Long... long... ago... in ancient India...
Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, is the eldest son of the mighty king Dasharath, dark and handsome, a great warrior and epitome of all virtues, he is loved by all.
At a Swayamvar or the contest to select the most heroic groom for `Sita`, the beautiful princess of Mithila, Rama breaks the indestructible bow of Lord Shiva and wins the hand of Sita. King Dashrath, happy and contented, plans to crown Rama as his heir and retire. But his third wife, the young Kaikei has other plans. She claims the two boons Dashrath had granted to her long ago, when she had saved his life. First she demands that her own son Bharat be crowned as the king instead of Rama and second that Rama be exiled from the kingdom for fourteen years. Dashrath is devastated.
Prince Rama however decides to honour his father`s promise and go into wilderness leaving behind his throne and the kingdom. His loving wife Sita and the devoted younger brother Laxman decide to accompany Rama into the exile.
Bharat however refuses to be a part of his mother`s conspiracy. He tries to persuade Rama to return but Rama is steadfast in his resolve. Bharat proclaims that Rama is indeed the king and that he is only the care taker of the throne till Rama`s return.
Time passes. Rama, Sita and Laxman settle down in the jungle of Chitrakoot and complete thirteen years of exile.
One day, Surpanakha, the ravishingly beautiful demon princess spots Rama in the jungle and is attracted to him. She proposes to him but Rama, devoted to his wife Sita, spurns her offer. Enraged, Surpnakha tries to hurt Sita and Laxman in retaliation cuts off Surpankha`s nose. Surpanakha complains to her brother, the mighty Ravan, the demon king of Rakshasas. Ravan in his anger vows to avenge this insult.
With the help of his magical powers, Ravan creates an enticing illusion of a golden deer. Sita enchanted by the vision asks Rama to get the golden deer for her. As Rama goes after the deer, Ravan disguised as a `Rishi`, a mendicant sage, kidnaps Sita and flies off with her in his flying machine to his Rakshash kingdom of `Lanka`.
When Rama returns he finds Sita missing.
And so begins his search for Sita. Rama and Laxman travel through the jungles across India following Ravan`s trail.
On their way they come across the monkey kingdom of Kishkindha where they meet a band of rebel monkeys led by Sugriv. Sugriv is fighting against the oppressions of the rogue monkey king Vali. Rama agrees to help them. He kills Vali and appoints Sugriv as the monkey king. Sugriv in turn promises to help Rama in his search for Sita. He sends his emissary, the super powerful Hanuman, to help Rama.
Hanuman flies across the ocean in search of Sita and arrives at Ravan`s Lanka, the city of gold. He finds Sita imprisoned there. He over hears Ravana asking Sita to marry him but Sita, eternally devoted to Rama, refuses. Hanuman decides to teach Ravan a lesson. He creates havoc in Lanka. He is captured and presented before Ravan. Though a captive, Hanuman advices Ravan to return Sita to Rama and beg for mercy. Ravan, enraged, orders his tail to be set on fire. Hanuman escapes, sets fire to Ravan`s Lanka and returns to Rama with news of Sita.
Rama and Laxman march with their army of Vaanars towards Lanka to defeat Ravan and rescue Sita. Crossing dense forests, they arrive at the southern coast where the mighty ocean separates them from Lanka. They construct a floating bridge `Rama Setu` across the ocean and triumphantly reach Lanka.
And thus begins the epic battle between the forces of good and evil, an amazing demonstration of heroism, and super powers.
Rama the original Indian super hero, defeats Ravan, rescues Sita and returns victorious to the kingdom of Ayodhya.
It is a story passed on for millennia. And through the ages,
it has either shown people the way or in the hands of fanatics led to distress
and destruction. And yet, the story can be interpreted in many ways. Sadly,
"Ramayana" isn`t that and manages only to affirm cliches.
Exiled prince Ram (Manoj Bajpayee) of Ayodhya has taken the help of an army of apes to fight a formidable foe Ravan (Ashutosh Rana) after the abduction of his wife Sita (Juhi Chawla).
A major flaw of the film is a lack of guts, and its affirmation of stereotypes - be it of animation, the story of Ramayana or its characters. Thus, the heroes are faultless and the villains have no redeeming qualities.
This black and white simplification is also factually incorrect as the character of Ravan in the most popular versions of the epic is not entirely evil, but is a knowledgeable scholar flawed by his vanity.
Rather than displaying the prowess of Indian animation, "Ramayana" ends up becoming a show of strength for Ketan Mehta-owned Maya Digital Media. And though it`s below global standards, it`s still India`s best product in its category.
The other thumbs up you can give this film is that it is low on Ram and religious rhetoric.
In a story whose mythology and religion is based on the stated perfection of one man, this is hard to do. Instead of becoming simply a religious film, it does manage to become a story of a man.
What is often jarring though is its dialogue. Though attempts have been made to keep it pure, many Urdu words creep in, denoting sloppiness from its writers.
Why the animation is far from reaching global standards, you can tell by watching the first few minutes of the film.
Though the detailing is far superior to most other animation films in the country, it fails to give depth and expression to the faces of its characters. And a story filled with such pathos cannot afford to do this.
Also, in many ways, "Ramayana" reaffirms Hollywood animation stereotypes. And that lack of thought and vision has been the bane of Indian animation.
Unlike the Japanese, who have made their own style of animation that is now the toast of the world, India has so far failed to go anywhere besides some notable baby steps. And this, despite the world`s greatest collection of mythology, fables and different, ancient artistic styles to choose from, seems an inexcusable error.
Like the ignited tip of a firecracker in a dark night, "Ramayana" manages to sparkle with the possibility of brilliance, both in animation and in the way it tells an old story, but it is a bomb that fails to burst. And that, depending on your outlook, could be either just sad, or a major setback for animation in the country.