Shah Rukh Khan in (and as) Raees is phenomenal. The film, not quite.
Raees manages to fall under that category where you can’t label a movie particularly good or bad. Liking or disliking the movie totally depends on how you view it. Do not get me wrong here, but you might not enjoy Raees much if you watch it in a plus AC multiplex with a popcorn tub in hand and twenty something people around.
This is a movie which is strictly meant for the single screen audience. I watched it in such a theater with two hundred other crazy SRK fans around, screamed my heart out when the man appeared on the screen for the first time, cheered loudly on every catchy dialogue and even attempted to dance a bit (retreated eventually, because I can’t dance no matter how much I try it) during the ‘Laila’ song featuring Sunny Leone. And I ended up enjoying it to a huge extent.
Set in the early eighties to the early nighties and loosely based on the life of Abdul Latif (the infamous Gujrati bootlegger, although the director denies it as per the latest reports), Raees is a straightforward film which primarily shows the battle between conventional good versus (somewhat) necessary evil, blurring the line between right and wrong. At a time when the country reeks with an “in your face” patriotic vibe, this film dares to cast a Pakistani actress, lets the lead character steal a the spectacles frame of a Mahatma Gandhi statue and mouth dialogues like “Dhande ka koi dharm nahin hota” (translates as there’s no religion in business; which he says when a certain Hindu versus Muslim situation pops up in the movie). We even get a scene where we see Raees and his best friend eating something that clearly looks like the most anti-national food (could be mutton, though).
Raees also plays homage to all those commercial action films of the eighties which we used to enjoy so much while growing up (and even now). It checks every box from the title character being an anti-establishment but a do-gooder to a poor childhood with idolizing a mother figure to giving certain paybacks to the ones who try to take the man down to the typical honest-to-god police officer stuck in a sea of corruption thanks to the title character. There is also this great scene where Kalaa Paththar is being played at a Drive-in theater (the particular “Angry Young Man” Amitabh Bachchan beating Prem Chopra sequence), while SRK beats a random arsehole (in the context of the movie) black and blue. In the middle of all these, the great Nawzuddin Siddique plays that police officer character in a unique way to make it a standout. Going neck to neck with the Superstar, he manages to earn ample cheers and “citie-talis” from the audience.
The Superstar here, is in supreme form, though. Despite the strong presence of Nawazuddin, Atul Kulkarni, Mahira Khan and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (playing the familiar best friend of the lead here); this is King Khan’s film, make no mistake. In a very smart and calculative manner, SRK mixes up both of his personas, the superstar and the underappreciated actor hid inside and pulls up the larger than life yet somewhat grounded Raees. Fuelled by an infinite amount of swagger (this is, in fact, the Swaagiest King Khan film ever) and the ever-so-charming screen presence, SRK makes Raees a character for with whom you get connected and truly feel for him.
Coming back to the opening line, while Shah Rukh Khan has done a brilliant job without an iota of doubt, Raees is not exactly a great film. It has a script that is not exactly well-written which makes some characters quite abrupt and under-developed, the second half of kind of drags and there are two totally unnecessary song and dance sequences. The cinematography, music and background score works in its favor though. Overall, Rahul Dholakia, the national award winning director, has made a film that is brave but not so great if dissected under technical parameters. But it still scores as an old fashioned Commercial potboiler, which runs on the Starpower and Dialogue-bazi. If that kind of a film is your thing or if you are a fan of its leading man like me, then Raees is surely going to entertain, and even leave a mark on you.