India is a country where there are uneven laws surrounding the sale and consumption of alcohol. Some states have enforced prohibition but as has been the case with the rest of the world which experimented with banning liquor, alcohol continues to flow in, albeit illegitimately, in these places. ‘Raees’, directed by Rahul Dholakia, who has diverse films like ‘Kehta Hai Dil Baar Baar’, ‘Parzania’ and ‘Lamhaa’ to his credit, tells the story of the rise and fall of a bootlegger operating in the Indian state of Gujarat where the prohibition has been in force for more than five decades now.
Right from his childhood, Raees (Shubham Chintamani/Shah Rukh Khan) has his eyes set on making it big in the illegal but flourishing bootlegging in Gujarat. Along with his close friend Sadiq (Shubham Tukaram/Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), he starts working with Jairaj (Atul Kulkarni), the most prominent bootlegger in the state. After working with him for several years, Raees realizes it is time for him to start his own business. After hitting a few roadblocks, he not only manages to branch out as a bootlegger, but also carves a strong identity as a robinhood-like outlaw who helps the needy. Unlike most of the policemen in the state who work hand in glove with the bootleggers, Majmudar (Nawazudddin Siddiqui) does not approve of people flouting the law and vows to put an end to the illicit trade of liquor in the state.
In a country, where one hears of something being banned and unwarranted restrictions being put on lifestyle choices every other day, one had hoped Raees to make an interesting statement on the largely ineffective prohibition. Unfortunately, the film is overburdened with several sub-plots, loses its way at several junctures and does not make any such statement. The film touches upon a few interesting things, case in point being the hypocrisy and the ulterior motive that lies behind prohibition and other absurd laws. But, it tries to pack in too many things and there is not much detailing involved either. The first half is largely engaging. Raees’s rise as a liquor baron, the romance between Raees and Aasiya, the confrontations between Raees and Majmudar – these and a host of other sequences make for a fun watch. It is the second half where the film gradually loses its steam. Towards the end, you feel as if the writers suffered from a block and came up with a hotchpotch resolution to end the film with. The way Raees is shown to be committing a grave crime seems too convenient a way to burden the protagonist with something which he would want to repent for.
Rahul Dholakia’s direction is good but the screenplay that he has co-written with Harit Mehta, Ashish Vashi and Niraj Shukla does not engage you consistently despite it being evident that a lot of research has gone into it. The film boasts of the best background score (Ram Sampath) one has heard in a long time. The songs (Ram Sampath, JAM8 and Kalyanji-Anandji), do not match up but a few of them, notably “Laila Main Laila” and “Udi Udi Jaaye”, are tuneful. Some of the songs (“Dhingana”, “Zaalima”) are forced into the narrative and slow down the pace of the film. The camerawork (K.U Mohanan) and action (Ravi Verma and Sunil Rodrigues) are top-notch.
Despite the inconsistencies in the script, ‘Raees’ turns out to be a memorable character and Shah Rukh Khan leaves no stone unturned to lend it the gravitas it needed. This, without a shred of doubt, would go down as one of the best performances in his filmography. Mahira Khan (credited as Mahirah Khan in the opening and closing credits) has a smouldering presence and even though she does not get as much prominence as some of the other principal characters but makes her presence felt with a subdued performance. Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s character carries shades of the much better part that he played in ‘Kahaani’. Even though it comes across as interesting in the beginning, it shimmers down to being caricaturish. After a while, you start wondering why is this man so obsessed with Raees? A hugely talented actor like Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub gets only a handful of scenes to show his mettle.
‘Raees’ is a case of a novel subject and a very promising idea failing to flourish into a great film. As the film ends, you wonder whether Rahul Dholakia intended to make a film that would make a statement on prohibition, showcase the ascent and descent of a larger-than-life character or pay an ode to the classic 80s cinema. ‘Raees’ digs into all these (and several other) a territory but never really explores the potential of any of them.