This is how Raaes came about. Men sitting in a plush Mumbai office, knocking down beers:
Man 1 : “Toh bhai, what’s the story?”
Man 2: “Arey, just now I said, no? Shah Rukh Khan is don type ka… bootlegging mafia, but heart full gold. Means he will do dancing-shancing, little romancing also.”
Man 1: “And plot…?”
Man 3: “Arey chill no, boss. Shah Rukh.”
Man 1: “And screenplay, that should take tim…”
Man 2: “Can’t you hear? S-H-A-H R-U-K-H!”
Man1: “And any woman charac…?”
Man 2, Man 3: ‘Abbey, bore mat kar!”
Small correction: I have no evidence that the above conversation ever took place. But if you watch Raaes and, like me, you’re done forgiving bad Shah Rukh Khan films because they are Shah Rukh Khan films, the above conversation seems like the only way you can explain the film you’d have just watched.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel the same way about Raees, like you do after trying the zillionth new shampoo advertised on TV — and you hair still looks like soggy sewai. Here you were expecting — thanks to the trailer — Shah Rukh Khan as a ruthless, middle-aged bootlegger who’ll show immense business cunning and will be satisfyingly grey and perhaps even a little dark. But no, you get Shah Rukh, naam to suna hoga, picture toh dekha hoga, playing Wasseypur-Wasseypur in Gujarat, complete with a garba number. Seriously, you’ll spot more ‘baniye ka dimaag‘ in a packet of Haldiram’s diet chivda than in the whole two-and-half-hour run-time of Raees.
It is clear that the makers dumped the character of Raees on the script like ordinary mortals drop clothes into washing machines — listlessly. So apart from his fancy glasses, fitted kurtas and surma, Raaes has as much personality as a bowl of grated lauki. Now Shah Rukh Khan grits his teeth, clenches his jaws and gives that kaccha-kha-jaoonga-type look at the camera, but nothing in the story consummately justifies his roaming around shoulders pulled back like Popeye.
The plot doesn’t dwell on the trajectory of his ambition at all, it abruptly cuts to him deciding to start his own business while eating a plate of mutton. Now I can say from my long tryst with a Bengali stomach that mutton in great quantities can often lead to delusions. And since Raaes is in Gujarat — a state with no history of worshipping Gelusil or Digene — he lets that delusion take over and challenges his former employer.
What follows is his apparent meteoric rise in the business of bootlegging alcohol — one we are supposed to figure from the evolution of Raaes’ wardrobe. Presuming he has more money now, his clothes look less like curtains and more like shirts curated by some fashion magazine for a Glamour Gunda cover story.
She gawks at everything — curtains, Shah Rukh Khan, telephones — like they are aliens playing dandia or something.
And then, of course, there’s Mahira Khan playing either Farzi/Arzi/Marzi/Darzi — you can’t tell for sure, because your head is now an echo chamber for the word Raaes and the girl is hardly ever mentioned properly in the film. Let’s call her Keo Karpin in recognition of her magical, levitating hair, which flies around her head like a faithful drone at all times. She gawks at everything — curtains, Shah Rukh Khan, telephones — like they are aliens playing dandia or something. What’s her role in the film? To stop you from watching YouTube dance videos on your phone, when you get too bored.
Which brings me to the question, where is the Shah Rukh Khan, you’d want to root for in every film? Rahul in Yes Boss, for whom you felt angry or Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman’s Raju you championed, Chak De’s Kabir Khan you wanted to give a hug to, or even, to some extent, Om Shanti Om’s Om you almost hurt for when he died? Where is the man who made you to root for the most filmi, unreal romances?
Where is the Shah Rukh Khan, you’d want to root for in every film?
Film after film these days, Khan’s directors have been giving him roles to play in which the woman he is supposed to be in a relationship with is pretty much a joke. These women are absurd, or unreasonable, or simply pathetic, like the character of Raaes‘ female lead. And their job is to worship the star. Exactly why was Deepika Padukone made to grovel in a pool of low self-esteem and self-pity in Happy New Year? Or Mahira Khan made to look like a glorified curtain in Raaes? And why was Kajol the hot-headed, easily-conned fool in Dilwale? And, for god’s sake, Kareena Kapoor’s character was such a zombie in Ra.One that a robot seemed more human than her.
It’s true that Shah Rukh Khan films are like habits we can’t shrug off anytime soon. But hey, is it fair to hand his fans a block of paneer and say, ‘Yeh lo, butter chicken’? Because as much as his producers and directors would want to believe so, we can actually tell one from the other.
Story first published here