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What is Raees all about?

BY SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE

Raees has gaudy echoes of Salim-Javed’s scripts for Bachchan in the 1970s, and is a clever retro tribute to the power of the past. Set against the backdrop of alcohol prohibition, the flick wears religious imagery on its sleeve and the plot parallels with a certain time period in Gujarat when a Muslim bootlegger was running wild in the state with his Robin Hood persona.

While Raees’ street smart ways and political network work in favor, Ambalal Majmudar’s (Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the earnest cop, the perfect foil to Raees) patience in following up with the criminal is a true laudable value.

Will Majmudar be able to nail Raees? Can Raees be tamed?

Nawazuddin, in the middle of a red-hot streak with a simmering, all-consuming anger, operates in a totally different zone. With customary elan he digs his teeth deep into his meaty role and delivers another memorable performance. He is the silver lining in this otherwise drab fest. His easy demeanour compliments SRK’s intensity and the two light up the screen with some genuine acting fireworks.

While SRK is a brand in himself, and a big one at that, it would have helped the film’s creative cause to have the courage of its conviction and not turn Raees into the story of a secular, sanskari gangster. Even as he succumbs to messiah status, Shah Rukh Khan delivers one of his most understated and gratifying performances. SRK isn’t layered or complex. With his chest-out walk and kohl-lined glare, he’s a people’s messiah, an action hero and a romantic all rolled into one. SRK’s bravado dialogue delivery, that ‘Scarface’ moment full of guns, arcing bullets and spraying blood have some great stand out moments.

Mahira Khan displays a certain strength to a role that could have been easily forgotten, given the powerhouses of performances in the film.

Production design by Anita Rajagopalan and Donald Reagan, and KU Mohanan’s richly textured camerawork, convincingly locate us in a period setting.

Ram Sampath’s music is devoid of pulse or magic, unforgivably puncturing the pace further.

The riots, both in Mumbai and Gujarat, have a seriously anodyne feel.

Is Shah Rukh Khan’s character inspired by gangster Abdul Latif? Despite SRK playing a bootlegger in the film, the makers of Raees have said the film is not based on any real life story and is a pure work of fiction.

While the story and ideas aren’t all new or refreshing, Raees’ big play comes from its nostalgic treatment; director Dholakia succeeds in making an entertainer that has a confluence of all elements needed to appeal for SRK fans and those who’ve grown up on a staple fare of Hindi pot boilers.

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