The rise of the anti hero –
In the 1950’s & 60’s, movies had a hero and a villain. The hero was always righteous, admirable and brave & the villain was craven, evil and patently hateful. These characters were so deeply slotted that actors portraying villains were not even offered roles where they could act “nicer” guys. Actors like Rajesh Khanna or Dev Anand, the Kapoors rarely if ever did a slightly negative role. If the lead character needed to be a dacoit, he needed a back story sad enough to turn him into one and he was just waiting to be redeemed.
With the 70’s and the angry young man era, the hero had shades of grey- he could be slightly negative. He again was a product of his circumstances- he never “chose” to be a “baddie” or break the law. Amitabh’s Deewar, Shakti and Faraar were all in this vein, he was a criminal, but likable and sympathetic and a new name was coined – Anti Hero. The main protagonist led the show and in a nod to the times, it was the family that turns him in- the brother in Deewar, the father in Shakti & the lover in Faraar. The term stuck and in a very literal sense, Sanjay Dutt played the role in Khalnayak; a really bad guy and even he is redeemed because a love interest. Redemption was key and when redemption was not possible, the anti hero dies- but only at the hands of family- Vaastav.
Shahrukh Khan came into the industry on the back of 3 negative roles, in Darr, Baazigar and Anjaam. In Darr & Anjaam, he is obsessive and that drives him to evil things. And in Baazigar, his evil deeds are justified with the greater evil perpetrated on him.
Which brings us to Raees – As a concept it is bold, for a mainstream top billing actor it is even bolder. Raees does not take to crime because he was wronged by society or cheated by others. He does not seek revenge and nor was he an abandoned child who was raised by gangster.
He simply goes into crime to make money- baniye ka dimaag and miyaan bhai ki daring.
As a child, he takes his mother’s sincere advice to heart “no job is too small and no religion is greater than work”. And sells bootlegging as work, not a crime which is what it was and still is.
And it is this central point at which the film wobbles- while it is quite okay for the criminal to rationalize his choices to himself, it is quite another for everyone else to be okay with bootlegging, corruption, murder and extortion. Astoundingly not one other person in Raees’s life has an issue with his crime- not his girl friend, her mother, the friendly neighborhood doctor and an array of others. Little school going children are happily working for the local don and parents don’t protest- really.
Raees’s mum sells scraps and gets her son to school- It is ridiculous to think she would have been okay with him going into crime- seriously.
The script and screenplay are reminiscent of Salim-Javed hey days. A short but powerful opening sequence which ends with a time leap of the lead- a young Raees is flagellating for Muharram and it cuts to a grown, surma laden adult SRK- beautifully done!
Raees’ association with Jairaj is not fleshed out- in the way of other small thug- Don relationships are portrayed, it seems choppy and his need to go it alone is not strong enough. And for a strategic baniya type, he is shockingly unprepared to go it alone. Did he actually think he could bootleg without any money?
Another glaring gap is his plan to raise 1,00,000 by selling goats for 1,000 each- he was going to need a lot more than the dozen he had in the truck! Or the harebrained idea to hijack a car and trade it in? None of this does anything to tell the audience that Raees is thinking things thru!
Once he sets himself up, the screenplay is even more wobbly- his competitors get caught out by the cops, he somehow escapes, by the thinnest of plot lines. His rise is sudden and at the same time, he does not seem to change internally. His romance with Aasiyah too is not intuitive. There is little background or chemistry between the two and coming almost parallel to his increasing tension with Jairaj, Mazumdar- it seems a bit ridiculous.
The screenplay holes just multiply, he goes from romancing to marriage- we simply infer, to a pregnancy and then the child is supposedly born and stays a baby through the rest of the movie- it is mind boggling to comprehend that Nawazuddin Siddiqui has 2 or 3 transfers, SRK gets into partnership with Damla Seth, stands in an election, goes to jail and kills the opposition leader but the baby stays small??
The association between Raees and the CM is even more contrived, a small town bootlegger with the CM in his pocket? And getting cops transferred? Raees’s jump from looking after his colony to building them a whole new suburb is totally un-referenced and even more out of place is his sudden suspicion of his friend? If the director or writer wanted to show his disintegration, the story line needed to reflect it.
All this aside, the movie is still watchable- just for the magnetic performances of SRK, Nawaz & Mohd Zeeshan. SRK’s terrible makeup from Chennai Exp & Dilwale has come off and he looks spectacular. Most of his acting is done with surma laden eyes and he pulls it off. Nawaz is delicious- the humor and integrity without being sanctimonious. His dialogue delivery is even better than Irfaan’s! Zeeshan as Sadiq is under utilized but so effective in the time he has. Atul Kulkarni is good as always, but again doesn’t get enough screen time. Mahira Khan is watchable, but needs a lot more emoting.
The music is good, with Udi Udi & Laila obviously chart topping, but the Zalima song was randomly inserted because some one told the director he needed more than 2 songs.
The fight sequences are well executed, esp the one killing Jairaj- but sadly SRK cannot pull off the fight sequences like Salman or Ajay.
And thankfully the movie does not have lecherous villains- thank you Mr Dholakia for resisting that temptation!
Pleasantly, in this movie as well, religion is incidental. Raees is shown both participating in matam, as well as in the garba. The other positive is his distress at having been instrumental in bringing explosive into the country and feeling responsible for the destruction that followed.
And in the end, he does pay for this mistake, his greed lets him down- and he dies without due process. Again, while it made poetic sense for the story- it is not rooted in reality.
But Raees heralds, hopefully the return of the 70’s & 80’s movies. With the recent glut of fluffy nonsense, this was well worth the 3 hours in the theater!