Movie Review: Raees - Just Too Much Masala
By Ras Siddiqui
The long awaited Shah Rukh Khan starrer Raees was released on January 25th across the United States and this writer was lucky enough to catch it on its first day of release. For fans from the other side of the Wagah border, the big attraction in this film could also be the addition of Mahira Khan as the leading lady and Bollywood needs to be given full credit for bringing her on to the world stage via this film.
Previously Mahira had gained acclaim (along with Fawad Khan) through Pakistani television dramas, especially Humsafar, and it was great to see her in this movie in spite of the regional turbulence it seems to have created. But the film itself was a mixed bag, a throwback to the earlier days of Bollywood movies when Amitabh Bachchan played the angry young man who rose from poverty to shake up the corrupt establishment. Raees revisits that time with an updated twist, but nostalgia alone does not make it succeed.
We have as a story backdrop the prohibition of alcohol being loosely implemented in Gujarat where little Raees, a poor kid from a Shia Muslim background, is having difficulty seeing the writing on the blackboard in his school classroom. His bad eyesight can, and is, eventually corrected even when his mother (played by SheebaChaddha) does not have the money to fully pay for corrective glasses. But Raees, bad eyesight and all (who hates being called “Battery” for some odd reason), also turns out to be a streetwise entrepreneur, who along with his friend Sadiq moves up in the ranks of sellers of illegal alcoholic beverages using their boyhood charms as a cover. Symbolically and literally Raees grows up doing the “Matam” (including self-injury) and also ends up working for a local Seth (Atul Kulkarni) while making a name for himself in his neighborhood.
Years pass and now adults Raees (Shah Rukh Khan) and Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) have grown up selling booze, dodging the police and playing a little street cricket. Raees has also become ambitious and wants to start being his own boss, but there are three distractions, the first the Seth, the second a straight cop named Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who just does not give up, and the third Aasiya (Mahira Khan) who is Raees’s love interest. Bootlegging is his business but Raees is also a family man who cares about his community. And while his trade expansion takes him as far as Mumbai, it is there that he discovers too late that the business is also mixed up with something more sinister. The journey to the top is tough with many challenges, but keeping his mother’s words of wisdom about business (this is certainly a Gujarati family) with him always, Raees carries on in an environment of corrupt elected officials, bad bureaucrats and easily influenced police (except for Majmudar).
As far as the acting in this movie is concerned, it is top notch. Shah Rukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui are as convincing as they usually are in almost all the roles that they play. Mahira Khan has a softer role but carries herself well, especially as a relative newcomer to Bollywood in such a major role. The direction is fine and the music is not too shabby either. The problem area in Raees is that violence is overpowering in various places and plays the spoiler role even during Sunny Leone’s (Laila) item number where it is an unnecessary intrusion. The storyline in many parts is missing one necessary ingredient, namely imagination. It may have been alright for Indian movies to be less imaginative and predictable in the 1980’s and 1990’s by successfully selling violence as a substitute, but Bollywood has evolved a great deal since then.
This story was like a dish prepared by putting in too much masala, with the spice of violence overpowering the main course being cooked. It could have been handled more delicately while developing the main character of Raees, a man of many contradictions who is essentially a criminal involved in an illegal business, but one with a conscience. He is also one who wants to see his entire neighborhood community (both Hindu and Muslim) do better. He is for social uplift and is a strangely patriotic person in spite of his trade. And Majmudar’s character who starts off strong by doing everything by the book (in writing) expresses no anguish in the end by easily abandoning his long standing principles.
One can conclude here by stating that Raees is not necessarily a bad film. But it certainly could have been much better because it had all the necessary components of a winner. It is also quite possible that we have been getting spoiled recently by watching movies like Dear Zindagi and Dangal , both superior films. Viewing Raees after those two may have impacted this review.
(Movie Rating-2.5 stars out of 5)