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Movie review: Raees – a Bollywood potboiler depicting the dark world of crime
The ruthless, competitive, wildly exciting, dark world of crime has found expression in innumerable Bollywood potboilers. The latest in this series of depiction of underworld through motion picture is Rahul Dholakia's Raees.

The film traces the journey of a small child, who steals spectacles from the statue of Mahatma Gandhi when diagnosed with myopia, as his mother cannot afford to buy a pair of glasses for her son, and finally becoming a gangster who reaches the zenith of crime in Gujarat.

He becomes a bootlegger in Gujarat, a state where prohibition is enforced. It is a reality that socio-economic analysis of the lives of gangsters reveal that a majority of them come from humble backgrounds. The uncrowned king of underworld Dawood Hassan Ibrahim Kaskar lived a pauper's life as a child, perhaps therein lies the cause of his deviant behavior. Greed nurtured in the midst of poverty and ruthlessness can lead a person reach the abyss of crime.

Like many other Bollywood films on underworld, in this film also, a glamorous, larger than life image of gangster Raees, enacted by Shah Rukh Khan is portrayed. The character of Raees has been bestowed with charisma, youthfulness and vibrancy. Raees is young, energetic, has the ability to think out-of-the-box, can take split second decisions, can confront challenges and danger, but has an altruistic heart too. Raees is courageous and daring who has conquered the fear of death.

Gangsters may be non-conformist to the legitimised world and values, yet they possess sacrosanct ethics and confirm to the values of the underworld. Even though there are a few unrealistic action sequences, yet the film succeeds in exploring the 'humane' aspect of the don. Along with dark streaks, he has 'soft' shades too. He cooks for his wife; breaks down in her lap. He listens to the pain and ethos of his neighbours and has a Robin Hood image. He confronts the mill owner who exploits his neighbours, thereby winning the good wishes and support of the locals. Raees is secular as he helps both Muslims and Hindus.

In the dark alleys of underworld, trust and betrayal exist simultaneously. Raees is vindictive and revengeful. The scene where Raees come to know that 'supari' for his life has been given by his mentor – the emotion of being betrayed by the mentor (enacted by Atul Kulkarni) whom he had helped as a child, is well portrayed. The tears and rage in his eyes are simultaneously visible and very well performed by Shah Rukh Khan. But in many scenes his acting appears very stereotype and full of mannerisms.

Pakistani actress Mahira Khan portrays the role of Raees's damsel Aasiya. Though she is charming, possess unconventional looks, she displays average acting skills within the limited screen space she shared with SRK. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as cop Jaideep Ambalal Majumdar captivates the audience through his body language and baritone voice. Both Shah Rukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui have given electrifying performances. In the scene where Nawazuddin is seen playing carrom board while challenging to ruin Raees and his empire built on illegal activities, he easily outshines the Badshah of Bollywood. In cinematic vocabulary, whenever Nawazuddin Siddiqui confronts Shah Rukh, it appears as a clash of titans, an actor confronting the star.

The film for the umpteenth time reveals the criminal-politician-bureaucratic nexus in India. Power flows from the barrel of guns within the inner cortex of the underworld. However, the inner syndicate is fluid and ever changing. Supremacy reins in the hands of people who combine grey matters and courage to take risk and confront challenges. Backed by powerful dialogues such as `baniye ka dimaag aur miyan bhai ki daring' etc, the film is entertaining as it unfolds the trials and tribulations in the life of gangster Raees.

However, like most Bollywood films there is a lack of research on police uniforms. In few scenes the cop Majumdar is seen wearing an inspector's uniform and then suddenly the audience comes to know that he is an IPS officer. Even the rooms and vehicles used by the cop Majumdar fall short of reality.

The climax of the film appears too simplistic. The audience could easily forecast the end. Years ago Hindi films such as Deewar, Shakti, etc were made on underworld. The protagonists in both the films had deviated from the mainstream norms. The protagonists in both films die when the trigger is pulled by the brother (as in Dewaar) and father (as in Shakti). Yet the films had their own suspense, thrills and emotions. The end of the film Raees appears too simplistic and dramatic. The suspense and emotions are missing. The audience could easily forecast the death.

In the end the script falls short and appears not very tightly crafted. The mules may not command agency but when they start reining the area as gangsters they develop an ability to call their own shots. Raees has an agency. When he realizes that his mentor Musa Bhai is an anti-national and has betrayed him, his 'nationalistic' consciousness arouses. Raees realizes that in his endeavour to save the locality by accepting and completing an assignment from Musa, he has burned down the 'nation'. ( As the assignment involved carrying a consignment which had RDX used for causing blasts in different parts of the country). He has committed a crime against the nation; hence the 'nationalist' Raees seeks vengeance by killing the anti-national Musa. He dictates the terms of his death to the law enforcement agency.

In a bid to portray the valourism of a gangster, the film shows Raees asking the police to shoot him from the front. In the film, the cop Majumdar may have pulled the trigger, but Raees 'kills' Majumdar with the line which questions his conscience as a cop. It is the most important line not only for the film but also for the members of the society as the myth of good versus evil/good state versus bad underworld is questioned.1

The film in certain scenes shows the police in a negative manner, faking 'encounter' death of a gangster. The reality still remains that many police officers have worked very hard, even at the cost of their own lives to arrest few hard core criminals. Also the dialogue of the cop Majumdar that he has lost faith in himself and the system has a very negative implication. A loyal, dedicated cop, even if he feels frustrated with the system, will never utter such words in public discourse. The masses can get carried away when such a message is being spread by popular media and may have a disastrous effect. The commercial gimmick has been successful with the death of the protagonist of the film, but will the character 'Raees' be permanently etched in the minds of cine-lovers remains open to the readers.

Under world dons such as Haji Mastaan, Karim Lala, Dawood Hassan Ibrahim Kaskar, Abu Saleem, Chotta Rajan, or their counterparts in Kolkata such as Gabbar, Rashid Khan, Gudda, Gunjan, Nigel Akkara (supposed to be reformed and now a page 3 celebrity) are all products of society. They are created by the society, nurtured by the society, 'used' by the society, and finally laid to rest by the society. The world of crime and criminals can be interesting object and subject of research for social scientists. But the reality remains there is no valour or glamour associated with the underworld, its people, and its activities, the result of which is only violence and bloodbath.

When mafiosi, gangsters and their deeds are valourized and glamourized, does Bollywood or anyone else ever hear the voice of the unheard, silent, anonymous, unrecognized victims?


  1. This statement has been made by Debraj Bhattacharyya, Consultant , Ridhhi Foundation. The author is thankful to him for allowing this statement to be incorporated in this article. 

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