October 26, 2011
Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Armaan Verma, Arjun Rampal, Shahana Goswami, Tom Wu
Three words – invest in scripts. Okay, make that seven – for heaven’s sake, Bollywood, invest in scripts! It’s amazing how an industry that spends crores on stars and marketing, fails to pour as much time & money into the one thing that forms the cornerstone of every great film: writing! And that, I’m afraid, is the problem with Ra.One.
There’s tremendous potential in the story of a computer game so well-programmed that its characters take on a life of their own in the virtual and real worlds. Shah Rukh Khan in Ra.One plays Shekhar Subramanium, a London-based game developer whose son Prateek thinks he’s a loser. Shekhar follows his advice and creates a game in which the villain – Ra.One – is invincible. When Prateek takes a shot at the game, he reaches a level that none of his dad’s adult colleagues had been able to scale. But he leaves midway, angering Ra.One who is designed to never suffer defeat. The animated creature exits the game and enters our world in search of Prateek. Who he destroys along the way and how he is ultimately vanquished, if at all, form the story of the film.
Ra.One starts out with all the potential that the concept had. We’re in virtual reality. A figure that resembles Shah Rukh is on his way to save a beautiful maiden (Priyanka Chopra in a guest appearance) from a Khalnayak (Sanjay Dutt, another guest appearance) but on the way he must overcome Bruce Lee’s three friends, Iski Lee, Uski Lee and Sabki Lee. Yeah yeah, it’s cheesy but funny all the same, the special effects look world class, their execution is nothing like we’ve seen before in India and I settled into my seat with my popcorn and coffee, reassured that all was well with the world.
The first half of the film is reasonably entertaining. Shah Rukh does a decent impression of a Tamilian scientist, going beyond the Hindi film staple of “Aiaiyyo” and pronouncing his words in a way only a Tamilian who speaks English well can (note how he says “volume”). He quotes “the great Navjot Singh Sidhu” and himself. There’s a genuinely funny moment when Shekhar’s Westernised son eats spaghetti with chopsticks, while dad plunges his bare fingers into a plate full of the dish drowned in curd. But well begun is only half done. And Ra.One suffers from an all-pervading feeling of being just half done.
The best sci-fi fantasies and superhero adventures, if matter-of-factly dissected, have the potential to sound silly. Think about it … Spiderman: A boy bitten by a spider who develops arachnoid qualities! Superman: A caped chappie who wears his undies over a body suit and battles evil! Matrix: A world where machines have enslaved humankind! But these bare-bones concepts have been effective because they’ve been fleshed out by great writers who infused them with a richness of meaning, warmth and emotion.
Ra.One’s concept, however, is infused almost solely with special effects! There was potential crying out to be tapped here. The evil guy’s moniker is a sort of acronym for the technical phrase Random Access Version 1.0 which, when crunched down to its initials resembles the name of Lord Ram’s bête noir. The good guy in the game is G.One (also SRK), a play on jeevan (life). But Ram and Raavan were not uni-dimensional men – Ram is considered God by some and a maryada purushottam by others; Raavan’s effigies are burnt in some parts of the world while elsewhere he is deified. G.One and Ra.One in this film though are one-note characters with no layers! When Ra.One first appears on screen in the body of Arjun Rampal, he tells a group of children: “Tum har saal Raavan ko isliye maarte ho kyunki tum jaante ho ki woh kabhi nahin marta.” But the possibility of the immortality of evil is left to that single sentence! Likewise, the thought of a father desperate to impress his son could have so greatly tugged at the heart, as could a woman’s attraction to a gaming character who looks exactly like the husband she loves, but neither is satisfactorily dealt with. G.One’s characterisation is highly inconsistent, sometimes played robotically by Khan, sometimes seeming too human to be true. And the guest appearance by megastar Rajinikanth as Chitti from Enthiran feels like a lazy gimmick.
I’d have been willing to live with all this if Ra.One had been a super entertainer. But for a film that sets out to be a high-action adventure, it is surprisingly slow. After a thrilling chase when G.One first makes his appearance in the real world, the editor sacrifices pace in a bid to establish grandeur with slow motion and sweeping shots. There’s an extended sequence in which G.One is trying to reach the front of a moving train but the darned fellow seems to take too long to get there. The background score is terribly ineffective. And the gaming mumbo jumbo thrown at us sounds like nothing at all.
Here’s what I did like about Ra.One … Kareena Kapoor as Shekhar’s wife lifts the film whenever she comes on screen. Here’s an actress who’s doing herself a great disservice by focusing all her energies on the Bodyguards and Ra.Ones of the world, hitching her fortunes primarily to the industry’s male superstars though she has the presence and the talent to experiment with more heroine-centric ventures. Besides, she looks like five million bucks here, and thank god she’s turned her back on that skinny, scrawny look she sported for a while. Debutant Armaan Verma who plays her son is a good actor too and shares a warm chemistry with SRK. I enjoyed the build-up of suspense before Shah Rukh is first seen as a living breathing G.One in the film. I love the story woven into the Dildara song and its use of the classic Stand By Me. Chammak Challo is even more fun in the film than in the promos. Arjun Rampal is both menacing and hot in a disappointingly brief appearance as Ra.One. And as I said at the start, the special effects are top notch.
But I like my superhero flicks to be imbued with emotional resonance, I like to love my supermen, I want to feel for them. Rakesh Roshan’s Koi Mil Gaya and Krrish had a fraction of Ra.One’s budget but I cried and laughed for the protagonist in both. With Ra.One however, I smiled occasionally and didn’t shed a single tear. The film is sporadically entertaining, but for the most part it left me cold!
Rating (out of five): **
CBFC Rating: U
Running time: 160 Minutes approximately