First up, a few mandatory warnings. Ignore any resemblance Raees has to the real life tale of a certain bootlegger-gangster from Gujarat of 90s who shall remain unnamed for perfectly legal reasons. Or the fact that the movie is heavily influenced by classic crime dramas like Goodfellas, The Godfather, Scarface, Heat or ones closer home such as Zanjeer, Deewar, Company, Satya and Gangs Of Wasseypur.
Hell hath or disbelief, it also resembles the Netflix knockout series Narcos. Purely from an observatory perspective, here are the parallels. Narcos tracks the rise and fall of Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar for real. Ahem! Next, Pablo’s story is narrated by a cop on the show. Here too, we have a cop telling Raees’ story. Even the look and feel of the movie mirrors the TV show.
These are also the reasons why director Rahul Dholakia’s Raees hangs somewhere in between and does not end up a landmark level gangster movie. Caught in the dilemma of trying to make a real character “unreal”, Raees ends up neither here nor there. Lacking depth and a much-needed humane shot of grey, he ends up glorified and wishy-washy Robinhood which we have seen in countless potboilers. Including a feeble attempt to justify the bombings.
Which is a shame because it has the right ingredients otherwise: excellent production values, painstakingly authentic Gujarat setting, K.U. Mohanan’s slick cinematography, great performances, some superbly directed scenes, a gripping linear narrative with all the expected commercial elements of an entertaining Bollywood caper.
That, that and that said, it comes down to Shah Rukh Khan’s acting chops and star power to hold it together. A thick set of glasses make for a sinister prop, holding the power to thrill and kill. He has an able opponent in maverick actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui who has the required ammunition to face him off and banter with him on an equal footing, keeping us hooked us throughout this 142-minute spectacle.
So we have a resourceful kid in Raees who manages to impress a local bootlegger Jairaj (Atul Kulkarni) into hiring him as a delivery boy. A lash and a back after, he is now all bloody, grown up and ready to take over the illegal liquor world along with childhood friend Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub).
They travel to Mumbai to organise funds around Bakra Eid. A choppy fight sequence follows in a local meat market, so eerily real it will be disappointing to visit one the next time and not spot Shah Rukh in action. The friends lose the fight but win a bundle of Biryani and gain a big city aide in don Musabhai (Narendra Jha).
An upright police officer Jaideep Ambalal Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) also sniffs out Raees’ illegal trade and starts tailing him. There is the mandatory romantic quotient in Aasiya (Mahirah Khan) but no one is attempting to win the Bechdel crown here.
Raees hits descent faster than he climbs the success ladder – killings, jail sentence, battling opponents and politics go hand in hand with organising education, shelter and food for his people. He goes through the whole gamut, no prizes offered for guessing the ending.
Among the positives, as mentioned before, some scenes and performances are standouts.
I was most sceptical about Laila Main Laila but I must confess that Sunny Leone looks classy and stunning despite the voyeuristic setting. The choreography is refreshingly energetic and interspersed with tense shots. The song comes at a crucial juncture just before interval leading up to Raees committing a murder – in true Godfather spirit. Our desi SRK delivers Al Pacino style.
Among other outstanding scenes, count the meat market fight, Raees’ cocky confrontations with Majumdar, an attempt to assassinate Raees amid a crowd, his blocking of the opposition yatra, his emotional breakdown and the pre-finale killings. In comparision, the ending pales to a boring whimper.
An applause for the outstanding supporting actors without whom Raees would not be as compelling. Narendra Jha is suitably calm and collected. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub sparkles even though his role is limited to just being a presence around his friend. Atul Kulkarni is razor sharp and first-rate.
As for our lead cast, Mahirah appears lost in an all-male surrounding no thanks to her sketchy role – the Humsafar fire is missing. Nawazuddin is fabulous and highly entertaining as the honest cop. He also shares a cracking camaraderie with the superstar.
Shah Rukh himself is subtle, crisp and in his finest form, gracing Raees with a dignified presence. The superstar transforms this above average gin serve into a scotch of heaven with panache, punch and some fine surma lined along his fiery eyes. Sexy performance chhe.
So is it worth your while and a movie ticket? I’d say yes, if you are willing to overlook the bad and focus on the good. There is plenty there to still entertain. I’d give it a shot.
cinemaspotter rating: 3.5 out of 5