Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Mohd Zeeshan Ayub, Mahira Khan, Narendra Jha, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Atul Kulkarni, Sheeba Chaddha
Director: Rahul Dholakia
Take the mother fixation out of ‘Deewar’ and replace the conscientious ‘cop’ brother/adversary with an unrelated one and you will get ‘Raees.’ Rahul Dholakia’s much awaited take on notorious underworld kingpin from Gujarat, Abdul Lateef’s life story, gets the 70’s synthetic pop treatment with plenty of artificial gloss and style but no ‘real’ content. Even Milan Luthria’s ‘Once Upon a time in Mumbai’ a similar story, had more to offer than mere pretentions to grandeur. The controversy regarding Pakistani artist Mahira Khan’s inclusion may have been ‘bought’ down but the on-running media campaign’s collateral damage does not allow for an altogether smooth run.
The film itself aims for a Sanjay Leela Bhansali visual emphasis without a grounding with real time grit. So Raees (Shah Rukh Khan) given to mouthing dialogues that gets the standard salutations from the fan audience, is a larger than life character born in the ghettos of Gujarat and surviving on bootlegging for a earnest meal. His single mother (Sheeba Chaddha) is his inspiration for his life of crime. She is the one who tells him that there’s no shame in any job as long as it does not harm anyone. When the young, brash and brave kid gets into the business of selling illicit liquor, he is already going against his mother’s commandment.
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But the film overlooks that aberration quite conveniently and tries to serve larger than slice-of-life sullies in the bargain. The adult Raees falls in love with Aisa (Mahira Khan) and decides to go it on his own. But the man (Atul Kulkarni) who saw potential in him and gave him his first break, is not amused. Raees is supposed to be knowledgeable about the biz but he does not know that he would need a lot of money to get his first independent consignment. So in a rather sloppy fashion the script gets him to exchange his bike for a car which is then traded in for a truckload of goats and transported to Mumbai. He arrives at a market and hopes to gain a galla for his saleable goods but the marketers are not encouraging. A fight ensues, Raees wins the battle and Moosa (Narendra Jha) becomes his godfather.
The film is replete with such logical loopholes that even the obviously botoxed, glossy overtures can’t quite cover-up. Enter Inspector Majbudar (Nawazuddin), his righteous adversary and you are expecting some fireworks- but the intrepid face-offs between the two are not exactly fire and brimstone variety.
Dholakia’s Raees borrows the Robin Hood metric for lending the lead character some compassion for the poor. But it’s not something that comes across as organic or believable. The unfettered violence in the introductory sequence itself puts paid to any compassion for the anti-hero. So every attempt to make him look empathetic fails.
Nawazuddin’s smartly calibrated casualness is a good enough foil for Shah Rukh Khan’s cultivated and stylized brashness bordering on agro. SRK lends razor sharp intensity to his part and even pays homage to Amitabh Bachchan from ‘Kaala Pathar’ but it doesn’t quite hit the bull’s eye. It’s merely a reel-time factitious one. The sets are obvious, the action is not exactly elevating and neither are the cat and mouse games between the cops and criminals, all that believable.
The songs are passable – not quite memorable. Ram Sampath’s music is forgettable. Mahira Khan has presence and poise in her favour. The talented Zeeshan Ayub has been wasted in a thankless role that never comes good. Even the personable Narendra Jha has little to do (even though his role is modelled on Dawood). Director Rahul Dholakia, better known for his gritty, realistic film ‘Parzania,’ appears to have crossed the line -into bodacious larger-than-life masala film territory and that’s a real pity!