Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddique, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Mahira Khan, Atul Kulkarni
Direction: Rahul Dholakia
Rating: **1/2

Suparna Sharma

There’s that thing na that gyaani, evolved people keep saying: “Be yourself”.
Shah Rukh Khan seems to have finally got it.
In 2006, when SRK released his remake of the Amitabh Bachchan classic, Don, there was lots of gossip about why he had done that. The story that stuck was that he wanted to knock off the memory of AB’s Don and take his place.
But aise thodi-na hota hai.
You can’t remake a 1978 film in 2006 and pretend that you are the icon of young, bristling anger of the Seventies.
All stars have to find, create their own Don.
Raees is not half as great as the original Don, but it is his very own. Years later it’ll probably be remade by another wannna-be, but Raees will always remain Shah Rukh Khan’s Don.

SET IN dry Gujarat, where booze business is worth Rs 25,000 crore, little Raees lives with his hardworking Ammi (Sheeba Chaddha) in a small town called Fatehpura.
He skips around with his pal Sadiq in khaki shorts, carting desi booze bottles snug and safe in his school bag.
He and Sadiq (who grows up into Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) have a warning word for danger, and Raees lives by a code: Koi dhanda chota nahin hota, aur dhande se bada koi dharm nahin hota.

Ambitious, he soon graduates to becoming a carrier for one Jairaj seth (Atul Kulkarni) and after a few years, when they are all grow up, he uses ponzi promises and deals to become a bootlegger himself.
A vintage car leads to a flock of goats, which leads him to a slaughterhouse and meat mandi in Mumbai.
Egoistic and easily offended, Raees initiates a bloody battle in the midst of hanging meat pieces, with dismembered goat heads, their eyes dazed, flying about.
The gore is simply gorgeous and not for the faint-hearted, and the fight sequence — its pace, cinematography and editing — deliciously dizzy.
Raees loses, but his chutzpah is established. And that brings to him one Musa who helps him rise up the bootlegging ladder.
Enter ACP Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddique), a dogged, upright cop who has submitted his fate to the system, but not his soul.
In trying to escape Majmudar, Raees — famed for having both, “Baniye ka dimaag, aur Miyan Bhai ki daring” — comes up with new plans, different routes, leading to more money, greater clout, bitter rivals.
Most cops, politicians, including the chief minister, are on his payroll. There’s also marriage, grand Robin Hood gestures and dreams of a housing colony.
But then something happens that changes the course of his life and that of others.

Raees, the film’s director and producer say, is not a biopic, but the fact is that it is based on the life, rise and death of Abdul Lateef, up to a point. The point being where the negative character turns evil.
There are several deviations and a lot has been added to Lateef’s character and story, and I read a lot into all that.

INDIANS LOOK askance at our own film stars every time some white Hollywood actor stands up and turns an acceptance speech into a go-viral moment that involves dissing a rightwinger and a teary audience.
Rhetorical questions are asked, people wonder when our own stars will rise and shine.
Won’t happen. Can’t. We have to just stop being schizophrenic.

All our filmy awards are a joke. They are essentially an ensemble of item numbers interspersed with lame comic routines.
Those who give and those who accept don’t take these awards seriously. So where’s the space, the moment to go all political and holier-than-the-cretins?
Second, as a nation, as a state we can’t protect an individual’s right to hire who he wants, shoot what he wants. Directors, producers, actors are hounded, blackmailed, made to grovel.
So to expect them to take a stand is really like asking them to invite the lynch mob home.
That’s why our stars, a few of them, smart as they are, have taken a slightly different route to say what they want to.
In Bollywood’s food chain, stars sit on top. They have the power to commission a script and see it through till it hits the screens. And these days they are making interesting choices.
Bajrangi Bhaijan, Fan, Udta Punjab and now Raees.
Consider this: A man who is unapologetically Muslim in appearance — a beard, Pathani suit, kholed eyes — and flails himself on Moharram, sells booze and yet walks with the coolest swagger in Gujarat. He even plays dandiya with his lovely wife Aasiya (Mahira Khan).
There’s also a rath yatra and an encounter orchestrated by Gujarat police.
Few stars, hardly any actually, have the dum to play characters with a negative tinge. Shah Rukh Khan does that here, but he is also grand and, eventually, a victim — of double-dealing associates, and the system.
I read a lot into this as well.
Because Raees is Rahul Dholakia’s second outing in Gujarat (he made Parzania in 2007).
And director Dholakia ka dimag, with Miyan Shah Rukh Khan ki daring make Raees a very interesting film.

IF FAN mocked the hollowness of stardom, Shah Rukh Khan reclaims it and celebrates it here.
Raees is dazzling when it employs the full star power of SRK. Raees uses all it can to make a criminal cool and mast, while taking away the moral sting.
SRK gets a filmy hero’s entry, with the camera caressing his sweaty, bloody torso, while Nawazuddin’s ACP Majmudar gets a silly, funny entry, establishing forever who will remain on top.
Throughout the film SRK’s Raees struts in bhai ishtyle, often in slow-mo, accompanied to cool instrumental music.
The background score contributes a lot to upping SRK’s cool quotient here. It’s seeti-bajaao fun.
Raees, shot on location, has the flavour of Gujarat. And several scenes, especially those with Nawazuddin, are laced with humour and add a nice spring to the film’s narrative. Nawazuddin’s character is significant to the film’s plot and adds to its charm, but there’s very little of him.
I am not a Shah Rukh Khan fan. Have never been. But I have always bowed to his power on screen, often while cringing at his three-trick ham routines.
But since Fan, I’ve been wondering. And now, with this badass Gujarati Don, I think I am finally acquiring a taste for SRK.