— SPOILERS, MILD or SPICY, depending on your mood–
In one of the pre-release interviews of Dholakia, I had heard that RAEES floated as an idea for an indie film with a few Gujarati US investors who just wanted to make a film on prohibition in Gujarat in the ‘80s. Somewhere, he said, the film grew ‘organically’ into a big-budgeted film with SRK and Sidhwani entering the playground. And I heard this interview after I saw the full-on masala trailer of RAEES. It sounded intriguing, as well as ominous. I didn’t like Dholakia’s PARZANIA for ideological reasons but loved his focused-take on the subject through the mental trauma of a couple. LAMHAA, where he climbed two rungs-up toward commercialism, was a very uneven film and one could feel Dholakia’s uncertainty when it came to welding serious issues with commercial Hindi cinema with stars in their own small galaxies like Basu and Dutt. And then, he decides to leap-frog to one of the Khan triumvirate, Shah Rukh Khan, with a movie that began as an indie! You know, this is no longer the SRK from Mani Kaul’s Dostoevsky’s adaptation of THE IDIOT or even IN WHICH ANNIE GIVES IT TO THOSE ONES: Heck, this is no longer even the SRK form PAHELI: He is someone trying to break desperately into some crore-club. It’s an irony but I don’t know whom to call Dostoevsky’s idiot; Dholakia for trusting that his vision of an indie would remain unfettered with SRK as the hero in his film, or, SRK, for thinking that he would manage to make Dholakia give an ‘engaging’—I am not talking of massy here—film within the commercial diktats of Hindi cinema.
It is pretty clear SRK was aiming high here with RAEES. Many have commented and written that the pre-interval parts of RAEES are its strongest, but based on what? I am assuming it is based on the ‘relatable commercial’ aspects. Yes, it’s true that the pre-interval parts are massier where the ‘baniyagiri’ and ‘miyangiri’ are more in display and played to the hilt. There are some great clap-worthy scenes like Raees asking the corrupt cop after bribing him to blow air into one of the punctured tires of truck carrying illicit liquor to his initial face-off scene in the station with Nawaz’s dogged-cop Majumdar. And then there are very poor scenes like Raees’ playing a cricketing shot right into the bedroom of his already-smitten lover Aysa [Mahira Khan] and thus trying to enter a Salman’s domain. It falls flat, and how! And an utterly idiotic scene where Raees carries illicit liquor by boats while Nawaz is standing right on the bridge with a cavalcade hunting for Raees’s merchandise in trucks! It is not the idea per se that I am talking of, it is the way it is depicted that is dis-connecting. [And I understand, it’s an era without mobile-phones, but still, for some-one as sharp as Nawaz, it’s definitely humiliating]. Except for the pre and after-‘Bakrid’ scenes where SRK and his compadre Zeeshan Ayub [what a waste of a talent in this film] sow the germ of ‘jugaad’ to grow a ‘dhanda’, and a carom-board scene where Nawaz takes SRK by the collar and devastatingly demonstrates the role of a police uniform, there’re hardly any scenes that are worth mentioning in terms of impact.
Where I differ from most of the reviews and comments is that the second half is not interesting; it’s actually more interesting, and thus messier: Messier, in the sense that it falls into that black-hole of elevating an ordinary boot-legger via the stardom of SRK and concurrently, trying to cut SRK the star to the size of an ordinary boot-legger. This might be just before or after the interval – correct me if I am wrong – but there’s a scene where he gets to know that his own mentor has paid contract-fee to get rid of him, and he sashays angrily into a liquor-party with a horrendous rendition of LAILA ME LAILA with Sunny trying to do with clothes the same thing she did without clothes—the fault is not hers; the fault is with the current trend in Hindi film industry and US – not the United States, we the people of India; if this is considered ‘promotion’ in life, so be it—and picks a huge hair-clip [or whatever the hell you call it]; stabs a stand-by, picks up his double-barreled gun and goes on blasting all the accomplices of his mentor, and finally, with tears in his eyes, his mentor, Atul Kulkarni’s Jayraj. He then comes back home with Jayraj’s blood splattered on his face and trying to wash it off in front of a bath-room sink. We see Jayraj’s blood in the mirror on his face; Raees sees Jayraj’s blood on his face; his wife doesn’t, she just wipes off the blood from his face? Symbolism? That a wife will wash off blood off her husband’s hard-worked ‘dhanda’ and that ‘gunaah’ might or might not occur or that she will stand-by and wipe-off the blood of her husband, irrespective of whatever it is or whomever it belongs to? Raees’s confession of ‘gunaah’ is confusing since he has already treaded the dangerous path of killing with the murder of Salim Contractor [whom he might have personally killed or got someone else to kill – we don’t know]. Then, in the second-half, there’s a scene where he literally incites a riot and supports killing innocent by-standers and burning houses co-laterally just because he wants to take-on a politician who supports liquor implicitly but wants pro-prohibition votes. When one has reached a point where one can do ‘anything’ for his ‘dhanda’ and doesn’t think twice before inciting a riot where women-folk come out and roll liquor-bottles, then, THEN , the question of ‘repenting’ later on that he was ‘innocent’ of bomb-blasts will surely be an open-ended one? The film fails in continuation of the character.
