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Once Upon A Time In Gujarat

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Raees
Director: Rahul Dholakia
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Mahira Khan, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub and others
Rating: * * ½

Of the three leading superstars in the Hindi film industry today, it is to Aamir Khan’s credit that he facilitates and participates in films with a positive social message. Salman Khan’s films are maturing too, so it is disconcerting to say the least to watch Shah Rukh Khan act in a film about a gangster and try to lend him a kind of respectability.

 Rahul Dholakia, who made the courageous 'Parzania', probably tried to make a film about the repercussions of alcohol prohibition in Gujarat (Hollywood is still nostalgic about crime in the Prohibition era of the 1920s). But then a superstar steps in, big production houses get involved and before a director knows it, his film has romance (Mahira Khan as the love interest), songs, an item number (Sunny Leone) and an unabashed braggadocio. Maybe every star wants to do a 'Deewar' or 'Nayakan' once in his career, pretend on screen that the despicable character he plays is actually a saintly Robin Hood, whose heart beats for his people. So what if Raees, the protagonist of this film, sells illicit liquor? He also buys sewing machines for the mohalla women, and at times of curfew empties out his safe to buy food for the town.

This one is extra messianic, he wants to set up an ideal township; when he stands for elections, he wins. When a politician wants to take out an anti-booze procession via his area, the women come out to roll bottles into the street to halt the vehicles in their tracks.

Of course, when there is Shah Rukh Khan declaring “Koi dhanda chhota nahin hota,” and living up to his reputation of having “Baniye ka dimaag aur Mianbhai ki daring” then where is the question of even mildly criticizing the consumption of alcohol or looking at a hooch tragedy that takes place so often in our country? In Dholakia’s Fatehpura, everyone from schoolkids to postmen supply booze in a dry state, under the noses of corrupt cops and politicians on the take.

The one honest cop Jaideep Majmudar played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui with scene-stealing flair, is constantly transferred by the ministers. Raees’s downfall, the film suggests, comes not due to crime and mass murder, but his generosity and trust in the wrong people.

Raees is supposed to be fictional, but based on the life of a notorious Gujarat bootlegger and gangster Abdul Latif, real incidents suitably glamorized or twisted to make Raees look like a grand hero.

The opening voice-over claims that the liquor trade in Gujarat is worth a mind-boggling figure in thousands of crores, which was made possible by Raees. Really? And that’s an achievement to be proud of?

The film may be well made, and a blockbuster at the box-office, but it is not the kind of film one expects from Rahul Dholakia or Shah Rukh Khan.

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