“Aa rahan hoon main…”
SKR indirectly talked about his charisma and onscreen presence as a powerful character, the features which were absent AKA negligible in those films he released in last five years. Since the release of Ra.One in 2011, except dear Zindagi, the critical audience was dying to the see same old SRK charisma on screen backed by a powerful storytelling. Raees as a film loosely based on the life and times of Abdul Latif, almost delivered that, almost.
The release of this film faced one controversy after the other. Initially scheduled in 2016, the release of this film had been delayed by a year. Just like the old saying ‘wrong decision at the wrong time‘, 2016 Uri attacks increased tension between India and Pakistan. Subsequently, every major right wing organization, especially MNS opposed the release of the film due to the involvement of Pakistan national actress Mahira Khan in the lead role. If only… had they released earlier in 2016… Shah Rukh Khan as one of the producers of the film met Raj Thackeray and assured him that Mahira Khan won’t be involved in the film’s promotion, to her disappointment. Another controversy was related to the clash with Hrithik Roshan starer thriller Kaabil, where the Roshans expressed their disappointment due to the lack of cooperation from the film’s producers to avoid the same. Well, as a film, Kaabil was better received by the audience, especially the right wing who called Raees “anti-national” for glorifying a Muslim gangster. Raees did not work up to the expectations, both critically and commercially but this was a good view indeed.
Raees Alam (Shah Rukh Khan) grew up in Gujarat, which is officially known as a dry state. Raees is one of the most notorious gangsters-cum businessmen who sold alcohol illegally under the noses of both the police and politicians. Against the wishes of his mentor (Atul Kulkarni) who hailed his guts, which is similar to a gangster, and mind of a businessman, an ambitious Raees starts his own business. Eventually, he conquers Gujarat and becomes a massive icon. He marries Aasiya (Mahira Khan) a bubbly young woman. Things were going in his favor until police officer Jaideep Majumdar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) enters his life. Majumdar is the equal and opposite of Raees. He is slick, intelligent and above all, non-corrupt. When corrupt officials persuade him to step down, Majumdar defiantly asks for their words in writing, even if it gets him transferred. The story then follows the cat and mouse between as well as the Raees’s deal with his counterparts.
I’d be lying if I say that I didn’t like the film. Raees is not perfect as such but at the same time, the amount of time and effort took by the crew is well visible in the film. The film is artistic where every shot tries to show you the life of Gujarati people and how Raees changed with his fearlessness in the field of illegal business. Raees has the best performance of SRK if you take all the films from 2011 to account. He plays a flawed yet admirable character. Everything Raees does is wrong in terms of ethics and morality. Selling alcohol and killing his counterparts in cold blood. His ego itself had cost him a lot. However, Raees as a person is good at heart. He wants to live a normal family and help as many as he could in his community. During difficult times, he provided them food and water. He gave employment opportunities and empowered women by motivating them and complying their requests to work. He always repays his debts no matter how hard it is for him in life. People in his community admired yet his corrupt nature and the way he harmed the system in Gujarat drove Majumdar against him. The eye makeup gave him a sturdy appearance and he impressed with his eyes. His performance has less overacting and more passion. In that sense, Welcome back SRK.
However, the person who stole the show is Nawazuddin Siddiqui. With his tough looks, slick nature, dry sense of humor and strong dialogue delivery, he made every shot of his impressive. The introduction scene itself is peculiar where he arrests everyone in a party ending with the sentence “everyone, have a safe jail yatra“. He challenging every corrupt official who stands between him and Raees saying ‘you can transfer me to any place in this country but I won’t leave Raees alone‘. The combination scenes between him and SRK worked well in that sense. Mahira Khan stuck to her standard with her lively face. There is nothing much to say about intersectional feminist analysis and depiction of women, as the film has every major element in a typical phallocentric gangster film. Poor people get the essentials and are valued before eyes of humanity but their lives are in the hands of a rich person and they are helpless before lathi. Raees’s role as a Muslim spoke against terrorism and about resorting to peace. But as a gangster, it makes him flatter. Women are reduced to side characters, love interests, eye candies, and motivating figures. Raees’s biggest motivator is his mother who taught him that “koi dhandha chota nahin hota, aur dhande se bada koi dharm nahin hota” (no business is small and there no religion bigger than business in itself) and it fuels him to do something illegal.
Mahira Khan is there, as the pretty face who loves him, for a couple of romantic scenes, to dance with him, and as his backbone. Individually, Aasiya has no viewpoint of her own. She is just there for Raees. Another cliche the film used is item number with a woman simply showing off her navel and big breasts in a large crowd of cheering men. That’s one tradition that hasn’t changed and is used to attract the male audience. The way in which item number play a role in upholding rape culture is still under debate but Sunny Leone’s excitement when she was offered the same is worth mentioning. When Sunny Leone cheerfully announced her involvement in Raees for a second there I thought she might be playing an important character in Raees’s circle of allies and counterparts. I wish they gave her a better and more substantial role as opposed to giving a typical item number. Why not? Why should her status as a former porn star deny her the opportunity to do characters that do not talk about her looks or sex appeal?
The songs and background score were good but then the film uses noisy music during unnecessary circumstances, like how it is seen in the ’90s. Why would they still do that? The biggest problem with Raees is the ending. Raees is shown as an intelligent badass and has the upper hand in every major scene. Majumdar as a cop has integrity. But the ending is too disappointing in that sense. It was indeed sad to see Raees be reduced in that regard and why would Majumdar do that as a cop as opposed to sticking to the law despite knowing Raees’s corrupt nature. The ending reminded me of typical ’90s movie where they have no “choice” or make a hard decision.
Despite all the flaws, Raees is a good one time watch. You might find the film more appealing if you like the genre and more action oriented scenes.
Featured image: Raees official poster, excel entertainment, red chilies