Raj Kumar Gupta’s Raid is fascinating for many reasons. Primarily, for its release date which is around the period when every taxpaying citizen is in a hurry to submit his/her documents on time. Coincidentally, the film releases exactly on the same date as Hindi cinema’s first film on income tax raids. Titled Eik Dasttak, the film came and disappeared in a whiff. Now, Raid is penned by a largely populist writer (Ritesh Shah) and is directed by Gupta whose eye for ‘commerce’ is noteworthy. They hire one of Hindi film industry’s biggest commercial stars in – perhaps – his most idealist turn ever. Given how our leading men are easily lured to these severely ‘white-washed’ parts, the question remains whether Raid is any good, at the end of the day.
The film kicks off with a scene which initially appears unnecessary. We see Amay Patnaik (Devgn), a diligent government servant, turning up at what looks like a miniature Lucknow-equivalent of Otters Club. Now, they do not let people walk in wearing sandals to their banquets and understandably so. Upon seeing Amay’s reluctance to break this code of conduct, the host quickly summons for a pair of fresh shoes for which the former duly pays. This is where we ought to applaud Shah and Gupta’s sharp eye in positioning their hero. Devgn is the darling of the heartlands. This is exactly the strata where an average educated person might just want to secure a respectable government job and live happily ever after. Connecting Devgn’s popularity within this demographic and the above footwear reference, we also observe how the actor also happens to endorse a popular brand of sandals. Hmmm.
So, once our hero’s common man traits are established, Raid passages to the family territory. Amay’s beautiful wife Malini (Ileana D’Cruz), who is a walking, talking Fab India figurine, constantly reminds us of his uprightness. Theirs is a slightly evolved version of what we saw Akshay Kumar share with Madhurima Tuli in Baby. We, luckily, don’t get lines like, “Please, marna mat,” There are instances where we realize how D’Cruz seems to have mastered the art of shielding corniness. That too with stringent practice for over a decade. Moving ahead, we get a glimpse of Amay’s workplace. Heavily hierarchical and typical of what we imagine from a government office setup, this is one dingy place with nausea-inducing file stacks. Amay tops the list of virtuosity even at this place as he duly boasts about his impending 50th transfer which will come forth in no time. So, this is the premise and from here Raid takes off on a predictable trail which is gripping in one sense and underwhelming on numerous other levels.
Raid is one film that attempts to glamourize government servants. This comes out of good intent, I assume. However, it is in Devgn’s stiff interpretation that the entire scheme nosedives to generate a highly ho-hum impact. The dialogues are so crisp in places that you immediately sense a lack of punch in their delivery. There’s no metre, no intonation in the way Amay utters these lines. He just mumbles away. And no, this is not Gupta in an unseen art cinema mode. Remember Rajeev Khandelwal’s frantic phone calls in Aamir or Rani Mukerji spitting fire atop her boss’s car hood in No One Killed Jessica? Similar are the levels of volatility that Raid builds up and the results are as boring as a passive Devgn with a rigid gait. We have seen the actor in his prime, invoking great emotions while also getting things done. The contrast is so bad with an insanely proficient Saurabh Shukla (as the villain Tauji) that – for a moment – we tend to ponder how some sort of an independent business like his can bring in pots of cash as opposed to becoming a haggard government official. And this is not even a prototype from the Anurag Kashyap school of cinema within which it is natural to breed such insights.
Also notable are Raid’s female characters. Ileana D’Cruz gets a textbook ideal of the perfect wife. A vision in long, bouncy tresses and stunning Indian makeup, it is heartbreaking to see D’Cruz getting wasted cruelly. Other women milk better benefits out of the enterprise. Even Sheeba Chadda gets a couple of moments in a part where all she was briefed was to move around with a flabbergasted expression. Playing the 85-year old mother of the villain, Pushpa Joshi is a crowd-puller and lights up the screen every time she is on it. Hers is also the best-written character in the film although minuscule. Be it Amay’s colleagues or the women at Tauji’s home, Raid showcases one interesting facet or other in each of them. The icing on the cake is an equivalent to the ex-Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi. A diplomatic yet implicit portrayal of the controversial leader, Raid is slightly less invested in compartmentalizing her fully. The wish remains to have her presented with an actual characterization where one could take cues from her body language as well. I do not get Raj Kumar Gupta’s obsession for concealing faces when it comes to presenting equivalents to known political figures.
As for the plot, Raid doesn’t offer much to ponder at any point. It runs like a documentary with certain glorified heroic bits – we see our hero crusading alone, him bravely setting the villain free at one point, a brief assault on the heroine and an erstwhile negative sidey turning faithful. Funnily enough, these are not even spoilers for the fact that we seem them coming at the very outset. Plus, these elements existed in dozens of films that Ajay and Ileana have done in different eras and industries. It is just that Raid isn’t perceived as “one of those films” as it comes sans a mandatory Sunny Leone number among few other requisites. At one point, I overheard a lady murmuring, “Why to endanger your wife?” Well, exactly. That way, Raid is neither a no-holds-barred commercial film that entertains its target group to the hilt like Ajay’s own Singham series nor is it a bona fide docudrama on an exhilarating occurrence from the past. It is also not that the film lacks in its share of moments. My favourite is where one of Amay’s colleagues refuses to take part in the raid at what he calls the White House. This brief scene talks to us about caste politics and social empowerment tacts by rich benefactors with a clear-cut picture of a less-privileged youngster losing exactly what he worked his entire life for. For the rest, Raid simply shilly-shallies somewhere on the fence and droops away in no time.
Rating: ★★ 1/2
P.S.: The dutiful wife Malini Patnaik is aware of her husband’s nutritional needs during a massive raid and, hence, shows up personally to deliver his food. This is despite the semi-realization that she was never going to get that shiny, new tiffin carrier back. Given such boundless sacrifices, Malini is no ordinary Indian wife, I say.