Don of a new SRK
This underworld drama is so over-packed with material that either 148 minutes of this film will seem too long to you, which it is; or in fact far too short to patiently absorb the incredible story, of the rise and fall of an Ahmedabadi bootlegger don—without the audience feeling slightly hung-over by a breathless narrative-overload.
At its core though, this script is a very Salim-Javed ‘angry young man’ type from the ‘70s. There is, of course, the prologue—a little boy who grows up to become a don. At the centre is the reigning hero (Shah Rukh Khan), playing a character with shades of grey; and a conscientious cop (Nawazuddin Siddiqui; killing it with softly, with his swag)—making this equally a fine battle of morals, and tremendous wit.
But of course, there are loads of punch lines: “(Acche) Din aur raat logon ke hote hain. Sheron ka zamana hota hai.” “Gujarat ke hawa mein vyapar hai sahib.” “Bunye ka dimaag. Miya Bhai ka daring.”
Most of this you would’ve already heard or seen. Which is the issue with over-promoted pictures that break down a film’s favourite scenes and dialogues into several trailers. It does kind of mess with the novelty of a first-time viewing experience, with samosa and coke, right in the front row of a packed, single-screen theatre. Which are the ideal coordinates for this film, where I’m joyously reporting from by the way.
It isn’t that Salim-Javed’s Amitabh Bachchan actioners haven’t been made since the ‘70s. There was Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (2010) more recently, even if you ignore its dud second part. Bachchan himself, at 48, altogether altered his voice and posture to play the immortal Vijay Deenanath Chauhan in Agneepath (1990). Aye!
‘Romantic king’ Shah Rukh Khan as Raees (51; looking so much younger) makes no special effort in voice training, for instance, to get his Gujarati accent pat on. He makes up for much of that with his beard, clothes, and body language. Over the past year or so (Fan, and now this), it does appear as if SRK has been working hard to unlearn playing the SRK he’s known for, gradually gravitating towards painstakingly written, alternate characters you can also remember him for—along the lines of Aamir, if you may.
You know that’s a trend of sorts, when even Salman (Sultan) has to do the same! 2016 was the first time in 18 years that all the three Khans were nominated for a ‘best actor’ Filmfare.
Slightly floppy hair, tanned skin, an earthy style, handkerchief for headband, and glasses (although I didn’t quite get the constant ‘battery’ reference for a bespectacled fellow), if anything, SRK reminds you more of how he began his career as a street ruffian in Deewana (1992). He has a gorgeous love-interest (Mahira Khan) in the film. But that angle is hardly explored, which is only for the better.
The film mixes research, realism, and more than a whole lot of ‘Bollywood’ to look exclusively into the politics and the inevitable underworld around the booze-trade in Gujarat under Prohibition in the ‘80s (as it is now). Being an anti-Prohibitionist myself (how can any sane human not be), you align yourself with the heroic anti-hero instantly. The character is ostensibly based on the real-life rags-to-riches Don Abdul Latif. The pesky cop seems more like a high-level Inspector Dhoble, although he’s merely doing his job.
Between the don on the run, the cop on the chase, there are so many facets to Raees, recounted through a gasping episode after another that you wished the filmmakers had calmed down just for a bit, given us few moments to pause, and soak in the complex material.
They could have turned this into a fantastic Narcos like television series. There’s nothing niche about a completely Spanish show being loved by mainstream audiences across the world anymore. Sure, we’d love to see SRK attempt his own version of a Pablo Escobar. For now, Raees will certainly do.