Wednesday, October 26, 2011

REVIEW 89: RA.ONE

Release date:
October 26, 2011
Director:
Anubhav Sinha
Cast:
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
Language:                              Hindi

Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ra.One

22 comments:

  1. Nice review.SRK doesnt understand the value of good screen play and good directors.. he always takes a leap of faith but its dangerous for a star of his stature..

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  2. I didnt see the film, may not see it at all but certainly never will miss your reviews in future.

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  3. No.One really likes Ra.One. In the first 10 minutes you will know the fate of the movie.

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  4. Ur first line says it all, but if anyone thought this movie is good after the first trailers were out are very optimistic. may be kids will love this, but very hard otherwise

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  5. I have seen the film Anna. U review is spot on. I liked it because of the special effects which is top notch. But seriously the script was a complete let down. Rajnikant cameo was a complete joke what was the purpose of that.
    Even I liked the first half of the movie. The second half was a let down. The songs and picturization was good. Overall a one time watch for sure.

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  6. very well said
    real disgusting muvi!!!

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  7. A tamilian well settled in London eats noodles, whatever with curds with his bare hands..and That is genuinely funny?
    It is sacrilegious and even humiliating for Tamilians who watched...Besides Rajini appearance was sort of awkward. Made to look clownish and SRK looks at him superciliously..Does he think he was doing one of his Filmfare night anchor roles whre he exhibits such scorn and sarcasm to all co-stars.we are naive if we assume it is only funny, where as he does it with purpose and with vengeance...

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  8. By the way, G.one is not a play on 'jeevan' , but it means 'Good one' and Ra.one is of course Raavan and 'Wrong one' ..SRK himself said so in KBC with AB

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  9. Bruce Lee’s three friends, Iski Lee, Uski Lee and Sabki Lee. !!! :)

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  10. The man made the movie for kids and a whole contellation of adults are deriding the sensibilities , script , soul et al.

    5 Songs , 4 fights and melodrama formed the base of Bollywood formula for more than half a decade ..yet the same audience give the box office a big thumbs up to mass make beleive keep your mind and home and watch remakes from south treding the age old non scripted on the spot directed films ..call it Golmal ,,but that what sell the tickets to the fantasy hungry indian cine goer ..rare exception being an Iqbal,Sarfarosh,Chak De,Laagan or a Black in the recent times.

    I am confident that by mid November the same main stream media will go ra ra to proclaim this as a hit..trade pundits hv already accounted a 65 crore collection by Friday and with weekend to go might scale the 100 crore number.

    But as Sanjay Leela Bansali puts it, it is more fashionable for makers to proclaim 100 or 300 crore numbers ..If they wanted to make 300 crores they should be in main stream business and leave movie making to folks who use it as a medium to express cinematic art meant to entertain..

    in the end , Yeh Public Hai , Saab Jaan Thi Hai !

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  11. Dear Aravindan,

    I can see that you are a hard-core SRK fan, but is it your contention that adults have no right to have an opinion on Ra.One? :) I will leave you to your views on the film but I’d like to address another point you’ve raised. You say: “I am confident that by mid-November the same mainstream media will go ra ra to proclaim this as a hit.” I think perhaps you are failing to see the difference between film reviews and trade reports. A film review is a particular critic’s perspective on the quality of a film. Trade reports, on the other hand, subsequently cover a film’s box-office collections. A publication’s critic may not like a film, yet it may go on to earn big money at the box office – I don’t see a conflict or contradiction between the two, unless you are suggesting that a critic absolutely must like films that go on to do well at the box office or that a publication should not report that a film is a hit if their critic had given it a negative review. I’m not quite sure I get the point you are making. One question, just out of curiosity though: you haven’t told us whether you liked Ra.One. Did you? Do tell.

    Rgds, Anna

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  12. I owe you Rs. 780,390 for Bodyguard and 390 for Ra.One!:D

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  13. I saw the film in 3D. If anything it was just right in the face, that's all..
    This must be the first ADULTS ONLY Children's film ever made...with so many vulgar jokes on female anatomy, gays and condoms!

