Raees directed by Rahul Dholakia and starring Shahrukh Khan is a fascinating story of a rise and rise of a small time bootlegger, into one of Gujrat’s notorious liquor baron and also ironically into a revered Robin Hood like figure. If you ever wondered what the lovechild of a staunchly realistic filmmaker and Bollywood’s most unabashedly populist star might resemble, you should watch Raees. Dholakia who directed and wrote deeply affecting film Parzaniya, which was about a Parsi family which was caught in the Godhra riots of 2002, brings the thorough understanding of the times and the landscapes that the film is set in.Shahrukh meanwhile who is also a co-producer of this project seems clear about the tone he wants to take. The result is a mostly compelling drama that is fast paced despite feeling over plotted and bloated at times. Now we are first introduced to our protagonist as Raees as a young boy in Fatehpur in the 1970’s. He is poor but industrious and works as a runner to a local bootlegger. The signs are all there, he has a short temper, holds on to grudges and resents being referred too as battery, although he wears oversized spectacles. By the time he is older and has some practice in the field, he starts smuggling alcohol in and out of the state and branches out to set up his own business which was emboldened by his mother’s teaching that no job is too small. He is also reassured by a mentor that he has got a ‘baniye ka dimag’ and ‘miabhai ki daring.’ The film’s first half is riveting stuff as we watch our anti-heroes expand enterprise on the strength of Raees’s quick thinking and sheer ruthlessness.
These are the precise qualities that makes him such a magnetic figure. But post interval, it appears like the makers decided to trade his grey shades and blunt his edges to make him more likable. By now Raees becomes angel for his people. The monster with a heart of gold, the staunchly secular humanist. The plot too sinks into repetition and predictability and characters like the corrupt ministers and other venal characters come out as caricatures.
It is the presence of Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Majhmudaar, as an incorruptable police officer who was obsessed with taking raees down. Chilling interplay between both men keep audiences invested despite these bumps. Exploiting his relationship with powerful political figures, Raees repeatedly thwarts Majhumdaar’s plans, but the cop remains steadfast in his force. The scenes between both these actors which features terrific clap-trap repertoires are easily the best trips in the movie. Nawazzuddin who appears to be having a blast, cast against type seems to have really sink himself in the part, and once again improves his gift of vastly improving a film by merely being in it. The other supporting cast does not have it as good as Nawaz.
Mahira Khan is confident as Raees’s love interest but her role does not need much heavy lifting. Meanwhile a consistently reliable Mohommad Zeeshaan Aayub suffers on account of underwritten role which is reduced to a side kick as Raees’s loyal friend. The movie expectedly is powered by a star wattage by Shahrukh Khan itself, as most of his movies are. From his entry scene which shows him lacerating his back during a Mohorram scene, to a shootout featuring all guns blazing, to his many moments simmering with rage, Shahrukh commands viewer’s attention. In more pensive moments and a quiet breakdown scene, he reveals the actor behind the star.
Evidently the movie is inspired by the true life of Abdul Latif who was the illegal kingpin of liquor king of Gujrat, who was charged with involvement of 1993 blasts of Gujrat, this movie shrewdly steers clear of naming names and only hints at true events. Still the movie excels due to the director’s quality of having a keen eye for period and atmospheric details. As a throwback to those thrilling gangster films from the seventees, many of which starred Amitabh Bachchan and scripted by Salim Javed.
All in all, Raees delivers ample bang for your buck!