I popped over to my local picture hall in Silicon Valley to catch the first show of a new Bollywood film. This was director Rahul Dholakia’s Raees starring Shah Rukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Mahira Khan. All I knew about Raees is that it is a thriller loosely based on a underground criminal or a gangster from Gujarat, India. And thanks to the PR folks I got to see a trailer of Raaes and Laila Main Laila song featuring Sunny Leone and Khan. So, on the strength of those video clips I made-up my mind to go watch the film.
So, there I was in line to buy my ticket & for brief moment I flirted with the idea of watching the other new Bollywood film Kaabil. I dismissed the idea. I was astonished to see there were over 100 people in the 250 seater theater. Now, this is not a common sight. Generally there will be 10 t0 20 people for the first show of a new film. I noticed a senior gentleman sitting to the left of me and was pleasantly surprised to discover he was originally from Croatia. He was there to watch the film because Bollywood films have something for everyone and they are easy to access he said. And, my neighbor to the right was a hard-core Shah Rukh fan, who ended up sharing her packet of biscuits with me.
We all settled down to watch the film and were all lost in our own world for the next 142 minutes. Set in Gujarat the film is a potent mix of prohibition, criminals, good cop, bad cops and two-timing politicians. Raees sounds promising especially since it pits a large-hearted criminal bootlegger Raees (Khan) with a unique code of ethics against a good and conscientious cop Majumdar (Siddiqui). The film’s storyline is almost like the Angry Young Man genre films made famous by Amitabh Bachchan. But, that was just in the first blush like I discovered. Raees is a very different film.
Raees begins in a strong manner. We meet a young Raees, who has already got his feet wet in the bootlegging business. It comes as no surprise that Raees ends up with his own bootlegging business that quickly become hugely profitable. Raees gets married, becomes a father and life is good. So far so good. But good things have a way of fizzing out and that is what happens to Raees, who hits one speed bump after another. His fellow gangsters and politicians betray him. The only person who comes to his rescue is the good cop Majumdar, who warns him to stay out of trouble. And, of course Raees cannot stay out of trouble and that proves to be his Achilles heel and costs his life.
Dholakia does a great job of highlighting the nexus between criminals-politicians-cops and how they work together. He does a good job of fleshing out Raaes’s character, but fails to do that for Majumdar’s character.The first half of the picture held my attention, but the the second half of the film was riddled with “loopholes,” as my neighbor sitting to my right put it. And for good measure she added that the songs in the film were “time wasting.” I agree with her that not all the songs in the film worked. They should have stuck to the narrative and tied all the loose ends together. There were loopholes and continuity issues in the film. Take the fact that Raees wife is pregnant but she stays slim and svelte. And then suddenly lo and behold she gives birth to a kid that looks like a 6 month old child. Then there is the bit about Raees running for political office. We don’t know if he won or lost the election.
The film is worse than what I expected pointed my neighbor to the right and she is a strong fan of Shah Rukh Khan. It was not realistic pointed out the gentleman sitting to the left of me. But I quite like it he quickly added. What did I think of it? Raees had a lot of promise, but it fell short. Khan does a good job and it was refreshing to see him in this new avatar. Sadly, Siddiqui is under-utilized in the film. K U Mohanan’s cinematography needs a special mention. Gujarat is almost like a character in the film. I now want to visit and explore Gujarat. This is perhaps the first Bollywood film that is entirely set in Gujarat.
Raees is currently running in various theaters in the San Francisco Bay area.
Raaes stars Shah Rukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Mahira Khan. Music is by Ram Sampath.
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