RAEES - review

With Salman doing a Sultan and Aamir taking it a notch higher with Dangal, Shah Rukh is still wrestling in the wrong ring

  • Published 26.01.17

When in the middle of a film you suddenly realise you are rooting more for the cop than the don, you know this dhanda is not quite going well. Sexy beard, colourful Pathani suits, retro frames enhancing his kohl-bordered eyes, choicest one-liners, slo-mo action, song-and-dance romance, this cool cat’s got everything going for him and yet you want that thin-as-a-stick police officer with the most boring sweater collection in movie history to nab his man.

Raees is not exactly what the Bolly doctor ordered. When the industry — and the popular movie taste — is moving away from loud masala potboilers to socially-relevant new-age films, this is again a throwback to the Hindi cinema of the 1970s. The rebel against the system, the mother with the wise advice, the romance with the girl next door, the double-crossing bosses, the emergence of the messiah — it’s like a lost Salim-Javed film. 

The innovation, if at all, is in the backdrop — Gujarat. Not Modi’s Gujarat, but the Gujarat of the 1980s and ’90s. Said to be inspired from the life of the notorious bootlegger-turned-mobster Abdul Latif, Raees is written (by director Rahul Dholakia, along with Harit Mehta, Niraj Shukla and Ashish Vashi) like a biopic, tracing the rise and fall of its titular hero. Right from the time he was a kid transporting alcohol bottles in school bags to the time he inadvertently got RDX smuggled into Mumbai.

By the time Raees becomes Shah Rukh Khan — unfortunately not the other way round — he wants to be his own boss and not just a mule for the reigning bootlegger Jairaj (Atul Kulkarni). Soon, he is calling the shots of the entire Fatehpura region, policemen and politicians eating out of his hands and drinking out of the bottles he sneaks in. Except this one man, Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who is a sharp and simple cop honest enough to stand in Raees’s way at every step.

The first half works — the backstory, despite the whiff of melodrama, is redeemed by the child actors, the appearance scenes of both Shah Rukh and Nawaz are electric and Sunny Leone’s Laila main Laila intercut with Raees gunning down his adversaries is the big high. 

The second half and the makers decide to justify the crimes by making a Robin Hood out of a man who had till then got into it just for fun and maybe the money. Majmudar is conveniently transferred around, so that the confrontation can be delayed till the climax. And not to forget, there are totally unnecessary songs — to mark every stage of the Raees romance with Mohsina (Mahira Khan, fresh) peppering the already lethargic narrative.

Since the film is put together by the boys — Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani — who made Don cool again, Raees too has a designer feel about it, which is not necessarily the best recipe for a film set in a small town middle-class milieu. Also, you can barely hear the voice of Dholakia the director that rung so true in Parzania.

The best thing about Shah Rukh in Raees is his look. The performance is inconsistent, intense and power-packed at times, but often slipping out of character into his usual mix of stock mannerisms. There also seems to be a lack of clarity on how loud or subtle the performance needs to be tuned for a larger-than-life-yet-very-real character like Raees.

And that’s why when Nawaz comes in without even an extra raise of the brow, he just seems in a different league altogether. In just a handful of scenes, most of them with SRK, he runs away with the film. By doing nothing he does so much more and creates a cop so distinctly different from Khan in Kahaani.

Mohanan, who also shot Don, frames those glorious close-ups of Shah Rukh. Ram Sampath’s background score works better than his songs, which only slow down proceedings. Editor Deepa Bhatia makes the action set-pieces come alive, though.

With Salman doing a Sultan and Aamir taking it a notch higher with Dangal, Shah Rukh is still wrestling in the wrong ring. Films like Raees are going to get that initial euphoria at the box office, but once that frenzy dies down, there is really nothing to bring them back. Much like Raees himself.

Pratim D. Gupta
Is SRK the third Khan after Aamir and Salman? Tell t2@abp.in