There was a time when we used to read books, talk about them with each other, share ideas and sing lullabies to little kids. Those were simple and quieter times. Shah Rukh Khan may remember those times when was a young kid growing up in a middle class family in Delhi, or when his NASA scientist character sings Ahista, Ahista in Swades.
But then technology came into our lives. Consumer electronics became a vital part of our existence and video games took over the imagination of young kids and even adults -- from the simple charming Pac-Man, Mario Bros and Donkey Kong to the violent world of Mortal Combat and Grand Theft Auto. And kids forgot the value of reading. Superheroes that were in the comic books we used to read, started appearing in larger than life movies.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. When Hollywood makes superhero films -- the recent Spider-Man, Batman and Iron Man series it often does a terrific job. The best of those films have tightly written scripts with consistent good and evil characters, and actors being in the role from start to finish. In fact, those representations of superhero stories enhance that we could read and see in comic books.
But when a Bollywood superstar like Khan makes a $20 million production Ra.One, inspired by the world of video games, superheroes and villains, he has a lot more to focus on. The rules of Bollywood and his massive fan following do not allow him to be one character throughout the film. He cannot make his fans forget that he is Shah Rukh Khan -- the romantic hero who can dance and lip synch to hot catchy songs, play comic situations and do much more. There is a reason why the term superstar is usually attributed to actors in Bollywood and not in Hollywood.
There are quite a few Khans in Ra.One -- the bumbling Shekhar, a Hindi speaking video game designer with a bad South Indian accent and an equally bad wig, who mixes yogurt in spaghetti, and overnight transforms himself into a hip Michael Jackson like cool dude, just to impress his son.
Then there is the sharply chiseled G.One, the good guy in a video game, who sometimes acts like a robot, but then also -- quite unlike his character -- displays emotions, a sense of humour that can only be attributed to Khan's personality and even dances and lip synchs in Akon's voice.
Khan's passion project Ra.One also tries to be many things -- some awesome action sequences using the best technology available in the world, thrilling car chases and fun video game derived fighting moments, and homage (some may claim the scenes are lifted) to just about every superhero action films -- T2, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Batman, Matrix and Superman.
Ra.One also has to be a Bollywood film -- at times time fun, such as during the Chamak Challo song sequence, but then it is melodramatic, overplayed with loud background score. Also like many flawed Bollywood films, Ra.One's script is muddled (IMDB.com gives credit to six writers including Khan and director Anubhav Sinha), and it gets lost in many competing narrative threads, nearly forgetting the main plot.
The premise of Ra.One works at times. Shekhar lives in a palatial house in London, with a stunning wife (a very hot looking Kareena Kapoor) and a son, who actually looks like a girl, other than that his name is Prateik. To please his son he designs a video game called Ra.One -- named after its villain -- who takes many forms, including finally that of a creepy Arjun Rampal, perhaps the most interesting element of the film.
In a Purple Rose of Cairo manner, Ra.One, the villain, escapes from the video game in search of Lucifer, the last person who played against him. Turns out Lucifer is Prateik's video game handle and so begins the villain's search for the young kid. All fine, expect it is often interspersed with long chunks of Bollywood masala.
There are some promising moments in Ra.One -- such as the opening dream sequence where an almost unrecognisable Khan, who looks like a CGI created figure, fights evil forces (including Sanjay Dutt, who is introduced to us with the song Nayak Nahin, Khalnayak Hoon Main) so as to rescue a pretty but hysterical Priyanka Chopra. The mood, texture of this dream sequence is inspired by Asian cinema and it is quite cool. Also thrilling are many of the video game fight scenes, including the film's climax.
Those exposed to international films may not find much of this remarkable. Last year's Endhiran had some terrific CGI scenes, but this is a new path for Hindi cinema. And perhaps as homage to Endhiran, Ra.One features a brief appearance of Rajnikanth as Chitti -- although it was one of those Bollywood moments when the film meanders from its focus.
I wish Ra.One had more of the evil character played by Rampal. I wish we could have seen some more sparks of evil from Kapoor. But Ra.One is mostly about Khan.
There are video games that kids play, but then they shut them off, after they win or lose. Finally, Ra.One has a similar forgettable quality.
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