Raees – A Great Character for SRK and a Crowd pleaser of a Film

I mostly loved Raees.  If you’ve read my last post, you know I have had a difficult month with my father having been in the hospital for a couple of weeks.  He’s better but things are still rough.  I’ve been so looking forward to this date — finally a new Shahrukh Khan film.

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Raees is a great character for Shahrukh.  He’s playing a gangster — but a bootlegger with a heart, who makes dinner for his wife.  He’s got a lot of swagger and panache to him, and we are totally on his side as he seems to only kill bad people.

I love how the film starts, with the child Raees who works as a lookout and a mule for the local bootlegger.  Even as a kid, he has lots of moxie, and you never, ever call him four-eyes.

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Raees has a great foil in the police inspector played by Nawazuddin Saddiqui.  What a dream to see these two actors going head to head.  Nawaz’s introduction scene left me in stitches.  He’s so by the book about illegal liquor in Gujarat, that his superiors don’t know what to do with him.  He won’t play the game, and keeps getting transferred around.  He’s like Wile E. Coyote against Raees the Road Runner, outsmarted at nearly every turn.

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What I absolutely loved about the film was SRK’s relationship with Mahira Khan in the film.  Their romance is already existing at the beginning of the film, and the scene we discover that is amusing.  Mahira as Raees’ wife is steadfast, and the only one who can put him back on his heels.  They have a teasing relationship that feels real and adult — not a kid romance.

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Besides the setting in the 80’s and all of Raees’ cool glasses, there is a wonderful homage scene to Amitabh and the classic gangster films of the past.  I haven’t seen Deewar (I know, I know, it’s on the list!), but I have seen another great Indian gangster film, Nayakan.  This has some of the same elements.  The gangster who becomes the champion of the people.

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In Raees, he becomes a politician at one point to get past people who are standing in his way.

Is Raees a perfect film?  No.  I think Shahrukh had to stretch more as an actor in Fan.  But Raees is a crowd pleaser.  It has the music numbers, some romance, and the cool slow-mo shooting with a shot gun while falling type scenes.

I was tired going in to the film, even though it was a 2 p.m. matinee (I had to get up at four a.m. today)  And I was in a theater that had those reclining Laz-E-Boy type seats which didn’t help – but to be honest, it felt like the film lagged a bit in the middle at points.  I don’t think it was just that I was so tired.  I don’t think the film kept the tension going consistently.

Still, Shahrukh Khan had a great character to play, and it’s just a joy seeing him play a serious role like this, especially opposite Nawaz.  This is sort of like a Godfather type film, which Nayakan is an homage to, but somehow it didn’t quite have the pathos.  The Godfather and Nayakan deal with the tragedies in multiple generations, and Raees’ child is still a toddler at the end of the film.  While Shahrukh acted well in the parts where he was supposed to be a brash young man, he is getting a bit long in the tooth to pull it off.

It’s a very enjoyable film, just not a great one for the ages.  It’s nice to be arguing that kind of point about a Shahrukh Khan film.  It’s one I’ll be seeing again in theaters, and will be fun to rewatch.

Plus, Shahrukh dancing garba is always a good thing.  😉

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Kammatti Paadam -Dulquer Salmaan is the star in this gripping gangster movie, but Vinayakan and Manikandan steal the show

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Kammatti Paadam is a gangster epic. This film has a lot of depth and meat to it.  Dulquer Salmaan was amazing.  I’m admiring his choices of films and roles this past year.  He’s breaking into new ground and showing his acting chops outside the charming romantic lead type.  The poster shows him present day as a salt and pepper haired 42 year old security guard living in Mumbai.  (Yes, we see him doing security for a Bollywood film doing a street shoot!)  Just a touch of gray to his hair and mustache.  And I think he must have gained weight for the role.  He just looked more like his father Mammootty than ever with that substantial thick mustache.
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I looked up during the interval who the director is – Rajeev Ravi.  He’s only directed a few Malayalam films, but he’s worked extensively as a cinematographer in Bollywood, with Anurag Kashyap especially.  He was cinematographer on Bombay Velvet, Gangs of Wasseypur, Dev D, etc.  And key in Malayalam cinema, he was cinematographer for Classmates.  There were some really interesting shots — into plate glass windows, some shaky handheld work during action scenes, etc.  It just was visually interesting and not all straight forward shooting as we sometimes see in Indian film.

