Raees and the Doom of the Don

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Raees and the Doom of the Don

Illustration: Akshita Monga

T

he key to understanding how Raees perceives itself lies in a scene that isn’t originally from the film. About halfway past the runtime, Shah Rukh Khan’s character, the eponymous Raees apprehends a corrupt mill owner watching an Amitabh Bachchan film at a drive-in theatre. Raees is a bootlegger by day who smuggles IMFL into Gujarat, but whose heart beats for Fatehpura, the mohalla he grew up and will probably die in. At the drive-in, he demands that the owner pay his workers, who are his friends and neighbours, even as Bachchan makes the same request of Prem Chopra, a mine owner, on screen.

It’s a clever juxtaposition and also a canny one. In this one sequence, the viewer is led by the nose to understand that Raees places itself in the tradition of the disgraced/anti-hero popularised by Bachchan in the ’70s – but it isn’t as if the movie ever gives you a chance to doubt that. It’s also a handy device that allows you to forget some of Raees’ troubling excesses: His instigation of a communal riot, for instance, in Gujarat. The framing of the riot as a mere goon-ish show of strength is so straightforward, so pat, as to be astonishing. You’d assume that the director of the film, Rahul Dholakia, would know a thing or two about what a riot can cause in Gujarat, considering he won a National Award in 2007 for Parzania, a film based around the 2002 Gulbarg Society massacre.

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