Have you heard of the barebottoms? They’re shoes without soles. These shoes are synonymous to a character named Raees Khan - who looks the part, but again, lacks a soul.
The movie, Raees, begins with a young titular character running errands for a local bootlegger in Gujarat. While he’s endearing as a school-goer and otherwise, he loses sincerity immensely to the screenplay, proportionally as he grows in age. The character’s life and decisions rest on one teaching given by his mother: “Koi bhi dhanda chhota nahi hota, aur dhande se bada koi dharm nahi hota”. While on paper, the line looks like it has weight to develop a fan-following as did the Abhishek Bacchan starrer, Guru; on delivery, it appears like a stillborn. In an industry where “in kutton ke saamne mat naachna” has maintained its cult status after half a century, it’s interesting to debate whether Raees lost its charm in execution (where Shah Rukh Khan’s acting was on point) or in writing (when Jaadu’s alien-voiced ‘Om-Om-Om-Om’ appears as a more memorable line, repetition and alliteration not-withstanding).
The first half shows the young entrepreneurial boy setting up a bootlegging business in competition to his godfather. His rise makes you feel for him. You cheer for him when you see him thrash goons with a goat’s head when he tries to set up a small meat selling stall during Eid. It makes you want to give up your 9-to-5 at Infosys and wishing that much like Raees’ employer, Narayan Murthy had thrown his Titan (because he doesn’t wear Rolex despite being able to afford it) at your face, that would’ve triggered you to walk out of that beautiful Mysore campus and pursue your start-up dream. However, as the gangster’s empire grows in size, so do the plot-holes.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Officer Majmudar is a delight on screen, and makes up for all the charm that we’re otherwise used to seeing SRK exude, albeit off-screen. He is an honest police officer who despite humbly accepting transfer orders, is bent on obtaining evidence against Raees Khan’s misdeeds. When he blocks a road to nab one of the protagonist’s trucks, Raees Khan shows his ‘baniye ka dimaag’ and ‘miyan bhai ki daring’ by taking another route into the state. Woot! Further, when the police blocks all roads, the ‘baniye ka dimaag-miyan bhai ki daring’ comes up with the masterplan to use the waterways to get liquor in. Double Woot! While Raees’ trucks evade the barricades on each occasion, a sense of dismay sets in not because you realize the lack of infrastructure with the Indian police to close all possible modes of entry, but because the movie ridiculously insults a baniya’s dimaag and a miyan bhai’s daring by expecting you to celebrate the move as if it were worthy of an Olympic gold, or okay, to be realistic, the logistics version of a Spelling Bee trophy.
During the second half, Raees Khan uses all his funds to contest elections for the Legislative Assembly so as to strengthen his political ground for business sustenance, and then spends his savings in working capital for building a residential colony for his vote-bank. The character loses sincerity when it’s apparent how his decisions are business related, but he expects the audience to believe, with tears in his eyes on one occasion, that it’s all for the benefit of his community. One would defend it in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility – business while looking after the needs of the community. However, the sense of Robinhoodness that awakens in our gangster appears more like a sham trust-deed to avail tax benefits than sincere CSR spending of up to two percent of your net profit1 – consequently, you fail to feel for the character anymore.
A proviso to the lesson given by Raees’ mother was: ‘as long as your dhanda hurts nobody’. One would hate to turn this into a moral debate, but in the context of this movie and otherwise, how would you define ‘hurt’?
Is making alcohol available for people to turn into drunkards not a kind of ‘hurt’? Maybe not as per most moral compasses. Is murdering competitors and politicians in an attempt to set up an illegal business not ‘hurt’? Maybe not when like most people in the world, the characters murdered are themselves grey, regardless of the shade of grey they exhibit when compared to the murderer.
The character realizes ‘hurt’ when he’s made an instrument to import explosives for a devastating blast in the country. The guilt hits him so hard that he surrenders to the police and in the penultimate scene, questions Siddiqui if he will be able to live with the guilt of murdering Raees. *long pause to let that sink in*
The movie flails in maintaining sincerity while attempting to showcase a gangster with a heart of gold – which in my opinion, there was none.
The closing scene shows Siddiqui moving away with his army of officers into their patrolling vehicles, leaving Khan shot dead on the highway side. The shot would’ve earned Siddiqui street-cred for the swag with which he walks back, except it brings none because you’re left wondering why the police would drive off without taking the fugitive’s corpse. When thoughts such as this overshadow the emotion a scene attempts to generate, you know that something has failed.
“Battery nahi bolne ka”, I said as my friends pointed out that my glasses are similar to Raees’ big frames. So here go 2.5 jalebis because I walked out with a memorable line nevertheless.
1demerits of letting a Chartered Accountant do movie reviews