SRK Mahira in Raees

The age-old allegation remains – Bollywood glorifies criminals. However, Rahul Dholakia’s protagonist in retro gangster drama Raees operates strictly within a thin framework of conditional righteousness. Playing the titular part, Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees convinces us of his mother’s theory – “Har dhandha bada hota hai. Dhande se bada koi dharam nahi hota…” If at all his idea of morality was shared by the evolved audience of today. It is convenient to believe that the character’s value system is possibly built based on the heroic blockbusters from the era it is set in (70s to early 90s). Beginning with an empowered lower middle-class mother living a stern, principled life, the film projects (or rather embraces) everything that the era stood for! The important question here is – Did the audience call for this déjà vu?

Earlier in 2016, Anurag Kashyap made a film titled Raman Raghav 2.0. Not a big favourite but the film was a stunning case of meticulously designed characters. Besides its characters and their edgy motives, the film had something that Raees lacks completely – a chilling cat n’ mouse game. Of course, this is a Shah Rukh Khan vehicle. In bargain, the other significant patron (Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Jaideep Mazmudar) gets zilch scope for layers and complexities. Mazmudar is such an honest cop that he wouldn’t take action, if not countersigned by an authority. He gets his share of punchlines too. Still, do we buy his unshakable resolve to nail Raees? NO!

Known to be inspired by real life events, Raees for a long part of its runtime, tend to appear as a sweeping tribute to the ‘angry young man’ era. Besides the mother, there’s the ever-faithful colony folks, a benevolent doctor, a faithful sidekick and dialogues that’s worthy of a truckful of coins – Raees ticks all possible checkboxes. What we get in this process is wayward writing with absolutely no attention to detail, particularly if we dissect the era in question. Moreover, Baylon Fonseca’s sound design could possibly burst all ears, if viewed in inferior theatres amidst hooting viewers. There’s also Ram Sampath who totally misses the bus trying to recreate music from that era, plus KU Mohanan’s cinematography that intentionally flaunts a tint. There will be enough audience members who will take immense pride in this very familiarity. For others, Dholakia’s stylish direction will suffice.

Talking about the making angle, the Parzania director knows his craft. The material on paper is the dictionary meaning of what they term ‘ghisa-pita’. Besides ability, it takes a lot of courage to touch this material and still weave thunderous drama around it, with a contemporary touch. The writing does offer him all scopes milk controversial topics like communalism among others. Yet, Dholakia neatly underplays and plays to the gallery when the time is right. More importantly, he refuses to deem Raees into a caricature even though the character motivations fluctuate. Khan’s Raees isn’t sure if he should play messiah or be the smartest liquor kingpin around.

Dholakia carefully utilizes Shah Rukh Khan’s charisma and magnetic presence. In one of his strongest and well-rounded performances in the running decade, Khan lives the part of Raees like no other actor could have. There are brief moments where we’re stunned at the way he brims with energy. He invents a unique swag that probably comes close to what Amitabh Bachchan had in his Zanjeer days. And he ain’t imitating anyone. This is plain, gold Shah Rukh Khan. In fact, we will be spoilt for choice in deciding what he does better – Those emotional breakdowns, the still frames that he confidently holds or just being so damn gorgeous!

Way too enamoured by Khan’s terrific interpretation, the writers do massive disservice to the rest of the cast. As stated before, Nawazuddin Siddiqui suffers a case of pointless characterization. We aren’t sure why he does all that he’s up to! Performed exceedingly well by Siddiqui, we love the way he locks horns with Khan over tea. Mahira Khan is perhaps the most charmless leading lady in a Shah Rukh Khan flick post Jab Tak Hai Jaan. She flaunts a single expression throughout the film, even as the most romantic hero of the nation serenades her across some vivid locations. Strange! Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is burdened with that thankless 80s style sidey role. Why can’t we see a Man Friday with some sort of a clear personality? Bombay Velvet saw one and we saw what happened. Well…

Last but not the least, Raees also witnesses a phenomenon that isn’t too commonplace – accurate placement of an ‘item number’. Credit it to Dholakia on how he laces the seductive Sunny Leone number with a well-visualized revenge scene. Equally applaud-worthy is a similar scene in the latter half where Raees avenges yet another mentor who wrongs him. It’s more about stylish, slo-mo shot-taking and less about the character’s questionable, dwindling morales. Then again, don’t we love all of it in a commercial potboiler? Hell yeah!

Rating: ★★★