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Raees is such a big deal that we reviewed it twice

Two film reviewers face off on the SRK-Mahira Khan blockbuster
Updated Jan 28, 2017 11:51am

Raees is yet to release in Pakistan and we're curious to know what exactly we're missing.

Because we couldn't see the film ourselves, we reached out to two writers who watched the film in Dubai. Through their differing opinions on the movie, we get the whole picture on Raees.

Is it blockbuster material? Was Mahira Khan actually disappointing, as the Indian press made her out to be? Read on to find out.


Raees is only a tribute to SRK's herohood — and that's a problem

Shah Rukh Khan’s all about the swagger.

And, he’s been selling us his fantasy for decades now.

Raees, while templated as a mainstream actioner, shamelessly turns into an unimaginative plug for its hero.

Rahul Dholakia, who had earlier made the relevantly emotional drama Parzania, merely holds the mirror for Shah Rukh so he can flaunt his dimples, kohl-lined eyes, retro glasses and heroic gait. Even though his signature wide-armed pose is omitted from the narrative, Shah Rukh throws in ample pouts, punches and glares, so his die-hard fans can cheer.

He reduces Raees into a painfully predictable story that threatens to thrill, without ever managing to elevate its own worth.

It's so staggeringly self-indulgent that it conveniently overlooks logic. So, the batterywala Raees, despite being constantly taunted and teased for his uncool glasses, takes them off, at every crucial moment, only to let his starry eyes hog some screen space.

SRK shows fleeting moments of promise, when he surrenders to Raees and his world, leaving us genuinely enthralled, but his superstar persona absolves him of true merit.

Set in the “dry state” of Gujarat, Raees glorifies the trials and tribulations of a young man, who despite having little money, power and connections makes it big. There’s his best friend, a pretty ladylove, a voluptuous item girl, a handful of local dons and a demon of a cop, who keep him engaged over 155 minutes of screen time.

Written by Rahul, along with Harit Mehta, Ashish Vashi and Niraj Shukla, Raees travels between the '80s and '90s, exploring movies, Bollywood's legendary "angry young man", socio-political movements and business breakthroughs. While history plays a part, with some of India’s volatile religious conflicts written into the screenplay, the shoddy writing makes it unfortunately tacky.

There’s Ram Sampath’s music, which is devoid of pulse or magic, unforgivably puncturing the pace further. A love track, set against the barren desert land, sticks out like a sore thumb for slipping off the retro mood and appearing like a modern-day, stylised afterthought.

Shah Rukh remains disarmingly charmful. He wins himself many whistle-worthy moments, where slow-mo antics are in plenty, pitched against blaring background score. “I’m shrewd like a businessman, and fearless like a warrior,” he mouths many times over, with panache, feeding off the '90s cinematic trick of dialogue baazi. He shows fleeting moments of promise, when he surrenders to Raees and his world, leaving us genuinely enthralled, but his superstar persona absolves him of true merit.

While Mahira Khan holds her ground with Shah Rukh, they are unable to create any sparks on screen

And, there’s his lady Mahira Khan, who makes a pretty Bollywood debut. She’s never challenged to perform. Instead, her Aasiya is gorgeously packaged into something exotic yet strangely empowered. While she holds her ground with Shah Rukh, they are unable to create any sparks on screen.

Nawazuddin Siddique, however, is the silver lining, in this otherwise drab fest. Despite being handed an unreasonably cocky and irreverent man to play, he lends it his honesty and wit.

This isn’t a fine film. It’s vintage Bollywood fluff, which Shah Rukh will manage to turn into box-office gold.

— Sneha May Francis


Mahira Khan makes the most of her modest role in Raees

Shah Rukh Khan can do more than just lip sync on snowy cliffs. He can act.

Proving his detractors that he is not just the guy who runs away with the girl into the Swiss Alps, Shah Rukh Khan’s career graph and his choice to do Raees is a study in itself. Here he plays a character that struggles with waxing and waning aggression in an obviously violent and problematic social set up.

In 2016, Shah Rukh proved his worth in Dear Zindagi, where he plays a therapist and helps his client deal with abandonment issues. In Raees, Shah Rukh is a criminal with a heart. In both films, Khan was able to demonstrate a much-needed departure from the stereotype that a lot of us remember from the late '90s.

