By Troy Ribeiro
Film: “Raees”; Director: Rahul Dholakia; Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Mahira Khan, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Atul Kulkarni, Narendra Jha, Sheeba Chaddha, Sunny Leone; Rating: ***
“Raees” is a typical Bollywood blockbuster designed like films of the early 1980s, with over-the-top yet thrilling action, drama and a tinge of romance. It is a biography of a disciplined businessman, albeit with ragged edges.
Set in the late 80s and early 90s and inspired from true events, Raees is a fictionalized story of the rise and fall of a bootlegger-turned-gangster,in the alcohol prohibited state of Gujarat.
Told entirely from within the closed underbelly of Fatehpur in Gujarat, the script attributed to four writers does a brilliant conjuring act of inviting us into the
life of Raees (Shah Rukh Khan) who at a very early stage in life is inspired by his mother, a ragpicker who quotes, “Koi dhanda chota ya bada nahin hota hai, aur koi dharam dhanda se badkar nahin hai.” which literally means, no occupation is small and no religion is bigger than one’s business.
So with this as his mantra and philosophy he sets out in the world on his own terms.
He starts off small by working for Jairaj Seth (Atul Kulkarni) who indulges in branded liquor. Jairaj appoints “Raees” because he has, “baniya ka dimaag aur miyabhai ka daring,” which means he is shrewd like a shopkeeper and daring like a Muslim. How Raees gradually grows into a formidable figure in society, forms the crux of the tale.
With complex scenes, the plot offers nothing that you have not seen before. Narrated in a linear manner, the script is taut and the narrative moves at a rapid pace. The first half is promising and the second half which begins with Inspector Majumdar’s point of view holds your attention with equal gusto, but unfortunately, the climax tilts into a predictable zone of bad things happen to bad people, making the film a cliched fare.
The film is largely elevated by Shah Rukh Khan’s performance and a few dramatic dialogues that are used to churn the emotions.
Shah Rukh essays the eponymous character with sincerity and aplomb. He emerges as a sympathetic and even admirable character and he does a very good job of portraying a brutal character albeit with soft tones in equal measure.
Nawazuddin Siddique as the incorruptible IPS officer, Jaideep Majumdar is equally competent. His cat-and-mouse chase with Raees, punctuated with vibrant dialogues often elicit a chuckle. Together they keep you hooked.
Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub as Sadiq — Raees’ friend and partner in crime — is effortless and affable. Unfortunately, though he has his moments of onscreen glory, he does not rise from being Raees’ lackey.
Mahira Khan as Raees’s wife Mohsina is wasted in the film. Her character is perfunctorily included to add the romance angle and her onscreen chemistry with Shah Rukh lacks zing.
The rest of the supporting cast are sincere.
The action sequences are well choreographed, brutally raw and a bit far-fetched, making the act unrealistic especially the long chase and fisticuffs with Muharram celebrations in the backdrop.
The songs, “Dil ka patang, udi udi jaiyae,” “Oh Zaleema,” and “Laila Main Laila” are well choreographed and seamlessly mesh into the narrative. But the quick edits mar the viewing experience.
With excellent production values, the era is realistically created. But there are certain scenes which are marred by the director’s inability to control his actors from taking “star liberties”. Evident among them are the few scenes where Shah Rukh Khan is seen without his spectacles.
Overall, “Raees” is a well made film that would appeal to the masses.