May contain a pun-based spoiler.
Rahul Dholakia’s fifth feature film is his most commercial project till date. Set in the city of Fatehpura in Gujarat in the 80s and 90s, it is a Shah Rukh Khan vehicle all the way, though it does have other strong performances.
Raees works for a bootlegger called Jairaj since childhood. His work involves delivering maal to Jairaj’s clients. The man with the spectacles (Battery nahi bolneka!) however, has bigger dreams. He wishes to run a business and not work for someone. After being snubbed and humiliated by his employer, he tries his luck in Bombay where, after a kickass (literally) action scene, he meets a man called Musa, who helps him out financially. Soon, Raees is one of the bossmen behind the illicit liquor business in Fatehpura, challenging his own mentor and a police officer, Jaidev Ambalal Majmudar, a man who is used to getting transferred around and requesting orders in writing. Raees’ contacts make sure that Majumdar, for all his bravado and one-liners, is unable to touch him. Aided by his chaddi buddy Sadiq and wife Aasiya, Raees works to expand his reach. He becomes a Robinhood-like figure for the people of his mohalla (which Bollywood lovable baddie doesn’t?), doing every possible thing for them. But as they say, you don’t reach the top without ruffling a few feathers and Raees ends up biting off more than he can chew. Betrayed and chucked aside by the people he trusted, he puts up a fight to the finish, a fight in which he destroys everyone who has messed with him. At the chequered flag, he is encountered by his nemesis Majmudar, making for an engaging finish.
Rahul Dholakia’s direction, in relation to the screenplay, works very well. Just as he was unabashed about making a different film with Parzania, here he is frank about the commercial film he is making. Fortunately, the writing is not all brawn (like most action films in Bollywood). It’s not exactly Neeraj Pandey’s Baby either. Fortunately, the writing team of Harit Mehta, Ashish Vashi, Niraj Shukla, and Dholakia himself restrict the traditional Bollywood romance to no more than ten-fifteen minutes (just as well). Despite its indulgences, the screenplay has some applause-worthy one-liners and scenes. The climax is awesome and makes up for the slight predictability of the film earlier. While Ram Sampath’s music is not all that great, his background score is edgy and well-placed. Donald Reagen (I know, right!) and Anita Rajgopalan Lata do their bit (production design) with a lot of evident effort, since it’s Filmcity where a lot of the sets are rigged. They make it Gujarati enough but fortunately don’t go overboard. K. Ravi Varma’s action is earthy yet stylistic. One very remarkable fight scene is set in a kasaikhaana and choreographed beautifully. The action has its unbelievable bits, but not as much as a token Hindi film. Deepa Bhatia’s editing is crisp in some places and clumsy in others. K.U. Mohanan’s cinematography is the pick of the technical work in the film. It is excellent. The action is well-shot (faster frame rates work well here) and the cameras placed intelligently. The lighting is just as good and the colouring apt. The scenes between Raees and Majmudar are the best.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub delivers a fine performance as Sadiq, though he probably got less screen time than he deserved and an underwritten character. Kudos to him for holding his own in the clinical scenes. Mahirah Khan is absolutely ordinary. The fact that she looks beautiful takes away everything from her performance, whose quality makes you feel like she’s just eye candy in the film. Veterans like Sheeba Chaddha, Narendra Jha, Pramod Pathak and Atul Kulkarni are cast well and deliver the goods. Nawazuddin Siddique is in top form with his dialogues and performance. He gets a well-written character and pulls it off with great energy. Surma in his eyes, glasses over them and a piercing gaze in them, Shah Rukh Khan’s eyes do the talking most of the time. He pulls off a character like he never has. Granted that he’s played the anguished psychopathic lover in Darr and the rather Anglicised pro-antagonist in the Don films but this is a role he has never inhabited before. He makes it his own, his lines, his walk, his eyes…everything. Finally, after two deadly films in Happy New Year and Dilwale, he came into his own in Fan, carried that form into Dear Zindagi, and made Raees his film, a tough job to do with actors like Siddique, Jha, Zeeshan and Kulkarni around. He yet again proves his acting prowess and strengthens the argument that if there are two men in Hindi cinema who won’t make a drudgery of an interesting concept (like Aamir did in PK), it’s Akshay Kumar and him.
The film has its problems, Mahirah being the biggest one. The pacing is all off, the first two acts are only an elongated set-up for the third and final act, making the film a little dull. The editing is a miss too and the story is predictable in places. And it is, at the end of the day, a Bollywoodised version of Robin Hood. Or is it? It would be worth stepping into a darkened room with tons of people and a massive screen to find out.
Photo(s): Internet Movie Database
VARUN BHAKAY’S WRITER’S BLOCK
25th January, 2017