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  14. I took the time to read your entire Ra One review (normally I read the last paragraph because your reviews are very long, and I am very lazy.) Anyway, I personally thoroughly enjoyed Ra One more than the the two films you compared it to, Krrish and Koi Mil Gaya. I won't talk about Koi Mil Gaya because I have a bias against that film, but I found my self laughing and feeling the emotion more in Ra One than in Krrish. The premise of Krrish didn't work for me at all (the grandmother keeping her innocent grandson who has special powers from the world,and a girl comes in and tries to cash in on his powers but develops feelings for him) so subsequently I didn't feel any of it. Here, I felt the emotion and I actually thought many sequences were very funny. Personally I thought the part G One grabs Ra Ones "main part" and the lines that followed were hilarious, it was corny, bizarre, unusual but it was very funny. Same thing when SRK was trying to get the keys out of the cleavage and he said something along the lines of he only wants the big one and he has a duplicate of the small one was very funny considering Kareena is playing his wife. The point is the feeling you had while watching Krrish was the feeling I had while watching Ra One. Just wanted to share my opinion of the film with you since it differs from yours.

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  15. Dint like it one bit but for the attempt to scale the technical barrier benchmark laid by the west. This is even if i am a self confessed SRK fan. As an adult I relished SuperHero ones like The Dark Night and X Men Fantastic so much in the recent times ..

    in fact i dint like Raavan too but stood to defend it in my own ways why Mani;s sensibilities of potraying ramayam was not palatable to main stream of today ..the same for his earlier effort of Dil Se which had a deeper ressonance with the upheavals ofin the Eastern India.

    Critics to me are meant for commentry to elevate nuances of fine cinema as an art form and main stream entertainment medium..its wud be engrossing to read critique of Scarface,Raging Bull,Men of Honor,To Kill a Mocking Bird,Sadma,Maqbool,TZP,ChakDe,Nayagan,Aab Tak Chappan and the likes..

    Critics role in mainstream bollywood media is rather limited and at times limiting ..thats where the trade views and cinematic critique conflict.

    Critiquing Bollywood is also akin playing to gallery..your polls are indicative of the fact putforth.

    India Media and Bollywood has over half a decade cultivating a penchant for commercial success and ordaining the same as benchmark for successful cinema ..why else will Hum Tum win a National Award ahead of Swades !

    With the multiplex era the urban India will choose a well made movie with a script , content and act even if our hinterlands await a movie release to satiate their fantasies and yearn for larger than life make belive world grandoising family, marriage , romance and other synomomous genre.

    Most often rather than airing critical views most run down a movie.More then sanctimonious commentary, bringing rational yet incisive comments on the tapestry of the movie and voicing areas found wanting is more the kind I relish.

    I like reading your reviews as do i relish Rajeev Masands ..the rest play to gallery with their sould sold out to the moolah rouge.

    In the end no one film maker ever start off to make a dud of a film , some where they meander into the relms of narssisim , over indulgance , time , money etc to come out with indiffrent movie experience. The STAR value ensure a great opening for bollywood even if the movie is pasable.

    I rest my case after having made vent to my rather convuluted views ..

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  16. NOTE TO MR N. KUMAR:

    Hello Mr Kumar,

    It’s interesting that you have reacted so differently from me to the spaghetti-and-curd scene in Ra.One – being a south Indian myself (though not a Tamilian), I didn’t find anything offensive in that scene. I have a friend who likes to eat noodles with sambhar – that does not make him any less than those who eat it any other way, it just means he has different tastes. The fact that Indian food manufacturers would bring out sambhar-flavoured noodles is an indicator that my friend is not alone. What part of the scene did you find “sacrilegious”? That Shekhar was eating spaghetti with curd or that he was eating with his hands? I don’t think there’s anything insulting about that because I don’t think eating with the hands is an inferior habit to eating with spoons and forks. Incidentally, I know that a couple of my friends share your view, but I feel we Indians as a whole need to relax a little and learn to laugh at ourselves. If Punjabis can, why can’t the rest of us? The only Indian community being stereotyped in a borderline offensive fashion by Hindi films these days are the Gujaratis – many films portraying Gujaratis tend to laugh AT the community, not WITH them. Even worse is the way Christians were stereotyped as gangsters, gangsters’ molls, drunkards and quasi-foreigners by Bollywood till the 1990s. Now there’s a stereotype that has caused great harm to the community and Bollywood has a lot to answer for that.

    About the name G.One … Do rewind to the conversation in the film when Shekhar and his colleagues arrive at the name Ra.One for the bad guy in their game. G.One is suggested as a name for the good one, to match Ra.One. A member of the team asks whether G.One resembles any Indian word (just the way Ra.One sounds like Raavan) … and another person points out that G.One sounds like jeevan. I hope I’ve helped you refresh your memory. Thank you for writing to me.

