I like Shah Rukh Khan. He is a nice guy who knows how to use words like dichotomous. I like a few of his movies too. I look forward to his films, and even after reading reviews, I do go and watch them. There was Bazigar, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Oh Darling, Yeh Hai India, and DDLJ from his years as a star. There was Devdas, Veer-Zara and Swades from his years as a superstar. And then there was Paheli, Om Shanti Om, and My Name is Khan from his middle age years. Some other films that I enjoyed have been Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Hey Ram, and Kal Ho Na Ho. I guess that entitles him to have his share of bad hair days. And he sure knows how to claim his entitlements. There are a good number of Shah Rukh Khan films that I wish I had not had to see. Ra.One just got added to that list.
All of the last several weeks, Shah Rukh has invaded all breathing spaces of the nation, through television, newspapers, radio, malls and multiplexes, and the internet, pushing his diwali offering of Ra.One. Positioned as a high tech, sci fi, good versus evil, comicbook superhero movie, Ra.One is the ultimate mish-mash of all the formulas that have worked for Shah Rukh over the decades. There is bad stereotype comedy, a non resident Indian family, a fantasy action hero, a fantasy action villain, an item number where you are not sure who or what the item is, pathetic regional language puns, a host of special appearances, along with a dash of romance and some glycerin tears. With a budget of over 100 crores (which can mean anything between 150 and 200 crores including the marketing and promotion budget, but why split hairs over a hundred crores here and there), and tech effects that are truly cutting edge, this film is one that people have been looking forward to very eagerly. You know what is coming next.
The good bits first.
The sound design by Oscar winner Resul Pookutty is impressive as is the Dolby 7.1 effects. Like most Hindi films with impressive sound engineering, Ra.One takes it for granted that you are hearing impaired, and manages to soak the otherwise attractive soundscape with uncalled for decibels.
The special effects and the computer graphics are on par with the best seen in recent times but appear disjointed, as if patched on to the movie as an afterthought. Arjun Random Access Rampal “did good.” He looks convincingly good and evil, even though you can hardly understand what he says. Maybe that is how his lines were written.
There are only 10 kinds of people in the world, those who speak binary and those who don’t.
The film also does an Om Shanti Om (I guess it is that, and not just blatant copying, since even Shah Rukh has some self respect after all) by creating moments that take you back to a host of classic superhero movies - Matrix, Spiderman, Terminator, Batman and Ironman.
End of good bits.
The film fraternity and the ancillary industries are all abuzz about what a wonderful film it is, and how it portrays Indian values packaged in International high tech. I am not sure about this at all. Shah Rukh plays a south Indian techie who is a Berkeley graduate living and working in London for a gaming company. The brightest moment of the film is a Hindi version of a song that has “and possibly bend you over, look back and watch me, smack that, all on the floor, smack that, give me some more, smack that till you get sore,” as its refrain. The game handle that Shah Rukh’s son uses is Lucifer. The tech references and subtexts do bring a smile to your lips, but not unless you are very familiar with role playing games, robotics, and of course, the usual gaming and computer generated imagery worlds. For the rest of us, we have to make do with risque regional language puns and cultural stereotyping. Not at all sure which Indian values the cultural ambassadors of bollywood are referring to in their tweets and blogs.
The Rajnikant cameo will go down as a Indian cinema moment only for the star values involved, but there is nothing more to it. One fails to understand the logic or purpose of the special appearances, that is presuming that there is one. The film starts with a fantasy tone, letting you know that this is a comicbook superhero kind of a film, and that you should probably suspend your disbelief is order to appreciate it. Best of luck is all I can say to viewers who fall for that. The entire first half is devoted to creating the setting for the showdown between the dark.one and the good.one, while the second half is drowned in special effects, both visual and audio. The Indian tradition of sci fi films is maintained with no plausible explanation for the things that happen as the plot unravels, leaving trails that start out of the blue and take you nowhere. There was a certain freshness about Mr. India that is obviously difficult to recreate in today’s day and age, but Ra.One is definitely more bearable than Krish, Koi Mil Gaya, and Dashavatar. I am aware that that by itself doesn’t really amount to anything, but then, neither does Ra.One.