By flmonalyst Sushil Kumar
Rahul Dholakia’s film Raees has a real déjà vu as well as a realistic feel and is out and out formula film, full of formulas formulated that would find favour and fetch fame and financial fortune at the ‘Box Office’. Its non linear story line has several strands usually seen in successful cinema: poverty stricken single parent child/adolescent’s existential ‘entrapments’ in beginning and end of story of life (both literally and figuratively); inevitable progression into one way ride into real life crime street; role assumption of Mafiosi don as robinhood reincarnate to deliver justice to poor and helpless; octopussian oppressive operations of corrupt State’s administrative apparatus further fostering protagonist’s descending into deeper abyss; natural , gradual gravitation into battlefield of electoral politics with all machinations and manipulations thrown in; administrative-politico nexus strengthening the sprawling empire and bestowing don with larger than real life stature threatening the established order itself and leading to inevitable expected extermination at the end.
One has seen all these strands in several films before but basic difference being that another superstar reprises and relives that role on screen adding freshness and ensuring footfalls at theatres. Most films repackage and rehash the famed formulas anyway, so the film can’t be faulted on this ground alone.
Film is an interesting and laudable attempt to amalgamate two contradictory aspects of filmmaking- inspiration from real life characters and realistic depiction in terms of realistic ambience created by art décor and some location shooting on one hand and fusing it with the unreality , necessitated by Box Office system , of a superstar straddling as superhero and a superman with all guns blazing and going down with all guns blazing in all glory and greatness. Similar films- of this genre have been Shootout at Lokhandwaala, Shootout at Wadala,Company,Dayawan,Godmother,Once upon a time in Mumbai and its sequel, Satya etc.
As stated, Raees is really a déjà vu ,and a decadal reminder to succeeding generation ,of a time tested plot of a Mafioso don doing dastardly deeds as well as donning Robinhood persona in his den of crime. Coppola’s Godfather was a perfect specimen of such a script and storyline and has spawned endless simulations since its release in seventies .As usual, Bollywood immediately imitated this formula in Feroz Khan’s Dharamatma ( repeated in Aatank Hi Aatank and Gangs of Wasseypur).Films like Ganga Jamuna,Mujhe Deeno Do, Mother India did contain this combination of crime and Robinhood persona. The real life stories of Haji Mastaan and Vardarajan Mudaliar spawned several celluloid versions including Dayavan ( brilliant Nayakan in Tamil version) and Once Upon a Time in Mumbai (and its sequel). Other films like Sarkar depicted Don’s crime kingdoms creating cash to run and rule respective fiefdoms based on patronage and political nexus. Godmother alluded to real life storyline of crime and politics in Gujarat and had a realistic feel. Other films having some similarities include Agneepath , Parinda,Satya, Vaastav etc.
Godfather like storylines unfailingly appeal to all audiences across all cultures and countries. Reason ? Virtually every person either views or experiences the injustices of the system and wants to correct the wrongs/ injustice and obtain/deliver instant justice and when unable to do so in real life , cinematic portrayal of similar situation helps easy viewer’s identification with heroic deeds – in a wish fulfillment way. No wonder Charles Bronson’s Deathwish and Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry series depicting vigilante justice were super hits ( this week release Kaabil has similar appeal). Moreover, everyone in real life experiences some systemic disadvantage or the other and lives with feeling of finding payback time ,specially in an alternate system created in mental matrix first and seeing its projection on screen and undergoing some sort of vicarious catharsis , creating some comfort. In reality, a person’s crossing moral or legal line creating discomfort and ubiquitous wish fulfillment to come back , return or retrace steps has a universal appeal. No wonder depiction of a person’s efforts at such stories of redemption have universal appeal , Numerous films have heroes trying to make amends and mend their ways.
The film’s Gujarat flavour is unmistakable specially of step wells, kite flying, arid wastelands,rath yatra, colour costumes, dances but its allusions of thriving economy stirred by prohibition, crime and encounters will surely cause discomfiture to the establishment. Gujaratis would feel immediate identification as film has their socio-cultural cum linguistic flavour . Besides film’s set,costume,art,costume designers have done a wonderful to create a correct cultural context of story. Plus,allusion to real life incidents (based on Abdul Latif’s life) will appeal to minority groups at bottom end due to identification with perceived indifference of the system at grass roots level and limited legal existential choices available for living.
Shahrukh Khan’s star appeal will anyway ensure footfalls despite familiar storylines much like what happened with Rajnikant’s Kabali last year.
Film’s art direction specially sets designs and setting , showing profusion of bright colours , be it clothing or interiors reflects reality of Gujarat’s love of colours. The old style Indo Islamic building designs( mirroring mohallas),objects ( jhoolas/jaalis/jharokhas),costumes’ textures( zardozi or cotton handiwork on whites) specially those worn by hero and heroines give a genuine reality feel ; this depiction of realistic feel ( much like Bhansali’s HDDCS and GKRLRL) is praiseworthy and is perhaps due to complete artistic freedom accorded in this aspect , unlike necessity of box office requirements in story line and songs ( has item number of Sunny Leone).This aspect of filmcraft is truly classy and is in keeping with high standards.
Weakness wise , the film unwisely seeks to incorporate far too many strands and subplots to buttress the superhuman efforts of a superhero. Consider some – protagonist’s progression portrays poverty, prohibition, police patronage , cash collection , crime, internecine gangland wars with spillover gore, gang’s spheres of influences, police- bureaucrat-politician’s powerful nexus to pulverize people ‘s life, growing evil empire spawned from real estate business laying golden eggs , unified approach of political parties and personalities to milk the State, election route to legitimize the illegal loot, fake or real encounter, communal riots, robinhood like persona and conduct and lo and behold corruption cutting across all these aspects. And I still haven’t lost the count.Director indeed has taken an almost impossible attempt to fuse them into a linear narrative causing film to drag and create monotony at times.
Film’s sagging, lagging and dragging storyline is sought to be spruced up by signature tune and numbing of thinking powers by sound bombardment of extremely loud music. It’s odd to observe how films like Ok Jaanu and Raees are rehashing/ modernizing famous songs like Laila o Laila and Humma with new notes,. Whatever happened to creativity of new notes and seven ‘surs’ ? It seems the music makers are almost matching the film’ storyline – of re using elements of numerous films made earlier of this genre!
The film definitely drags specially after interval with intervening of new sub plots and film has several slow mo(tion) shots of guns blazing , indiscriminate shooting and slicing. The use of shotguns is surely screen adaptation of numerous Hollywood films including slo mo spraying, sprinkling , spluttering of blood much like in Kill Bill series of Tarantino .
Film has several shot replicas of Parkour sport , effectively used earlier in Casino Royale, Mission Impossible and Bourne Identity series; this was earlier used in Sultan and Ek Tha Tiger. The prolonged fight and stunt scenes starting from Mumbai meat market, chasing assassin through rooftops, street brawls, revenge killing of Mumbai don which do take time but is in keeping with meeting demands of masses but make film unnecessarily lengthy.
The dialogues are well written and several one liners are well mouthed by Shah Rukh and Siddiqui specially in their repartee and some have potential to become common street lingo a la Deewar and Sholay. Acting by Nawazuddin is confident and believable specially the scenes shot in police buildings with the chai in glass. Shahrukh Khan, the superstar is visible in every frame and step. The new heroine is well – new.
(The author is a senior IAS officer)