One tight slap, Kailash Vijayvargiya

Kaveree Bamzai
Kaveree BamzaiJan 25, 2017 | 18:54

One tight slap, Kailash Vijayvargiya

Do you hear that ringing sound? Yes, that’s the sound of one (or maybe two) tight slaps to politicians who want to question the patriotic credentials of actors on the basis of the roles they play or the religion they espouse — or sometimes, both. So, Kailash Vijayvargiya, take that.

Since we have been forced to look at Raees not only as a movie, but also as a political document, here goes: it delivers patriotism in spades, and no one even has to say "Bharat Mata ki Jai".

"Main dhandha karta hoon, magar dharam ka dhanda nahin." It’s a lesson Mr Vijayvargiya and Friends should heed, as they go around questioning people for the roles they do and the actors they star with. Raees is a seventies-style potboiler (if there was any doubt they even play an Amitabh Bachchan film during the film), with action, emotion, and lots of masala, with a Shah Rukh Khan who is rediscovering his acting smarts after Fan and Dear Zindagi. Raees is a gangster in Gujarat with a "bania ka dimag" and "mianji ki daring". He learns from his mother that "koi dhanda chota ya bada nahin hota”. But he also learns that it has to be done with certain basic rules, top of which is not to hurt anyone.

Raees delivers patriotism in spades, and no one even has to say 'Bharat Mata ki Jai'.

He runs the illegal liquor business in Gujarat, an offshoot of the prohibition in the state. He does this by aligning with politicians — those in power and those in the opposition as well. He also gets the people on his side — if the women need sewing machines, he provides them, so they can stitch bags in which he delivers liquor home; if the unemployed mill workers need their money, he shakes up the owner who is not paying them their dues; if the school needs books, he provides them. He wants to build an Apni Duniya, a housing colony where everyone will celebrate Id and Diwali, where there will be an English medium school, where everyone will have access to a hospital. He is, in short, a gangster with a heart of gold, who will do anything but compromise on his basic credentials, which is not to hurt anyone.

He has frequent run-ins with the law, represented by the IPS officer played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Their final confrontation is totally desi-western, shot against a desert sky, in slow motion, with enough time for Shahrukh Khan to remind us how good he can be. Neither Nawazuddin nor Shahrukh disappoint and their confrontations are among the highlights of the film.

There has been much discussion about two aspects of the film and rightly so. Shah Rukh Khan has played a Muslim before onscreen — most famously Kabir Khan in Chake De India, whose patriotism was questioned when he played against Pakistan — but never so obviously.

His 90s liberalised hero was always secular, with materialism his only religion, and love his mantra. The naughties have pushed everyone into tiny little identity boxes, and it is no accident that his religion is very well defined here — from an “entry” scene which is shot on him during a fictional Muharram to his conversations with his mother in the graveyard so his nikaah. 

The other aspect is  the frequent resort to faction. Instead of either the Ram Janmabhoomi and then Mumbai blasts of 1992-93, or the Godhra burning-Gujarat riots of 2002, or so obviously the story of Abdul Latif, Dawood Ibrahim’s aide, the director resorts to fictional events — an arson attack in north India and then consequently bomb blasts, again in north India.

It is not surprising given the atmosphere of intolerance surrounding filmmakers on what they show and how they show it. You could also read it as a metaphor for Shah Rukh Khan’s own recent career — his public utterances have invariably been interpreted in this way and that, his motives questioned, and certainly his patriotism put under the miscroscope. If our filmmakers choose to tell their stories through allegory like Iranian filmmakers do, can they be blamed?

It’s been a barren few years for fans of the actor who’ve had to wade through some odd choices the actor has made, given his obvious intelligence. This trifecta of movies, Fan, Dear ZIndagi and Raees, marks a return to his roots, and a relief to his admirers.

It is always difficult for an actor who has so obviously defined the post-liberalised generation to continue making movies that are seminal. As India retreats to some of the savagery of the 70s — in its political discourse, in its economic choices, in its leadership style, perhaps we will see a return of larger-than-life storytelling, where heroes walk alone, spouting dialogue that seems written by Salim-Javed (din aur raat logon ke liye hota hain, sheron ka to zamana hota hai, mohalla bachate bachate shehar jala diya, pyaar se dhanda kar, time aur munafa dono hi bach jeyenge), with heroines simpering, singing, and standing up for one token scene.

Shah Rukh Khan as Amitabh Bachchan? Hmmm. That sounds like a grand post-50 career plan.

Last updated: January 26, 2017 | 19:31
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