    Rgds, Anna

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  17. Your point is well taken, Madam..
    May be I over reacted but this spoofing of Tamils has been going on from 'Padosan' days in bollywood ( aiyayayyo, pakoda, curds and whatever.) Does get on your nerves like here when you show an intelligent game developer in London still being so rustic or typical...

    Have not seen any such spoofs on North Indians in South Movies.
    In this movie, in the CST scene, I for one did not somehow like the premise of the famous heritage structure destroyed thus...Besides G.One had already applied brakes and cut power etc much earlier to its crashing through the buffers, the whole building and rip in to the street outside. Seemed too incredulous, looked like included deliberately to show special effects..Reminded one of Keanu Reeves flick 'Speed'! Also Kareena kapoor mouthing swear words like baap ke, bhaai ke etc was also too cheap and deserved *beeps* at least, as many kids in the hall were actually enjoying it, leaving their parents squirming in the seats..

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  18. Anna's review is spot on but cant but concur with N Kumar on the jibes taken at tambrahms. Okay the padosan days were different, but in today's world to say aiyyo for hallo, bye and thank you and that too by a geek is far-fetching indeed. If SRK was a perfectionist he would spoken tamil like tamilians which he didnt. speaking english with a regional twange is simple. And kid's movie????well a point that can be contested. But SRK sure must have experienced or studied his children's world in depth to take a bold 'kids' movie like this.

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  19. More comments from Tamilian audience and their dislike for Ra1's Tamil Stereotypes on today's Chennai Times ( TOI, Chennai ed).
    Thank Gosh , I am not the only one, at least the odd man out who is immune to Bollywood humour and parody!~sigh~

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  20. I have never been an SRK fan and I didn't particularly like his performance as the Tamil computer programmer in Ra.One, but I have to admit that his performance as the superhero character from the game was not bad at all. Your review seems bang on for the most part, except I liked the movie more and more as it progressed instead of the other way round. A lot of the scenes that didn't work for you actually worked quite well for me. The background score in a lot of the action scenes worked incredibly for me, and I felt proud for Bollywood having finally made a sci-fi flick that looked no less slick than its Hollywood counterparts. And the Chitti scene actually made me laugh out loud :)

    I didn't have the thought about Kareena looking out for heroine-centric roles, but her performance and her screen presence did make me think that she just needs a great script and a great director and she can spew out superhit after superhit. And I haven't even been a big Kareena fan all these years. She has definitely grown as an actress, along with Deepika and Katrina both of whom seemed a bit shaky in their early movies.

    Ironically, the scene that didn't work for me was PC's guest appearance - and I am a diehard PC fan. It was lame and felt nothing more than an elementary school drama. I really hope PC doesn't accept such low impact guest appearances in future - not even as a favor to friends.

    I would go with a 2 star as well as the script could have been better, but I got more than I expected from the movie so I'm happy :)

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  21. "Shah Rukh does a decent impression of a Tamilian scientist"... are you kidding?! From the cheap wig to the accent and general horror of watching him have noodles with curd in the vain attempt at humour, SRK lost serious fans from an entire region for his asinine act. And for your review of it as a "decent impression", lost another reader. Reason why fans shouldn't review films.

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    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Haha, so you assume I'm an SRK "fan" simply because I'm not parochial, touchy and sensitive without a purpose. I don't like stereotypes when they are caricaturish or insidious or can inadvertently cause considerable social/political harm, but I recognise the vast difference between Mehmood's over-the-top "Madrasi" and SRK's Tamilian scientist (just as there's a vast difference between the stupid stereotyping of Indians in the American serial Outsourced and the affectionate portrayal of Raj Koothrappalli in The Big Bang Theory); and unlike you, I have a sense of humour. What's more, I actually do have friends who eat Maggi with sambar, dahi etc. Does that admission offend you too? Has it occurred to you to wonder why Maggi came up with sambar noodles? Besides, unless a string of Hindi films were to be made in which a series of south Indian characters are shown having noodles with curd, I don't see how this can be considered a stereotype at all.

      Anyway, everyone reacts differently to films, and you have an absolute right to be put off by Shah Rukh Khan's portrayal. You don't, however, have a right to present yourself as some sort of elected representative of south India as a whole. Speak for yourself, please, instead of presuming to speak on behalf of "an entire region".

      Regards, Anna

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