Tejas Nair | January 27, 2017
Three years after the cataclysmic riots in the Indian state of Gujarat of which only the spectators are alive today, Rahul Dholakia charmed us with his hard-hitting drama Parzania (2005). He talked about the hardship of Muslims fighting for their survival then. More than a decade later, his sloppy drama takes you into another world of crime in the same state, this time criticized for its alcohol prohibition.
Set in the prohibition era of Gujarat (officially since 1960), the story is set in the early 80s where a small schoolboy named Raees Alam helps local bootleggers by signaling them about the arrival of the police. Tired of apprehensions, although always inconsequential, Raees decides to go work for Vijayraj (Atul Agnihotri) who only deals in English liquor. A decade and a half later, Raees (Shah Rukh Khan) becomes his master’s right-hand guy to the extent where he decides to start his own business. He does, much to Vijayraj’s bitterness, and succeeds tremendously. Around the same time, a policeman named Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is transferred to Alam’s town, and things get messy for everyone.
Ammi jaan kehti thi, koi dhanda chota ya bada nahi hota..aur dhande se bada koi dharam nahi hota..ab yehi mera kalma hai aur yehi mera mazhab.
Raees lives and works by the slushy watchword that was taught to him by his mother about how no type of work is lowly and that no religion is above work. Raees makes it a point that he slurs it at least a dozen times throughout his life (the movie, too), not even sparing the policemen who appear to be doing their job much more fervently than similar Hindi films hesitate to manifest. The wordy phrase becomes his life motto as he begins his own journey as the master bootlegger in the whole of state. There is no escape from the fact that everything laid out by the writers here has a touch of artificiality, and we know better than consuming artificial alcohol, don’t we? Raees is frequently teased with the name “battery” by almost everyone he meets, forcing me to use the word “contrived” at least once in this review.
Based on the extraordinary story of Gujarati gangster Abdul Latif, Raees is nowhere near the charismatic chronicle of the man which led to the current state of illegal alcohol flow in the state. Director Dholakia evidently aspires too much of his rags-to-riches story making himself believe that its sheer rawness would appeal its audience who are thirsty of something more than water. However, it has nothing new to offer other than the Mahira Khan’s Bollywood debut.
The action sequences, as is customary in Bollywood, defy gravity. Stunts are shown between short intervals, and none of them are leading enough to make the broth an enjoyable affair. Over-dramatic slosh coupled with itsy-bitsy romance, a dash of revenge, and a puerile plotline – the first big Bollywood film of the year 2017 is a letdown. There is also this slight hint of criticism for the prohibition in the film’s undertone which may be easy to overlook. As a result, it is impossible to detect if it was intentional or forced. (Depends on the makers’ political orientation.)
Shah Rukh Khan is in good form, although nothing can beat his performance in Maneesh Sharma’s Fan (2016) in recent times. His portrayal as the undedicated yet intelligent miscreant here is decent, enough to impress his servile fans who are even ready to give their life for him (see Vadodara station mishap). The dialogues that he munches out definitely give more power to the film, but when perceived as a single, whole piece, Khan’s solo show becomes inadequate. His character is filled with sugary syrup ready to dissolve in its viewers’ diabetic mouth. Even the stunts look messy, despite the cranking cameras doing their best to hold up.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the real star as I found myself, among others, rooting for him as he goes against Raees regardless of the attacks aimed at him from all possible directions. Last year, he was criticized for his portrayal as a deplorable school teacher in Shlok Sharma’s Haramkhor (2017) and his inability to drive a film singlehandedly, and here he confirms that the latter part is very much true. Just because Shah Rukh takes care of the rest, Nawazuddin influences his audience and makes them love him for what he does. While the lead actor is the anti-hero, the plucky policeman is the real hero here. Newcomer Mahira Khan does not have much to do, which should have been obvious. Supporting actors Atul Agnihotri and Zeeshan Ayyub are better. All in all, if you are capable of appreciating the performances, then Raees will be more palpable.
Overall, director Dholakia’s latest feature is an ambitious film that is written poorly but shot well, executed averagely but has good performances, and ultimately looks like aged Scotch but tastes like that liquor which was produced in the go-down of the local bootlegger whom Raees worked for in the beginning. Raw, substandard, and sickeningly acerbic.
BOTTOM LINE: Rahul Dholakia’s Shah Rukh Khan-starrer “Raees” is a very purposeful film, with the aim being to establish the story of an established historic character at a time when prohibition of all types seems to be rampant in the country. The only problem is that the story seems to be a “history-cheater”. Wait for TV premiere if you are not a fan, just enjoy our movie review for now.
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