June 9, 2017
Sushant Singh Rajput, Kriti Sanon, Jim Sarbh, Varun Sharma, Cameos: Deepika Padukone and Rajkummar Rao
Let’s get this question out of the way right at the start: Raabta is not particularly a copy of the Tollywood hit Magadheera. If you have been following news around the week’s new Hindi film release, you will know that Telugu producer Allu Aravind had sent a legal notice to the makers of Raabta on seeing their trailer, alleging plagiarism of his 2009 venture directed by S.S. Rajamouli, starring Ram Charan and Kajal Aggarwal. Now that Raabta is out, Aravind would be well advised to avoid associating his film with this one – because whatever Magadheera’s follies may have been, it is not guilty of Raabta’s foremost failing: a complete lack of imagination.
It is possible that Raabta’s writers Siddharth-Garima got the initial inspiration for their story from Rajamouli’s film. Or maybe they did not. The truth is this project has no new ideas.
Perhaps they took the genre – reincarnation drama – literally. Making a film on rebirth does not mean grabbing a bunch of ingredients already used in a bunch of Indian films across languages, chucking them into a wok and tossing them around to create what you think you could fool people into believing is your own baby, your own recipe. From its opening scenes right till the closing song ‘n’ dance routine accompanying the end credits, from its basic plotline to its writing and directorial treatment, Raabta is bathed in déjà vu.
This is one of the most unoriginal Hindi films I have seen all year.
The first half of Raabta is devoted to the young and sprightly Punjabis-in-Budapest, Shiv Kakkar (played by Sushant Singh Rajput) and Saira Singh (Kriti Sanon). A banker newly arrived in Europe, he is busy painting the town red when he chances upon her, a beautiful Indian chocolatier.
He stalks her. She allows him into her flat on the day of their very first meeting despite being somewhat thrown off by his disturbing behaviour. He stalks her more (because conventional wisdom dictates that Bollywood heroines do not deserve to be courted with respect and sensitivity). She falls for him. Because? C’mon dumbo, that’s what Bollywood heroines do.
The only thing slightly different in this mix – if you have not seen other reincarnation films – is that she feels an inexplicable connection to him going beyond chemistry and compatibility, and related to the nightmares she has been seeing revolving around drowning and hazy human figures. We naturally guess that their bond is linked to those dreams. Hence the words from the title track, “kucch toh hai tujhse raabta” (I clearly have some sort of connection with you) and the title itself, which is Urdu for “connection”.
There is a certain cliched concept of ‘modern’, ‘youthful’ romance that has plagued commercial Indian cinema in recent years, epitomised by Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani in Tamil and Aditya Chopra’s Befikre in Hindi last year. You can add Raabta to that list. In all these films, the road to falling in love is lined with the same old milestones packaged in gloss: contrived conflicts, youngsters brimming with artificially scaled up energy while a frothy song plays in the background, doing stuff the filmmakers clearly consider cute (such as giving each other stupid, dangerous dares, kissing on parapets where they could end up tipping over and falling into a river, and more).
It is natural to wonder: do these people ever talk like normal people? When do they get to know each other, to really fall in love?
Their ‘liberalism’, by the way, ends at having pre-marital sex. Before Shiv’s icky persistence with Saira in Raabta, we witness him trivialising white women much like Ranveer Singh’s character in Befikre and so many other Hindi film men before them.
So although Rajput and Sanon are both charismatic, sweet and good looking, and director of photography Martin Preiss lays picture-postcard visuals across their story, they cannot save the film from its been-there-done-that feel.
The first half is stretched to breaking point to create suspense over the explanation for Saira’s dreams. The plot takes too long to get to the kookie liquor baron Zakir Merchant (played by a hammy Jim Sarbh). Once it does so, the back story (shown only post-interval) involving his past life with Saira and Shiv’s earlier avatars has little flesh. The special effects in this portion are impressive, but there is not enough of that waterfall, those fights and ancient habitations to recommend Raabta. An unrecognisable Rajkummar Rao is completely wasted in a cameo here.
It takes a great deal of writing skill to make a rational viewer enjoy a film on reincarnation, magical fantasy or the paranormal without feeling foolish. For one, Raabta gets dull quite quickly. It also makes the rebirth story sound asinine.
To makes things worse, the three leads here are all delivering self-consciously written film dialogues, rather than normal human lines. If conversations pre-interval are trying to sound cool, post-interval they are trying to sound grand but fall flat.
Raabta’s music is as recycled as the screenplay, and is credited to Pritam’s company JAM8 because he reportedly did not want to lend his name to a film that wanted to rehash old songs.
When Pritam, who has often been accused of plagiarism, makes a point about fresh content in your film, you should know you are in trouble. Ik vaari aa (sung by Arijit Singh, with music by Pritam and lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya) is pleasant. The other two tracks worth mentioning here are resurrections of already successful numbers, used here in a trite fashion: Sanon and Rajput dance to Main tera boyfriend
alongside the closing credits, and the title track – picturised on a
surprisingly ineffective even if gorgeous-as-always Deepika Padukone performing
a tepid dance in an awkward outfit – is a remix of the lovely composition of
the same name by Pritam (with largely different lyrics) in Agent Vinod. Both songs are fun and hummable here, but pallid in
comparison with the originals.
Dinesh Vijan’s filmography as a producer includes the memorable Being Cyrus, Love Aaj Kal and this year’s Hindi Medium, in addition to Badlapur that has the distinction of featuring one of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s best performances in a career filled with brilliance. It is hard to imagine why Vijan chose to make his directorial debut with this unremarkable enterprise in which Sushant Singh Rajput, Kriti Sanon and pretty visuals are all drowned out by tedium.
Rating (out of five stars): *
CBFC Rating (India):
154 minutes 40 seconds
This review has also been published on Firstpost:
Posters courtesy: (1) IMDB for Raabta