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The story is shown in a series of flashbacks after he gets a call in Mumbai from an old friend in Kerala who is in trouble.  Dulquer is Krishnan, a Hindu middle class kid and the name of the movie is the neighborhood he grew up in and the name of his gang.  We see his exposure to violence as a very young child, as he and his best friend Ganga see a local tough kill three men who challenge him.  Then another actor plays Dulquer as a young teen and we see that he has fallen in love with a Dalit girl.  The trouble is, so has Ganga.  Ganga and the whole gang are dalit, and the ringleader is Balan, Ganga’s older brother.  The actor who played Balan was incredible – newcomer Manikandan.

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Balan is played by newcomer Manikandan
We see Krish’s descent into violence as a teenager.  He gives a necklace to Anita, the dalit girl, and another reviewer pointed out that it was an echo of Michael Corleone in Godfather.  I recognized a Nayakan poster in one scene, but evidently there are more references and posters to other Indian gangster films in flashbacks.

Krish is jailed after he saves Ganga from being arrested by slashing a cop with a knife/machete in an impulsive act, ending up killing the cop.

When he gets out of jail, it’s young Dulquer acting the part.  We keep flashing back and forth in the narrative, and we can see present day Dulquer/Krish is injured with a bound torso, trying to keep conscious while riding a bus.

Balan, Ganga and the gang introduce Krish to their current operation — mostly transporting illegal hooch and bootlegging.  They also are hired to run off some poor families who are refusing to sell to a real estate developer.

Balan’s grandfather confronts Balan with his shame that his relative could do this to their relatives and people, and then the grandfather dies of the shock and shame.  This changes Balan and he wants to get out of the business as does Krish.  But they know too much, and a new rival in the organization won’t let things stand.  Balan is killed and Ganga blames Krish for it.

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Ganga, Krish and the gang go after Johnny, the rival and then lay low after the altercation.  Ganga tells Krish that he knows that Krish and Anita love each other but their families will never allow them to marry as it would be intercaste.  He says that he will marry Anita and try to make her happy.  Krish then goes to Mumbai.  The mystery through much of the film is how if Ganga was his romantic rival and “stole” his girl, why would he leave everything to help him and look for him all these years later?

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Vinayakan as the young and older Ganga

The guy who plays Ganga as an adult, Vinayakan was also fantastic.  I just looked him up and he was the villain John in Kali! The director found some great actors, and your sympathies are with the Dalit and how they keep getting screwed.  Their boss goes respectable and becomes a business tycoon in legal liquor and real estate, but the gang are left with nothing.

There is a final revenge scene, and Krish looks out over the city Ernakulam, Kerala.  He says to the person he’s killing that the city was built on the thick black blood of the Dalit people.  And then I realized that the idyllic country place from the childhood scenes, to the motley semi-rural shacks in the young men section to then the present day bustling city were all the same place.  And the point of the movie was that this vibrant young new city was built on the Dalit community being dispossessed and they did it for quick money to their own community.  That was probably obvious to the Kerala audience but I didn’t really get it until the end.

The women in the movie didn’t have much to do, much like many gangster pics.  One interesting note was that Balan’s wife seemed to have become a don herself after his death (and more successful.)  She assists Krish to find the answers at the end.  And there is an unrequited romance for Krish, and a whisper of a song motif for them, but no full fledged song numbers at all.  It was very much parallel cinema.  I’m guessing it’s much like Gangs of Wasseypur (which I haven’t seen yet), Kerala version.

Krish is our entre to their world, but he’s more a witness to what happens to the Dalit community.  He’s still middle-class and Hindu in the end and can move to Mumbai to start over, unlike the rest of the gang.

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The film felt long to me, and I wished it had been edited a little tighter.  (The filming ended in March evidently.)  It’s a sprawling gangster epic in the mode of Nayakan, Godfather, Casino, etc.  It’s not my favorite type of film.  So, so violent.  Shockingly violent in several parts.  The acting was great, but it’s a story of brothers of circumstance if not of blood or caste.   It’s the story of Ganga and Balan, and also Krish.

I admire this movie very much, but it’s not something I want to see over and over again.  It’s just very dark and violent and searing.  It was hard to see Dulquer be so violent in Kali, and this is even steps beyond that.  It’s not a silly action Masala movie.  He does the action scenes well, but he’s not a hero.

I thought we were seeing Dulquer play an adult in Kali, but this film shows him really, truly coming of age.  I’m excited to see him take on that mantle, and looking forward to see what roles he’ll take on next.

Four stars out of five.