Raees has now reached a point where he goes to individually murder his opponents, incite carnage, and stand for elections, but the film still tries to show he has a heart. How? When there are riots, he arranges food for folks of his own constituency and blasts his subordinate when he says that he is running short of money to supply food to Hindu areas and one should concentrate only on Muslim areas. ‘धनदा करते वक़्त कभी सोचा था कौन हिंदू कौन मुसलमान? तो अब क्यों?’ And this is where the film starts succumbing to SRK’s star-dom. Out of desperation for money, Raees agrees to get gold smuggled from Doha for Musa [a convenient substitute for Dawood], which has, RDX, a new type of explosive in the ‘90s. Hidden within the gold-stack are the explosives which are used to rock 3-4 North Indian cities – not Bombay –and then Raees’s conscience realizes and he weeps and says to his wife, and I paraphrase, “To save a locality, I unwittingly destroyed a city.” And then there’s the ridiculous APNI DUNIYA project [which has a sign-board completely written in Hindi and NO Gujarati – a minor complaint which I observed] to project him as the messiah. When you compare this to Amitabh’s Vijay in AGNEEPATH taking Madhavi out to the slums after he gets insulted in a 5-star hotel [https://youtu.be/lxpzvnFudMw?list=PLMGlRsiub3t8jxxpSBB27R1mr3yZkmYIz&t=6778], one realizes the trajectory that is missing or isn’t properly conveyed. One has taken the gangster onto a path of egotism, where, one’s business is getting equivalent to one’s ego – then, there cannot be a point of return. But in RAEES, to re-establish SRK as the secular super-star, the director goes above and beyond with instances like the one I mentioned regarding the food-camps. And then, he is shown to be completely un-involved in the blasts. His mother’s ‘addition’ – JAB TAK KISI KI BURAI NA HO- is a really mis-timed act in the end just as a desperate attempt at the end to justify the director’s confusion/admission that it is NOT possible to make a main-stream movie where one can show that SRK, the super-star RAEES could actually have known about RDX. In the penultimate encounter sequence, SRK, not Raees, stands tall and tells Nawaz’s Majumdar to shoot him in the chest and that he wouldn’t die with bullets in his back [again, Agneepath –https://youtu.be/lxpzvnFudMw?list=PLMGlRsiub3t8jxxpSBB27R1mr3yZkmYIz&t=1725%5D. One could carry it off with maybe Bajpai in an indie film but with any major Hindi film star and with SRK mainly, given his controversies, one cannot, and while that may help keep SRK’s stardom intact, it weakens the film. In fact, in this film, it almost makes him the martyr! It’s the producers who should sue Abdul Latif’s son for trying to sue them because his sins – accused or true— are completely washed off in this film!!
Dholakia is in good form in parts of the film, while he struggles in major parts of the film. The scene where Raees takes on the anti-prohibition rally and where he throws one bottle in the air and smashes it with a fueled-bottle is a throw-back to that fantastic, born-and-bred-in-Delhi arrogance-filled dialogue from DIL SE to Manisha’s brothers, “I can still break a bloody bottle by throwing another bottle in the air, don’t mess with me!!” while he is getting beaten to the pulp! Nawaz’s control-room scene is finely displayed. And as I said before, the confrontational scenes between Raees and Majumdar are fantastic.
Nawaz is in terrific form as the bad-ass cop: And we know very well he can be a fantastic pain-in-the-butt cop with his portrayal in KAHAANI. Here, as gauged by me at least, he’s obviously cut-short because he is facing SRK’ stardom. But whatever is given to him, be it the carom-board scene, or the scenes facing-off hands-in-glove ministers, or the face-off sequences with SRK or the corrupt cops, he is a treat to watch. Mahira Khan has little to do other than play his wife, which could have been enacted by ANYBODY, who is a woman and who can act. No doubt she is a good actress and very camera-friendly, but there’s nothing in this film that DEMANDS her presence.
Coming to SRK, he is in fine control here. I have liked his performance after a long time. In DEAR ZINDAGI, it was extremely irritating to watch SRK the actor battling SRK the star, but weirdly, in a more commercial format, he is far better! His best scene and the one that shows his control over craft is the scene where Raees loses control over his business and seethes at his friend and his wife! Great act that is! In the next scene, however, Dholakia destroys the impact by making him weep and sleep on his wife’s lap; a totally un-necessary scene because the impact has already been strongly conveyed by SRK in the previous scene! However, let me enunciate this phrase with a qualifier – he still doesn’t seem very in-the-skin all-the-way with commercial scenes; as I have consumed here. He might be better off opting either the multiplex one or the complete commercial one and then gauge the results.
Finally, coming to that sludge-fest that’s going on in terms of ‘Muslimness’: Yes, SRK’S introduction scene is a self-flagellating ritualistic scene; the following action sequence is in a Bakrid meat-market. Beyond these 2 scenes, there’s hardly anything ‘Muslim-focused’ in terms of depiction of rituals or otherwise. The surroundings, of course, are of a Muslim locality with Hindus in tow. I did close my eyes for that action scene, but of course, opened up later and never closed it again except for a scene where he stabs a character with his glass handle! To me, those scenes represented nothing more than this in terms of uncomfort in the brilliant TAMAS –https://youtu.be/NqRuq3PiR64?t=2769 [Again, I am not saying these 2 scenes are similar; I am just saying, ideologically, the TAMAS scene was a more potent and disturbing scene with layers to it than the graphic representation in RAEES]. And I do know that TAMAS and RAEES are in totally different zones; unless one believes they aren’t.
Talking of ironies, I was wondering, why is it that SRK’s self-flagellating act is his introduction scene in a masala movie while that of Amitabh’s in COOLIE, where he plays a Muslim,that of Iqbal puffing and throwing away a beedi and speeding toward a train compartment to carry folks’ luggages? After all, DHANDE SE BADA KOI DHARM NAHI HOTA…AUR KOI BHI DHANDA CHOTA NAHIN HOTA…