Cinema is changing from formulaic plotlines to stories that can shock and awe but still resonate with us. Shah Rukh Khan is a master of this craft, as he proves in his eponymous role in Raees.

The film is the subcontinent’s version of the Godfather, with item numbers and catchy Gujarati dandia tunes.

Loosely based on Abdul Latif, Gujarat’s notorious gangster from the '90s, Raees is the rags-to-riches story of a deeply flawed man who sustains his sense of family and community, despite his criminal ways.

Mahira Khan plays the role of Aasiya, Raees’ love interest and wife who rallies behind him as he participates in local elections from jail. Zeeshan Ayyub plays Saadiq, Raees’ childhood friend and right hand man and Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays cop Majumdar, who treads the righteous path, wants to shut all illegal activities down and has it in especially for Raees.

The tale begins in Raees’ childhood when his mother teaches him that no business is bad until it harms anyone. Fast forward to the 1990s where Raees has grown up and has managed to start an illegal liquor business on his own, despite giant liquor sharks around him. The audiences then witness the many pitfalls and risks of Indian politics where stakeholders put their financial and political gain first and human interest later. Raees, however, believes in honour among thieves and contributing to society in a positive way – apart from selling liquor, of course.

The action sequences and authentic motifs are a treat to watch. In one particular scene, you can see Rahul Dholakia’s attention to detail where in a Muharram procession, while Raees is attempting to fight off rivaling goons, “Hussain Zindabad, Yazeediat Murdabad” is written in clear Urdu Nastaleeq. The sepia tone, Mahira Khan’s old school charm, Shah Rukh Khan’s realistic stunts add to the faithfulness of a retro action flick. It becomes the subcontinent’s version of the Godfather, with item numbers and catchy Gujarati dandia tunes.

Mahira does justice to a small but fairly meaty role. Clad in shalwar kameezes, her “Khirad” look translates beautifully on the big screen and she and Shah Rukh Khan share a lovely chemistry that I am sure would leave audiences wanting more.

Mahira Khan makes the ‘chick’ role her own and displays a certain strength and vulnerability to a role that could have been easily forgotten, given the powerhouses of performances in the film. She is able to hold her own in a film starring Shah Rukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui – and that in itself is no mean feat. The visual relief that we see from her character is soon paralleled in the second half of the film where Raees is thrown into a climactic war of survival. Her image is well built, she does justice to a small but fairly meaty role. Clad in shalwar kameezes, her “Khirad” look translates beautifully on the big screen and she and Shah Rukh Khan share a lovely chemistry that I am sure would leave audiences wanting more.

Her role may be that of the quiet, submissive, slightly scared wife of a gangster, and it truly did feel like a cliché in the first half – but as Raees lands in jail and starts to rally his community members in order to vote for him in an upcoming election campaign, Aasiya shows a strength of her own. Her delivery of that one dialogue: “Note tum laao, vote main laaoongi” displays a remarkable talent and adds depth to a mostly one-dimensional character.

In another scene, Mahira’s character attempts to reason with Raees which he rejects and almost hits her. Later, he cries into her lap and confesses that he seems to have failed. Aasiya’s character could have been merely tapestry but Mahira’s confident portrayal sets a different tone in the film. She is neither ignorable nor overlooked.

Nawazuddin Siddiqi’s tongue-in-cheek portrayal of upright cop provides for comic relief and some intense exchanges between Raees and Majumdar (Siddiqui). In one of their first meetings, they exchange double meaning threats and their scenes together are one of the highest points of the film. The storyline is formulaic in the sense of cult gangster movies such as Satya, Vaastav and Company – yet Shah Rukh Khan and Mahira Khan’s popularity give Raees a life of its own as cinemas are booked solid for this crime flick.

It is still difficult to say whether Raees will break as many records as Dangal or Sultan did – but it is not a weak or forgettable film by any sense of the word. Shah Rukh Khan’s star power shines through and he can transition, within milliseconds, the mega-movie star charisma to the regular guy next door who drinks tea with you every evening. Raees also seems an homage to the Bachchan era where Bachchan Sahab sacrificed everything, compromised on morals but was still able to remain a good guy.

Similarly, Raees is the story of neither a hero nor a villain – it is the story of a man who lived in a corrupted system with corrupted morals. For the solid performances, power-packed action sequences and a strong storyline, Raees should definitely be on your must-watch list of movies this season.

— Mahwash Ajaz


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