it again when it comes out on DVD before I really put any thoughts down about it.
However -- what I do say here will very likely contain SPOILERS, so don't read on unless you've seen the film (or you don't care about the SPOILERS). Also, please to be forgiving, because I am relying on my memory here, which may be a little muddled, as there was so much to take in with this film.
Okay, let me also be clear: I *know* that Raavan is not a Govinda film, per se (though it was interesting to see that he got third billing in the opening credits, right after Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). And despite all the speculating, I knew it was going to be a small role. In fact, director Mani Ratnam said so himself in an interview about the film:
“Sometimes, we cast faces against the image. When you’re putting the cast together, you realise that for a certain role with limited screen time, a star will be essential because he or she can add meat to the character. Govinda easily blended into his character,” the director said. And putting an end to all controversies about a dispute between himself and Govinda, he added, “Govinda put in an extra effort and made the role interesting despite its screen duration. He makes a considerable impact with his performance.”
And, in fact, it is a small role. A very, very small role. Now, I know you're going to say I'm biased, because, well, it's Govinda, but I honestly think there was not enough of Govinda's character, Sanjeevani. I also don't think there was enough of Vikram, either, but there we are.
I will add, too, that all the supporting roles in the film are very small, and all are generally well acted -- in particular, I was impressed by Priyamani as Beera's sister Jhamuniya, and Ravi Kishan as Mangal.
And after all those denials that the film was not a retelling of the Ramayan, well, of course, it is (with some twists), though I'm certainly no expert in this case. And after all those denials that Govinda was playing Hanuman, well -- he is, or at least a character based on Hanuman.
I wish I had a screencap of the moment we first meet Govinda's Sanjeevani, drunk and laying across a No Trespassing barrier, because it is a brilliant one. Policeman Dev Sharma (Vikram) is searching for his wife Ragini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), who has been abducted by the outlaw Beera (Abhishek Bachchan). Sanjeevani leads Dev and his men through the forest as they search for Ragini.
Sanjeevani knows the forest, he knows its inhabitants, and he treads a line between Dev's world and that of Beera, talking to the locals and trying to find the trace of "Madam" as he comes to call her:
The point of Ratnam's film, though, and its essential twist, is that our hero, Dev, is not totally good, not the completely good man Ragini believes her husband to be; nor is Beera all bad, either. In fact, we discover that Beera is doing all the wrong things for very compelling (if not right) reasons, and Dev -- well, Dev may be on the side of the law, but his methods turn out to be brutal, and his priorities askew, and it's through Sanjeevani that we discover much of this.
Sanjeevani is, I would argue, the film's moral compass, and why I believe there's not enough of his character in the film. When one of Dev's officers, Hemant (Nikhil Dwivedi), is returned after being captured and tortured by Beera, he arrives back at camp naked, mud-covered, his head shaved, and tied to a board tied to an animal, Sanjeevani's reaction is two-fold: first, incredible compassion for Hemant, he is distressed at how Hemant has been treated, how he has been shamed and how his dignity has been compromised. And then, when Dev fails to ask about Ragini, Sanjeevani chides him. "And Madam?" he asks, worriedly, "Hemant was with them for 8 hours, she's been with them for 8 days".
Sanjeevani's concern for Madam and his perplexity at Dev's mixed-up priorities (he seems to be searching for Beera first, and Madam second) leads him to take off and find her himself, to bring her a token from Dev, to reassure her -- and then end up captured by Beera himself.
Which leads to another scene I wish I had a screencap of -- Sanjeevani has been tied up, but they've given him a bottle and a glass, and he convinces them to try to make peace with the police, and they listen, because they respect him, and he respects them. And all of this in a fraction of time -- these moments truly are bite-sized, and Govinda makes the most of them. Sanjeevani remains loyal to Madam, too -- he will not leave without her, he tells Beera.
"Then I guess you're not leaving," is Beera's reply, though he is convinced to let Sanjeevani leave with one of his followers to go to try talk to Dev and come to some understanding.
The last view we see of Sanjeevani is this:
No, he doesn't die, but from here on in, the film ends up being a battle between Dev and Beera. But the last thing we hear from Sanjeevani? He's running around during the battle, trying to find Hemant to make sure he's all right.
It's true, Sanjeevani is a small role, and yet, it's one that is filled with compassion and humour and Govinda makes the most of it. Sanjeevani is grizzled, he's grubby, and initially seems disillusioned with where he's ended up. It's not a pretty role: