Once upon a time, before he stretched his arms to patent that signature pose of romantic superstardom, Shah Rukh Khan had already successfully courted the darker side of life on screen. Those were the pre-DDLJ nineties, and he just delivered Baazigar, Darr, Ram-Jaane and Anjaam, sensationally sexing up the Bollywood hero with an anti-hero twist.
With Raees, Shah Rukh returns those roots. He is back in the business of being bad nearly two and half decades later.
The stakes, though, are different this time. The budding actor of Darr or Baazigar has come a full circle. He has been there, done it all.
Antihero 2.0 is not necessarily a box-office pitch to break records (which probably explains why SRK has settled to share the spoils with Hrithik Roshan’s Kaabil over the Republic Day weekend). The image re-haul obviously has a more long-term ambition.
It is about reminding the fans that at 51 Shah Rukh Khan is serious about moving away from his comfort zone of Bollywood-ish mush for good.
Raees is all fire and brimstone in the spread it lays out for the actor. The film was always meant to be an SRK package. The script meticulously creates space for the actor to showcase fiery drama more than any other passion including his favoured genre — filmi romance — and he goes all out with relish.
It seems like a smart move that Shah Rukh chose a larger-than-life, retro protagonist for his image overhaul, at a time when his superstardom has been reeling under the Salman Khan effect. The SRK brand of romance has been gathering the moss of clichés over the decades. Anything less than grand would perhaps be inadequate to brush off its by-now jaded impact.
First-day fan frenzy over the film suggests the effect is perhaps going to be more than grand. Raees Alam has unfolded as a towering force, a mighty screen avatar good enough to have the buffs talking about Shah Rukh for some time.
|Unlike Darr, Baazigar, Ram-Jaane or Anjaam, SRK’s latest antihero turn is not about heartbreak. [Photo: Screengrab]|
That is where the most pertinent aspect about SRK’s Antihero 2.0 lies. Director Rahul Dholakia leaves a contemporary spin in the way he imagines the mind of his very retro gangster. Unlike Darr, Baazigar, Ram-Jaane or Anjaam, SRK’s latest antihero turn is not about heartbreak. The evil streak does not strictly stem from being spurned in love. Raees Alam is a cleverly manufactured prototype meant to woo a generation that does not mind the idea of going to any extent for big money. The element of love in his life is secondary. Raees lives to get rich (and powerful). He savours the idea of foxing everyone who may come in his way, including the law.
The idea gives Raees Alam a certain dimension beyond antiheroes we have known in Hindi mainstream. He is unabashedly cruel. He opposes prohibition, as well as all curbs on prostitution and even drugs, because the choice, according to him, should be the people’s. Bollywood superstars are normally not supposed to endorse such thoughts, not even on screen.
Shah Rukh and Rahul Dholakia have, of course, played it safe. Raees parcels all such notions only as passing hint cleverly wrapped in glitzy masala.
Interestingly, SRK rids himself of all starry mannerism this time — unlike what he has been prone to do over most of his career. The effort makes Raees risky affair for the Bollywood superstar.
Given the film is bringing him back to the marquee after the no-shows of Dilwale and Fan, that is quite a risk to take.