Fifteen minutes into the movie I knew that I needed to see the movie as a work of art, an artist's free-flowing creativity rather than look for any kind of a story or script. That need to look for a story is what I think led to bad reviews of the movie, and had I done the same I too wouldn't have liked it. Because you see, Mani Ratnam had a pretty interesting concept in hand - Ramayana from Raavan's point of view - but he made some gross errors in its execution.
For one, he could not convey the ten sides to Beera's (Raavan's) personality effectively. The scenes where Beera's multiple personalities are having a conversation with each other make him look more like a psychopath rather than someone who has multiple sides to his personality! It also makes Abhishek Bachchan's acting look over-the-top.
Ratnam's second error was to make Beera fall so openly in love with Ragini (i.e. Sita). If I remember correctly, there were no indications in the Ramayana of Raavan falling so openly in love with Sita. Even if he was besotted with her, it was never explicit. That retained the element of demonry in his character. In contrast, Beera's character seems almost caricaturish because of his open declaration of love for Ragini. I'm sure that wasn't the effect Ratnam was aiming for.
Moreover, he made Ragini get attracted to Beera as well! She never admits to it verbally but it's more than evident in the last 15 minutes of the movie, where she gets off the train in the middle of the forest to go confront Beera about the lies she thinks he's told her husband (besides, who the hell does that??!!!) and is willing to take the bullet for him. Was Ratnam trying to show that she's suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome? Or was that really a filmy twist to the ending?
I also found Govinda's character extremely irritating. Hanuman was one of the central characters of the Ramayana but Govinda's character is reduced to being a sidekick to Ram. On top of that, he was made to jump from one tree to another, recite pathetic poems and crack completely deadpan jokes.
There were quite a few other flaws in the movie...where is this place Lal Maati? Who are these tribals? Why did they need to smear their faces with ash, coal, muck etc. whenever they wanted to celebrate something or sing & dance in the rain? I also didn't like the idea of hiring as talented a designer as Sabyasachi and completely wasting him.
If you leave these things aside, what I did like about the movie were the breathtaking locations (all in southern India apparently), the cinematography, the presence of water throughout the movie (almost 90% of the movie has been shot in/under water), and the message that there's a little bit of good inside every bad person and vice versa. Surprisingly, I also liked Aishwarya Rai!!! So something has got to be said for Mani Ratnam as a director. He's only the second director after Rituparno Ghosh who made me like Aishwarya Rai in a movie (Raincoat)!
Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Abhishek Bachchan. He just does not have the personality to carry off an evil role convincingly. He comes across as too much of a sweet, fun, chilled out guy even in scenes where he's threatning to kill her. And no, the eye liner didn't help.
Coming to Vikram...hmmm...I liked his personality - he has screen presence - but I didn't like his acting. Or lack thereof. He did little more than scowl throughout the movie, as far as expressions are concerned, and his eyes were hidden behind dark aviators for the most part, so we never got a chance to know what his eyes were trying to convey.
Every kid who's grown up in India has been doused with the story of the Ramayana - willingly or unwillingly. Mani Ratnam had the opportunity to make a blockbuster out of it. He didn't quite get there. Still, I would say 'Raavan' is worth a one-time watch for the simple reason that it's very different from other movies, and the visuals are pretty awesome too!