Director: Rahul Dholakia
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Mahira Khan, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub
A boy with humble beginnings sets up an empire by smuggling contraband. All he has going for him are his wits and insatiable ambition. He has a loyal sidekick, a brother, almost. As he grows powerful, he makes rivals. He wants to head a “syndicate” of other more-despicable smugglers. He bribes, kills, goes to jail, turns benevolent towards locals, and decides to run for elections. Add tapped phones and kids who act as eyes on the ground.
Seem familiar? This isn’t the skeleton for Narcos, but Rahul Dholakia’s Raees, a film that seems so remarkably inspired by the TV series on Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar that it is impossible to analyse it in isolation.
Swap Medellin with Fatehpura (a village in Gujarat), cocaine with alcohol, and a trump card: Shah Rukh Khan as Raees, the Escobar of Gujarat.
It’s fast-paced (half a dozen songs notwithstanding). But it also feels like 20 episodes squeezed into three hours. In that, plots and characters are often left without rhyme or reason. It’s like a film racing on skates. Albeit ones with wobbly wheels.
The film opens with a brief childhood sequence, a ’70s set piece. The young Raees is street-smart, and with a head-start into criminal activity. Yes, he’s poor. And overtly touchy about being called “Battery”, slang for someone who wears spectacles. But there’s no scarring humiliation or tragedy, or “Mera baap chor hai” tattoo.
When he grows up, in one broad stroke, he’s out to conquer the world with two basic lessons: mommy said “No business is small”. And smuggling mentor Jayraj Seth (Atul Kulkarni) said he has “baniye ki dimag, aur Miyabhai ki daring”. The first lesson he interprets as a license to break the law. The latter, if you think about it, comes from a person who’s hardly a role model.
But though Raees is creative at getting illegal shipments past cops (so was Escobar), he isn’t the smartest businessman around. He bungles up his effort to get seed money, trusts the wrong people, and picks fights for every slight.
And he does pick a lot of fights, taking on dozens of men, alone. If only a film on Escobar was made in Bollywood, he, too, would be Parkour-ing through Colombia.
Carrying that legacy forward, is Raees. Shah Rukh Khan plays the titular character of a spectacled goon who hates being called “battery”; he starts from harmless Ponzi schemes but graduates to pre-planned rackets and becomes the top bootlegger of his town. When ACP Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is posted in his area, he meets his equal. Raees forms a nexus with politicians who fuel his business, but he soon becomes the thorn in their side.
The first half is well-paced; it draws you in and makes you root for the bootlegger; Majmudar’s one-liners and the music whet your appetite and the Laila Main Laila sequence ups the ante. But the second half plunges into a weird Robin Hood zone where the antihero’s morals are suddenly defibrillated and he becomes a messiah. The movie takes a rough path there on, and the long runtime makes the ride bumpier.