For all my obsession with romantic films, coming-of-age stories and good ol’ family dramas, sometimes what I really need is an unabashedly masala film – one where all I have to do is sit back and be entertained by pure hero-giri. And hero-giri is in abundance in Raees: you’ve got Shah Rukh Khan doing everything from hardcore action to delivering seeti-inducing dialogues to romancing the leading lady.
Raees is very reminiscent of ’70s and ’80s Bollywood: in one particular scene set in a drive-in theatre, clips of Amitabh Bachchan‘s Kaala Patthar are playing on the big screen while Shah Rukh Khan is enacting a similar situation. It’s a nod to the kind of cinema Raees aims to be, and for the most part, it follows in those footsteps.
Having said that, Raees feels like a “classy” version of a “massy” film – maybe because it’s Shah Rukh Khan, but there’s a sense of finesse to Raees: he’s a lot more polished than you’d expect your regular Bollywood gangster to be. At his core, though, he’s still the quintessential bad-boy-with-a-good-heart, who’s fueled by some passing advice his mother gave him when he was young (“Koi dhanda chhota ya bada nahi hota, aur dhande se bada koi dharm nahin hota” – once he’s not harming anyone). He lies firmly in the grey area: on one hand, he’s a messiah to many; on the other, he’s certainly a criminal and a killer. (For someone who’s taught to not harm anyone, Raees sure does kill a lot of people.)
The first half of the film is fun, pacy, and really establishes Raees as a character. It’s an engaging watch, and there are quite a few chuckle-worthy moments… many of those thanks to Nawazuddin Siddiqui. By the time the interval rolled around, I was having fair amounts of fun. However, things take a downturn in the second half – the pace slows, the film begins to feel preachy, and the story stretches. The climax isn’t entirely satisfying either, and coupled with the slow pace, the film feels like it ends on a low note.
But at the end of the day, Raees is a star-driven vehicle. Shah Rukh Khan is in top form, and it’s enjoyable to sit back and watch him take the reins. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is fantastic as always, and the two of them work great together. Mahira Khan has good on-screen presence, and it’ll be nice to see what she does with meatier roles (one wonders when that will happen, though). The supporting cast – including Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub and Atul Kulkarni – is solid and bring a lot to the film. Most of the song sequences (save for Laila Main Laila, which is juxtaposed nicely with an action scene) feel out of place.
All in all, Raees is a decent watch. It’s let down by a slowing second half, but if you have a soft spot for ’70s and ’80s cinema, you’ll find it fairly enjoyable. Someone mentioned to me today that they’re picking up popcorn before the film, and I ended up saying it’s “more of a samosa movie than a popcorn movie.” I don’t know if that’ll make sense to anyone else, but it’s the best way I can describe it: go in the hall, bring your samosa, and let Shah Rukh Khan take over.