Raees has a very bold Shah Rukh Khan who has stepped out of his comfort zone of crinkly eyes and dimpled cheek, says Saisuresh Sivaswamy.
It would be so wonderful to get into Shah Rukh Khan's head and figure out his thought processes behind choosing a role or a film.
I'd certainly like to know why he'd choose a film like, say, Dilwale, at a time when his peers are doing far more interesting work. And, after seeing Rahul Dholakia's Raees, I am very, very curious to know what was it about the director's narration that made him agree to do the film.
Was it the fact that the film took him back to a time he left behind when he took a train from New Delhi to Mumbai 25-odd years ago?
Or was it the challenge of playing only the seventh Muslim character in his nearly 100-strong filmography -- incidentally, Raees Alam is the most 'Muslim' role Khan has essayed so far, apart from being the first non-Khan name of these seven.
Raees Alam inhabits the world of mohallas, Moharram and maatham, something that Shah Rukh Khan the actor maybe did long ago, but never ever on screen.
Or was it the thought of playing a character based on someone he'd read a lot about in his youth, one of the early Muslim 'do-gooder' dons, especially after romanticising the gang leader in films like Don and Don 2?
Or did the thought of playing a gritty bootlegger who pays the ultimate price snare the actor?
Or was it the allure of working with a director who has made realistic, offbeat films like Parzania, which occupy a world that SRK has seldom ventured into, especially after no-brainers like the said Dilwale and Happy New Year? A world that is as far removed from Shah Rukh Khan's as Mannat is from Mandwa?
Dholakia's choice of Khan to frontline his film is easier to understand, but that is the director's sole success.
Raees the film shows he lacks the chops required to preside over the wedding of his realism and SRK's mass appeal/commercialism.
The storyline is as simple as it is well known by now. Raees the bootlegger's rise is not to everyone's liking, who try and impede his success and who finally manage get him. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the cop Majmudar gunning for him with a sniper's focus, and patience.
Like Rizvan Khan in My Name Is Khan, Raees Alam's ammi is a kind-hearted soul who puts it into his head that no trade is beneath one, and no faith is above one's trade.
Her caveat, that it holds good so long as it doesn't harm anyone, straightaway gives you a peek into the final reel.
Shah Rukh Khan will never play an out and out bad guy anymore, though he has shown us in the distant past that he bloody well can. That's not the cinematic legacy he wants to leave behind, so Raees Alam is a good guy who sells booze in a state where it is banned. Not hooch, but IMFL, because you can't get killed drinking it, only become alcoholics you see.
Take the songs out, even Sunny Leone's Laila O Laila, the workings of the dhanda, the settling of scores, and what you carry back is the verbal jousting between Shah Rukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Of which there is not enough.
When he tells the cop Majmudar that he was only doing his 'dhanda,' Nawazuddin gently retorts that what he is doing is a crime, and Raees Khan looks incredulous. Obviously the thought never crossed his mind that what is against the law is a crime; in his mind it was all well-rationalised, he was only fulfilling a need, and making money by doing it, so what's wrong?
After all, vyapar is in Gujarat's air, so will the cop arrest it too, he asks innocently.
The Gujarat that Raees Alam occupies, presumably the 1980s, is an innocent place. For authenticity, Raees rides a BSA motorcycle, there's communal amity, there's Mr India's Kaate Nahi Katte Yeh Din Yeh Raat playing on the valve radio (which song also introduces the fetching Pakistani actress Mahira Khan to us), folk are shown watching a black and white TV set (although the rich did own colour TVs then).
Talking of which, there are so many things in the film that stick out like a Johnny Walker bottle in a prayer session.
For all the ode to realism, Raees Alam does a nifty sequence of parkour, a fitness regimen that was just taking shape around the time of the film; the villains' bullets miss him while he always hits his mark, once even in mid-flight; his newborn child goes missing from the frame for so long that you wonder what was the point showing him; Raees Alam becomes an MLA but that's it, nothing more is shown of his politics or legislative work, or of him in the state assembly.
Or take even something as basic as showing Raees Alam's hairless torso at a time when hair on the chest showcased machismo.
A little more of Baniye Ka Dimaag and less of Miyabhai ki Daring wouldn't have hurt the film either.
One could go on, but you realise this is a star vehicle for both the lead actor and the director keen to move up a few notches. And since the script and narration don't grab you, you are happy to let the famous Shah Rukh Khan star power do the trick.
But this is not the romantic SRK of crinkly eyes and dimpled cheek fame. What you see is a gritty man who wears kajal in the eyes and is the darling of his mohalla, a duh who doesn't get it when his wife hints she is pregnant, a vulnerable man with no defence who doesn't hesitate to curl up and cry, an irrational man who almost raises his hand at his wife in a fit of temper. And a violent, cold-blooded killer if he thinks he has been wronged.
As the titular character, with the rest of the cast playing able supporting roles, Shah Rukh Khan dominates virtually every frame.
It is a story whose denouement is clear almost as soon the film rolls, and yet, if you sit through the film it is only to see the superstar play a character he has never done. So fatally flawed that even the redeeming features are not enough.
It sure is a very bold Shah Rukh Khan who has stepped out of his comfort zone. Will the audience do so, too?