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Raees movie review




You have to manage expectations when watching 'Raees', directed by Rahul Dholakia. Why? There are gaping flaws in the film, as there are in all Shah Rukh Khan films, even the best of them. 

The editing and the structure is an absolute mess. It is evident that there was no clear direction taken on how this film is to be edited - they tried to cut it short, but there is too much plot in the film, so it ends up being absolutely tattered and incoherent, with a staccato of short scenes that are sort of flat and don't impact you, in the first half. 

Don't give up on it, though, because it gets better. A lot better. 

'Raees' is a Bachchan-era crime-drama that has all of the tropes you identify from the sub-genre. What it also has, importantly, is the politics of that kind of cinema. Here is a character who is a gangster and charges at right-wing political rallies with alcohol bottles and a flash-mob; here is a character stoically bent on making sure that his business doesn't hurt innocents, an ideal that - actually - foreshadows that this is a character whose morals are bound to break by the end. A tragic-hero who, ultimately, dies without witnessing any resolution. 

There is a lot of subtext and tons to bite into, in this film, inspired very evidently from the life of Abdul Latif - "The King of Gujarat" - as he was known. There are no names taken, but the film has some relevant things to say about the identity politics of the time. The amount of detailing in the production design of this film is a joy to absorb - we hardly get to experience the nuances of everyday Muslim living and culture in mainstream Hindi films. Rahul Dholakia's direction presents a keen eye for detail and world- building and it really aids the experience of the film. 

What the film also gets right is the humour and the tone. A lot of dry humour to counteract the gore and the drama of the rest of the film, especially on part of Nawazuddin Siddiqui's character, Majmudar, a police officer so hell-bent on killing Raees by sacrificing his ethical code by the end of the film that he ends up doing some very questionable things. A complex character and the only real supporting player to Raees in the film.

Ultimately, though, like always - 'Raees' is a Shah Rukh Khan show through and through. He creates a complex character who rationalises his wrongdoings by greater acts of benevolence and has a constant tiff with his own morality. The dripping surmaa as his eyes tear-up is an image that serves as a perfect synecdoche to the character's journey and one that stays with you. He has an internalised chauvinism and male ego, but cooks for his wife to counter-act it. He kills the ugly, but to live with himself, saves the poor. It is treated not reveringly, but as "rich man's guilt" should be. It is clear, as SRK mentions in interviews, that this is not an aspirational character, it's a deeply troubled one. On part of Shah Rukh Khan, it is a layered, textured performance that may not be as appreciated as it should be, because it is also underplayed. 

Overall, if you like crime-dramas, watch 'Raees' for it's two main characters - Raees Alam and Majmudar - and it's two marquee players, Shah Rukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

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