I talked about this movie a little already when the first “Laila” trailer came out. But I thought it deserved another post! Especially since Raees is supposed to pick up on the older tradition of gangster movies from back in the 80s.
(as always when I do this posts in preparation for a new movie, just assume the whole thing is going to be SPOILERS, and that it will be much more superficial than a “real” review, just focused on the particular elements I think might be interesting/important related to the film that is about to release)
The big thing to know about the gangster movies of the 80s is that they aren’t necessarily the gangster movies of the 70s. Some of them are. But lots of them aren’t.
I’ll be getting into the 70s more in a later post, when I will try to at least begin to address the greatness that is Deewar. In general, in the 70s, the “gangster” films were really just a framework to address bigger social questions like what is the place of law in society, does the means justify the end, is family the biggest moral imperative, does God exist, those kinds of things.
In the 80s, sometimes the gangster movies were addressing big ideas like that, and sometimes they were addressing ideas like “Can a man wear an all white suit and still look cool?” Of the latter category, Qurbani is the Greatest of Them All.
Qurbani was an all time hit, and yet it isn’t exactly something you will run across in an article on the history of Indian film. Heck, I wouldn’t even bother with it if I were writing something like that! It’s not a particularly influential film, it’s more something that imitated others than that was imitated. And it didn’t start or end any big deal careers (besides Nazia Hassan, the Pakistani singer who I talked about in my post on the “Laila” song). It’s just a really really fun movie.
In film studies, there is a term “spectacle”. It means items added to a film purely to make the audience gasp, essentially. Not part of the narrative, or character development, or anything else. Qurbani is all spectacle. Whether we are talking about Zeenat Aman in sexy spangly clothing or a Mercedes Benz being destroyed just to make the audience gasp at the expense of it.
What’s fascinating is that Qurbani has all the elements of the “deeper” earlier movies, but with the juice sort of drained out of them, so you don’t feel anything. There is a gentleman thief, actually two of them (both Feroze Khan and Vinod Khanna). But they aren’t thieves because the wrongs of society or personal tragedy drove them to it. It’s just a thing they do, looking all cool in suits.
Our heroine, Zeenat Aman, is in love with Feroze Khan and dreams of quitting her singing job and marrying him. But then he is arrested and thrown in jail for two years. And she starts spending time with Vinod Khanna, only to be torn between the two men when Feroze is released.
Again, sounds tragic, right? But, it’s not! Zeenat seems kind of cheerful about her bar singing, and she doesn’t have an huge hang ups about spending time with two different men. And the men don’t have any hang-ups either, there isn’t a lot of time spent on the tortures of their jealousy or anything.
And finally, the two men, without knowing that they are sharing Zeenat, become best friends. Only to have their friendship briefly challenged once the Zeenat thing is discovered, and then re-affirmed when Vinod gives his life for Feroze. This is the “Qurbani” (Sacrifice) mentioned in the title, but I don’t really feel it. It’s a clear imitation of the Sholay ending, but whereas Sholay made me miserable for days afterwards, this film I’m able to shake off about five minutes after it’s over.
The biggest difference between this film and the more “serious” kind of gangster movies is the lack of family. Vinod Khanna has an adorable little girl, but there is no mother or father to help raise her. Or even an aunt or uncle! And Zeenat Aman and Feroze are completely alone. That tells you right there that this is going to be a fun carefree kind of action movie, not a serious character backstory and motivation kind of action movie.
So, what does this have to do with Raees? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot. The early trailers gave me more of a vibe of the traditional 70s action movie, with issues with the state and the parallel gangster government and who is right, the criminal who brings wealth to thousands or the dedicated cop who just wants to enforce the law?
But then the “Laila” song came out. And even if you forget that they chose a Qurbani song to remix, just the visuals of it were so much lighter. Literally lighter. This isn’t like “Yeh Jawani” in Sarfarosh or even “Chikni Chameli” from the new Agneepath. Bright lights, spangled costumes, happy people, this is a fun happy sexy song! Not a depressing “oh how woman are used and abused by the fleshtrade” kind of song.
The “Zaalima” song added to that, you don’t usually waste time on love songs if you are the “driven by childhood misery” kind of gangster that you see in the classic movies. And now Shahrukh is putting out all these kind of silly one off trailers where he talks straight to the audience. It feels almost consciously performative, so we will go into the movie thinking “this isn’t a real person, this is just people play-acting and doing silly things.”
Which brings me back to Qurbani. Qurbani is such a fun movie! But it’s not a movie that invites thought. In fact, it aggressively rejects thought. Don’t try to follow the whole gang war plot, don’t think to much about how Amjad Khan’s detective always manages to pop up everywhere, really really don’t try to assign actual emotions to the characters. Just enjoy the spectacle.