4 Feb 2017

Movie Review: Raees: Lost in Hero Worship & Mass Appeal

Once upon a time in dry Gujarat of the 1980's and 90's, Raees (Shah Rukh Khan, good act) builds an empire out of selling alcohol illegally. Shrewdly safeguarding his throne on political connections, Raees bypasses murderous competitors and a stubborn police officer Jaideep Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, show stealer). He is finally done in by his lofty ambitions, things fall apart and death looms.

Raees begins breezily enough, overplays that one-line, life defining mother-said-it moment, "No trade is small, and there is no religion bigger than trade." From then on, everything gets larger-than-life and repetitive in tone. From flashy dialogues, tea glasses as a face off metaphor, and the hero-defining,"Don't call me battery!" (Or I will bash you up! Because I am the hero!) moment.  

Safe, Mitigated Treatment
Raees undoubtedly has damn good bio-epic potential in its story, but it remains consigned to paper. Loosely based on the life of notorious Gujarat bootlegger Abdul Latif, Raees goes for Hindi film chutzpah, rather than grittiness. 

Pity, for there are so many quality moments of genuine flair here. Be it Jaideep's Micheal Jackson imitation (potentially rocking set piece), Raees' filmy wooing of Aasiya (Mahira Khan, sketchy role), Raees-Jaideep and politician exchanges, best friend chemistry (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, zesty reprisal of a familiar role) fight scenes...every scene dangles midway between straight storytelling and a brash 'make bad look epic and morally right' appeal.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui Rocks!  
Finally, the acting ropes us in, salvaging the film's loose ends. Shah Rukh Khan sails through with experience, owns a few scenes. That dreary look before shooting down his mentor, breaking down before his wife and the final dialogues. But the film is at its (stunted) zenith in Nawazuddin Siddiqui's no-nonsense police portrayal. In all his sections, you see how good Raees could have been.   

Hero Worship vs Logic 
Hindi film dialogue-baazi rules over content. Also, this is a Shah Rukh Khan package, rather than a character driven protagonist.No surprises then, when:  
  1. Raees thwarts a sniper shooter with impossible aim and range. 
  2. Chases the same shooter across roofs, kicking, flying, ends up largely unhurt. 
  3. Walks through tear gassed streets unblinkingly, stylishly.
  4. Lip syncs through songs, dances (the classic masala film template).  
  5. Shoots down a gang of henchmen without a sweat through a Sunny Leone item song. 
  6. Raees is always neatly-dressed, through it all. 
We expected a lot more apt starkness and realism from director Rahul Dholakia. Especially from the man who made Parzania (2007). Another surrender to our intolerable times?

A bearable one-time watch for the story, performances, flashes of quality cinema. Due to legal tangles, the filmmakers had to declare it fiction, a knowing audience will catch the real-life threads. Just a little, teeny-weeny lump in the throat by the end credits. Rest, as they say of Hindi cinema, we sell dreams, seldom tell stories.  

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