(Note: This is not a review of the film but may contain spoilers)
For most of its running time, Shah Rukh Khan’s big release this week - Raees, gives you the same feeling you had when you watched Sr Bachchan’s massy entertainers of the 70s. Films like Deewar, Trishul and Don come to mind, where the lanky, brooding Bachchan strode onto the screen in bell bottoms with a cigarette hanging from his lips. The don with a heart of gold who had an infectious chutzpah about him.
SRK as the kohl-eyed Raees gives out the same vibe. Just as those Bachchan-starrers always began with a younger Amitabh getting a crash course in life lessons and transitioning into an adult Bachchan via a slow-motion running sequence, we have the chota Raees following the same routine. He learns early in life that, ‘Koi dhanda chota nahin hota...’ - and then morphs into adulthood with a slo-mo self-flagellation sequence on Muharram day. And this is where the imagery and nuance of Raees differs, it’s far more bloody, violent, brutal and edgy.
You won’t find the regular arms-outstretched lover boy SRK here (well he does romance Mahira in a couple of songs, but that’s about it). Out go the designer labels and trendy accessories that Shah Rukh usually dons, here the actor is intense, his voice raspy, his clothes everyday but the ‘cool’ quotient remains.
Those of you who’re positively tired of Shah Rukh’s predictable Peter Pan kinda romantic hero roles can watch him get into the thick of some raw and fierce bone crunching action sequences here.
Whether he’s pounding the bad guys with the leg of a goat in a butchers’ market, cracking their limbs with a rod or chasing them over roof-tops, SRK gives it his all and makes it believable. Just like when you saw a gangly Bachchan take on 10 goons and totally believed that he could beat them to pulp.
All of this is rounded off with some pretty memorable dialogues, almost like it’s straight out of a Salim-Javed script. When SRK looks at Nawaz in the eye and says, ‘Din aur raat logon ke liye hote hain... sheron ka zamana hota hai,’ expect a thunderous applause and whistles from the audience. His other punch line, ‘Dhanda mera dharm hai, par main dharm ka dhanda nahi karta,’ could well be today’s ‘Main aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin uthata.’
In all of this, Raees’ morals seem muddled. While his mother’s lines ‘Koi dhanda chota nahin hota...’ also had the condition that it shouldn’t harm anyone, Raees is technically a criminal - he smuggles liquor, pays off policemen and politicians, kills, maims, threatens and plays the cat and mouse game with an honest upright police officer.
The writing manipulates the audience to cheer the bootlegger / MLA / gangster / Robin Hood on. The fact that he isn’t communal, plays messiah to the people of his mohalla, is ready to go to any length to help his supporters is supposed to wash away all the grime of his anti-social activities. Much like we stood by Bachchan’s gangster avatars of the 70s and 80s -whether he played Vijay in Deewar or Shakti.
Unfortuately, just like Bollywood films were almost totally shot in studios back in the 70s, Raees also takes on that same visual tone. While we are now used to seeing films like Satya, Gangs of Wasseypur and in fact a majority of films shot in actual locations, this SRK starrer has a sterile, shot-in-Film-City kind of look to it. This largely takes away from the realistic and gritty look that the film needed. The soap opera-esque sets belong to the 70s and are best left there.
To complete the trip back to the 70s and 80s, the makers even threw in the remixed version of the 1980 chartbuster Laila O Laila and have also given a tribute to Big B’s movies by juxtaposing SRK against a scene of Bachchan in Kala Patthar.
By moving out of his comfort zone of romancing in the alps, Shah Rukh Khan is trying his best to embrace both the mutliplex and single screen audience with his outing in Raees, and for his spirited performance alone, one hopes that his dimaag and daring works with this one.