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Make it large yet play it safe

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By Ra.One is like a Shah Rukh Khan home video. Made for his children, it's SRK's "childhood dream" - a Two-and-a-half-hour festival where he can be everybody from Spiderman to Superman PRATIM D. GUPTA DID YOU LIKE/NOT LIKE RA.ONE? TELL T2@ABP.IN
  • Published 27.10.11

Ra.One (U)

Director: Anubhav Sinha

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Armaan, Satish Shah, Shahana Goswami

Running time: 155 minutes

You kill your film several times. Mostly by talking about it. A film is a dream. You kill it writing it down, you kill it with a camera. Your film might come to life for a moment or two... when your actors breathe life back into it; but then it dies again, buried in film cans. Mysteriously, sometimes, in the editing room... a miracle happens when you place one image next to another, so that when finally an audience sits in the dark; if you’re lucky, very lucky, the dream flickers back to life again.

That’s director Guido Contini, played by Daniel Day Lewis, explaining cinema in Rob Marshall’s 2009 musical Nine. Those lines might contain the heart, er H.A.R.T., of Ra.One.

Shah Rukh Khan had a dream. And thankfully, unlike most other superstars in his league, it was not merely a money-making stardom-servicing dream. Here was a man who was actually trying to use his brand (and brands) to gift an international genre — with all its pomp and pizzazz — to desi audiences.

But as Vidhu Vinod Chopra had famously said that in India you have to make The Godfather and The Sound of Music in the same film. And when you spend close to Rs 200 crore in one Bollywood film, well, perhaps you need to put the Bhagvad Gita, the Bible and the Koran in the same epic.

And there starts the dilution of the dream.

As the Guido guide states, the killing of the film starts with the writing (Anubhav Sinha, Mushtaq Sheikh, Kanika Dhillon). Because if you are going geeky and talking tech in mainstream mode, it’s not enough to simply state it, you have to explain it in a language that everyone in every theatre, from Barasat to Byculla, understands.

A clever film like Inception had to go through this exposition exercise too, where Christopher Nolan the writer had to set the ground rules of his complicated dream world in the first half and drive the concepts into your head with examples and dialogues. But never dumb things down.

The first eight-odd reels of Ra.One, unfortunately, cannot shrug off the wannabe-ness. Just like ‘Appa’ Shekhar (SRK the game-maker) cannot pronounce ‘dude’ the way his son Prateek (Armaan) wants him to, the writing too struggles to sound intelligent. The technology bits — Hertz Advanced Resonance Transmitter — sound like gibberish and the mythology bits — you can’t kill the demon without his heart — sound garbled.

And there’s way too much Bolly intertextuality for any originality to peek through. In Prateek’s dream we see Shah Rukh as Lucifer (the gaming alias Prateek always uses) fighting Khalnayak (Sanjay Dutt) to win over Desi Girl (Priyanka Chopra) even as the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai theme tune plays in the background. Yes, besides being a me-too superhero film, trying to poach the best bits of all the caped crusaders and metal marauders around the world, Ra.One at many places is a wannabe Om Shanti Om.

If the first half is all gaming gyan — how Shekhar comes up with a new game with an invincible villain named Ra.One to connect with his geeky son — Half Two becomes Terminator 2 with Ra.One coming out into the real world to kill Prateek and G.One, the hero, leaving the game to protect him. The affection for the Mommy (Kareena) is the Endhiran bit.

Of course, the bigger Endhiran bit is how just like Rajinikanth did with Chitti, Shah Rukh wisely plays G.One with his stardom strapped firmly to his spandex suit. He does the usual domestic power-flaunting moves — the spinning around like a ceiling fan is fresh and fun — but that inimitable SRK flourish is unmissable. And it is in those few moments G.One shares with the mother and son, that the emotions actually pull you in.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Ra.One is actually a Shah Rukh Khan home video. Made for his children, like Shekhar makes the game for his kid, it’s SRK’s “childhood dream”, a two-and-a-half-hour festival where he can be everybody from Spiderman (he scales walls) to Superman (he stops trains).

Now whether you would want to watch a SRK home video depends on your love-hate relationship with the Baadshah.

In the middle of all the masala with extra cheese, what you are guaranteed, though, are spectacular visual effects. Really, you haven’t seen anything like this on the Indian screen and the three action set-pieces — the first in London, the second on a local train in Mumbai and the third in a designed gaming arena — take your breath away.

Giving them stiff competition is a certain Kareena Kapoor. She is red hot and not just in the Chammak challo song. Arjun’s got very little screen time — Ra.One takes his shape (some shape that) well into the second half — but he makes it large, leaving you asking for more.

The Pancham-inspired grunt is the superhero theme and creates a strange sense of retro aura to see Shah Rukh running at Flash speed to a lost RD Burman tune. But nothing comes close to the feeling you get when you see Rajinikanth walking out of the car as Boom Boom Roboda and G.One acknowledging the ‘Superstar’. Avengers came early in this end of the ‘wood’.

Ra.One is one of those lavish five-star buffet spreads where there’s something for everyone but not everything for someone. The game is risky but the playing too safe. The dream’s not dead but it doesn’t flicker back to life as often as G.One’s H.A.R.T. does.

But don’t lost heart King Khan. At least you still dream. Hope some day others will join you... and Bollywood will be as one.

Ra.One roster

The total budget of Ra.One — production plus marketing — is projected to be anything between Rs 180 and Rs 200 crore.

Ra.One has 3,700 visual effects (VFX) shots. Just to put things in perspective, an Om Shanti Om had just around 200 VFX shots.

Ra.One is releasing worldwide with a whopping 3,500 prints, the highest for any Bollywood release till date.

My Name is Khan, Shah Rukh’s last big release, arrived with around 2,000 prints.

Due to its complicated action set-pieces, many of Ra.One’s scenes have been shot with 18 cameras simultaneously!

Karan Johar and Tarun Mansukhani (Dostana) have served as guest directors for certain scenes of Ra.One, helping out director Anubhav Sinha.

In the West, we have had Quentin Tarantino serving as guest director for Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City.

Rajinikanth, Sanjay Dutt and Priyanka Chopra make special appearances in the film.

In what was a first in Bolly history, the telecast rights of Ra.One’s music launch was sold for Rs 10 crore to the STAR group of channels.

A 3,600-feet long fan mail, collecting audience and fan wishes and messages for Ra.One is travelling to 36 cities across the world to promote the film.

With a total of 25 brands on board, Ra.One has brand tie-ups worth Rs 52 crore. The brands include Sony PlayStation, YouTube, Nerolac, McDonald’s, Videocon, Nokia, Coke, ESPN Star Sports and Cinthol.

Besides Hindi, of course, Ra.One will also release in Tamil and Telugu versions.

Amitabh Bachchan does the voiceover for the narration inside the game Ra.One.